The governor of Minya in Egypt has said he will consider an application to build a church to honour the 28 Coptic pilgrims killed in May when militant Islamists intercepted the buses they were travelling on and opened fire.
Anba Athanasius, Bishop of Beni-Mazar and Bahnassa, met General Essam Bedeiwi to make the petition. According to the official Facebook page of the Coptic diocese of Beni-Mazar, the governor welcomed the idea and asked the bishop to submit the required papers, including proof of ownership of the land on which the church would be built. General Bedeiwi promised he would do his best to ensure the proposed church is built, the Coptic daily Watani reported.
The 28 Copts, who are already referred to in Coptic literature as “martyrs”, were killed when between eight and ten jihadists flagged down their convoy of at least two buses and a truck carrying pilgrims for an Ascension Day visit to the monastery of St Samuel in the western desert in Minya.
The militants forced the Copts to hand over their jewellery, money and mobile phones, and ordered some men and boys to convert to Islam. When they refused, the attackers opened fire, shooting most of their victims in the head. A number of children were confirmed among the dead, and all eight men in the truck were killed.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile officials at another Coptic monastery in the desert in Minya have been granted permission to build a protective wall around it following an armed attack in 2011 during which monks were injured.
The Ministry of Antiquities’ permanent Committee of Islamic and Coptic Antiquities has approved the request from the Abbot of the Abu-Fana monastery outside the village of Qasr Hur 150 miles (250km) south of Cairo, and the local bishop, Anba Demetrius of Mallawi, Ansena, and Ashmounin.
The monastery has been waiting ten years to be allowed to build the wall, to protect the sixth-century church against shifting sand dunes and from repeated Islamist attacks.
World Watch Monitor has reported regularly about Coptic communities being denied the right to build a church and also how, in rural communities, rumours about the building of a new church have often caused Muslims to riot.
In north Cairo last week (9 November) some Copts slept in their unlicenced church for fear that police might close it. They ignored an instruction from their bishop, Anba Marqos, of Shubral-Kheima, to end a sit-in and go home for their own safety after rumours circulated that extremists were planning to attack the church the next day.
The building was erected before a law was passed in 2016 to make it easier for churches to obtain licences, and an application for a licence has since been submitted. Tensions were defused when local politicians visited the church and persuaded the priests and laity that there was no threat.
Three weeks ago police in Minya closed three churches in the wake of violence or threats against Copts; another church in Sohag, 460km south of Cairo, was also shut after threats by Islamist extremists.