“We learned that extremists were going to attack us with machine guns, but we did not prepare ourselves for the attack with weapons. We did something simple,” says Bishop Thomas, about that day he received a message that armed hardliners were on their way to his episcopal residence in the Al Quosia-region of Lower Egypt.
Determined to defend themselves without violent means, the church fathers applied soap and water on the rocky path leading to Bishop Thomas’ residence.
“I saw them coming with their machine guns far down the road. They tried to get to the house, but they slipped and fell. They tried over and over again, without succeeding,” says the Bishop, smiling with grief as he talks about the episode.
The grief is over the many homes in his diocese which were attacked. But he is resisting the urge to demonize:
“Fear and anger does not come in my heart. Fear is the biggest enemy – this makes you lose wisdom and power,” said the Bishop gently when asked about the impact of the violence on life as a Copt. “Hatred is the biggest disease – full of revenge and the source of all evil.”
Doing so enables him to take a path different from many Copts, who have embraced the current crackdown on Islamists:
“I need to embrace the victims with love and communicate forgiveness. When the worst assaults are over, my task is to promote and facilitate reconciliation,” said the Bishop calmly while smiling. “The Coptic church is training people to see the situation from different perspectives, we teach them the difference between autocracy and democracy, and the meaning of a civil state. We are working against both a religious – and a marshal state.”
The attacks, some might say paradoxically, have brought the Muslims and Christians of his area closer together:
“Poor Muslim families brought blankets to the Christians who lost their homes, and together we formed a civil front– not Christians against Muslims– but civil society against extremism,” explained the Bishop.
Among the issues discussed jointly were defense-tactics and how to prevent any new attacks.
Images and video-clips from Muslims and Christians, who hand in hand formed a protective ring circle around churches, were shared on social media across the globe.
“No one who has not experienced sectarian violence close up will be able to imagine what this solidarity means to us, as a society,” said Bishop Thomas gratefully. “We did actually lose hope under Morsi. Now we are hoping and praying that the price Copts are paying now will benefit generations of Egyptians in the future.”