Weeping parishioners gathered for Sunday Mass today at the Saints Church in Alexandria, just a day after a suicide bombing left 21 members of their community dead and more than 90 injured. Riot police backed by armoured vehicles guarded the bloodstained Coptic church throughout the service.
The attack, which took place at the end of a New Years Midnight Mass, was the worst violence against Egypt's Christian minority in a decade. The Egyptian government has blamed the bombing on "foreign elements" with some politicians accusing Al Qaeda of involvement.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the bombing, which was the latest in a string of attacks against Christians in the Middle East and Africa, including an attack on Coptic worshippers in Nag Hammadi, Egypt on 7 January 2010 and the lethal assault on the Church of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Nejat) in Baghdad, Iraq on 31 October 2010.
The church is one of three churches which were attacked in April 2006 by a man wielding a knife, killing one person and injuring 17 others.
Speaking after the Angelus blessng today, the Holy Father said: "This vile gesture of death, like that of putting bombs near to the houses of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, offends God and all of humanity."
President Barack Obama condemned the "heinous act" and said those behind it must be brought to justice.
Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches issued a statement expressing profound sorrow and condolences over the attacks. The WCC has appealed to President Mubarak of Egypt, to religious leaders and to governments across the region "to act swiftly and boldly to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths, to ensure security in the face of violence and to guarantee justice for all people."
Recalling that the WCC and Muslim leaders issued a statement denouncing the Baghdad church attack Tveit said: "Government action must be matched by solidarity among Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths as they interact at the local level and together denounce any violent attack. We expect leaders to join once again in condemning such acts.”