President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi made an appearance in a show of solidarity with Christians and to pay his respects to the ancient community – Photo illustrated by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain
CAIRO – 7 January 2018: As today marks the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, Coptic Orthodox Christians dedicated the newly built Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity on Saturday for a Christmas Eve mass.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi made an appearance in a show of solidarity with Christians and to pay his respects to the ancient community.
The dedication mass, held in the new cathedral’s chapel, was attended by about 3,000 people, including officials, celebrities, law makers and representatives of the Religious Endowment Ministry and Al Azhar Institution, the main seat of Sunni Muslim theology and scholarship.
The Egyptian President said the inauguration of the cathedral is deemed a, “message to the world; a message of peace and a message of love.”
President Sisi is viewed by most of Egypt’s Christians as a protector and an ally against extremism.
Coptic Orthodox Christians, who represent approximately 90 percent of Egypt’s Christians, break their 43-day fast and celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 based on the Coptic calendar.
Words of assurance
The cathedral’s bells tolled as the Egyptian leader made a symbolic appearance at the cathedral, accompanied by Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark’s Diocese, and took to the altar amid ululations and cheering.
President Sisi wished the Christian community a merry Christmas, assuring them that the country would prevail over extremism.
The congregation waved Egyptian flags or threw white roses at Sisi who waved back and shook hands with some of them.
President Sisi, standing beside Pope Tawadros II, addressing attendees at the church – Egypt Today/Karim Abdelaziz
Amid chants by the church’s congregation and visitors before the liturgy, led by Pope Tawadros II, Sisi addressed Christians by saying, “You are our family, you are from us, we are one and no one will divide us.”
The President added that he did want to speak about the pain that Egypt suffers from terrorism that targets Egyptians Muslims and Christians.
"We, with the grace of God, are offering a message of peace and love from here, not just to Egyptians or to the region, but to the entire world."
Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity: A symbol of unity
The cathedral, located in the new Administrative Capital, built in the desert 45 kilometers, east of Cairo, was built under the supervision of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority.
The country’s biggest construction and engineering firms are still putting the final touches on the neighboring religious buildings, including Al Fattah Al Alim Mosque; this embodies Sisi’s vision of Egypt as a religiously tolerant society.
The Christ Cathedral is implemented on 15 acres, equaling 63,000 square meters; it is designed to hold a capacity of 2,500 people in the ground floor and another 7,500 in the upper floor, making it the largest church in the Middle East.
Official spokesman for the New Administrative Capital Khalid al-Husseni told the press that the construction of the new cathedral was completed within a record time of no more than seven months.
He pointed out that all the specifications of geometric forms for the establishment of churches were taken into account, and bells were imported from Italy and installed to the church.
Pope Tawadros II: Egypt needs all of us to unite
“Our message to the world is that all Egyptians stand united in the face of terrorism that targets everyone, not only Christians,” Pope Tawadros II said in a statement to Egypt Today.
The pope stressed that terrorism cannot intimidate the Christians and “we will keep going to churches to pray for Egypt.”
Pope Tawadros II leading the liturgy – Egypt Today/Karim Abdelaziz
“There is no difference between a Muslim and a Christian here. We are all part of this land and all Egyptians are responsible for confronting extremist ideas and terrorism.”
Pope Tawadros II commended President Sisi for fulfilling his promise to hold this year’s mass in the new Administrative Capital.
He also extended his gratitude to the Egyptian government for reconstruction and restoration of the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Churches in Cairo that have been hit by two separate blasts in December 2016.
“The president always supports us and our role is to support him. Egypt needs all of us to unite and work together to achieve better future for our children,” he added.
“I would like to thank the political leadership, every security man and every person who worked in the Administrative Capital and made an effort to show it in this way. This is a pride for all Egyptians,” Tawadros II concluded.
A symbol of coexistence: Tawadros II
In his speech during the Christmas mass, Pope Tawadros II said the word Christmas is basically a Coptic term that dates back to ancient Egypt.
"Christ means Jesus and Mass means birthday. This word was created in Egypt and therefore we call it Christmas Cathedral," Tawadros said.
“This Cathedral was built under the patronage of the Egyptian political leadership and it bears the name of Christ for the first time,” he added.
He pointed out that President Sisi has commissioned the construction of the country’s largest church in the new Administrative Capital during the last Christmas mass in 2017, therefore it was named after this day.
The pope stressed that Egypt witnesses a new era of mega projects, clear political and economic vision that show the original image of Egypt to the world.
Tawadros II thanked the Armed Forces Engineering Authority for its efforts in accomplishing this big project, pointing out that this cathedral can be matched by the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Finally, Tawadros II congratulated the Egyptians on the glorious Christmas, thanking President Sisi for his continuous participation in their holidays.
He thanked those who donated to build the new mosque and cathedral in the new Administrative Capital, saying, "This unique project became a symbol of coexistence and national unity.”
Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdel Maguid, Nesma Abdel Azim and Khaled Mohamed.