Reflections on a Rally







It’s nice to be home after a long trip overseas.

Yesterday I with many others attended the rally at Martin Place organized by the Australian Coptic Movement. The rain did nothing to dampen the spirit of all those present, nor the fire in the belllies of the speakers. It is always interesting to come home and mull over an event like that. What did it really mean?  And what will it achieve?

One thing that stood out for me was the attendance of so many other Arabic speaking Christians. In particular there were strong and high level contingents from Lebanon and Iraq, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Copts. The fact that the first attack in this sequence took place against a Syrian Catholic Church in Iraq, rather than in Egypt, indicates that to the terrorists at least, there is no difference between an Egyptian Christian and an Iraqi Christian. I wish that we Christians could learn this one truth from the terrorists! It is high time that true Christians of all denominations unite, discarding the petty arguments that have divided us for so long. Perhaps we needed a tragedy like this to move us? I sat next to a gentleman from the Chaldean Church, an Assyrian Church affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. He commented that we are all really one in Christ a number of times when I thanked him for coming to support the Copts. His Church has not yet been the target of these terrorists, but he felt that if any one of us Middle Eastern Christians has been affected, then we all have been affected.

It was great to see so many Australian flags being waved, and a running theme through the speeches reminded us that one of the best things about Australia is that everyone has the freedom to pursue their beliefs and faith without persecution. I applaud the Australian Coptic Movement for taking a collection on the day for the victims of the Queensland and Victorian floods. It takes a certain maturity to look beyond your own woes and empathise with the problems of others. There are about as many bereaved families in Queensland at the moment as there are in Alexandria. To put things in context, the Brazilian floods have resulted in something like 600 deaths. That is an awful lot of bereaved families. But of course, the difference between flood victims and terrorism victims is that one is unavoidable, the other so, so unnecessary.

Why do terrorists terrorise? What do they hope to achieve? Do they think they will drive the Christians out of Egypt? One speaker, David Clarke I think, pointed out that terrorists are mistaken if they think that such acts of violence will frighten Christians. In fact, they will only serve to harden our resolve and deepen our faith. This is particularly true of the Middle Eastern mindset, one which can be quite stubborn when required! I am surprised that the bombers, Middle Eastern men themselves, have not thought this through. If they needed any proof that what they did had only a positive effect on Christians they need only consider how much attendance at the Christmas liturgies on the 6th January rose above average levels, how all the Fathers have reported a dramatic spike in the frequency and the sincerity of confessions.

“That which does not kill me only makes me stronger”, the adage says. Unless they can kill every single one of the dozens of millions of Christians in the Middle East, the terrorist actions will serve only to strengthen them. If they had any sense of history, they would know that the Roman Emperor Diocletian tried to do what they are now trying to do – exterminate Christians – back in the third and fourth centuries. He had the whole weight of the Roman military behind him, and yet he failed dismally. The end result was that just a few years later Constantine became Emperor and legalized Christianity. Diocletian himself suffered mental problems, was deposed, and ended his days being gently cared for by a Christian widow who truly fulfilled the Christian command to love one’s enemies. Centuries of persecution in Egypt have had the same result: a vibrant, energetic, Coptic Church that continues to grow and spread and witness the light of Christ. 

There was a lot of inspirational speech making, many ultimatums and demands upon governments and so on. Of course, how much attention any government will pay to this is up for debate – time will tell – but the words that affected me the most on this day came not from one of the speech makers, but from a fellow Copt who has been following the news on the net. He said that a Muslim artist in Egypt had started a movement after the New Year bombing where he encouraged his fellow Muslims to go to Coptic Churches during their services and form a ring of Muslims around them, each one holding a lighted candle; a sort of human shield against terrorism. But this would be more than a human shield. It would be a statement, a very loud and clear one: we are all human beings; every life is valuable; what hurts one of us hurts all of us; we reject and we prevent this evil against humanity, even with our own bodies; we protect those that terrorism claims to be our enemies, for they are not our enemies. We bring light back into the darkness that is terrorism.

If only this spirit would spread among the Muslim community! I found myself wondering whether, if the roles were reversed, and some crazy Christian was bombing mosques, I would be willing to stand with a candle outside a mosque. I think I would, and I hope that most of my fellow Christians would too. This would be one of the best examples of living out the words of Christ: love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. Now is the time to put such concepts into action. If there is anything in this world that is capable of actually changing the minds and attitudes of fanatics and terrorists, it is not violence, it is not legislation or protests or manhunts; it is love.

Fr Ant

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