The suicide bombings were claimed by ISIS, who has been ramping up attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt in recent months.
General Nagwa El-Hagger, Sergeant Asmaa Hussein and Sergeant Omneya Roshdy all stood up and gave their lives to protect the lives of those in their community, despite their differences in religion. The Christian community was celebrating Palm Sunday, a holiday that recognizes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem one week before his resurrection.
St. George’s Church in Tanta, Egypt was the site of the first attack. A suicide bomber detonated himself at the altar of the church, which resulted in 27 deaths and 78 injuries. Of these deaths were Sergeants Hussein and Roshdy. Hussien was at the main gate checking women who were entering the church. She was so close to the suicide bomber that her body was near unrecognizable. Roshdy was securing the cathedral as part of her job securing churches, so she was further away from the attack.
The second attack, just hours after, was at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. At least 17 people were killed with 48 others injured. A man attempted to get into the church from an unchecked side gate, however he was asked by security forces to get into an X-ray device. Instead, the man walked to the main gate and set the bomb off. El-Hagger, a brigadier general for the Egyptian police force, was conducting inspections for people entering the church. When the bomb detonated, she rushed to the aid of her male co-workers after noticing they were having issues detaining a suspect.
It is reported that this may be the country’s first instance of Muslim female police officers being killed while on duty. Each one of the women had promising and exciting futures ahead and despite this, continued to stay on duty and serve others.
Hussein, for example, left behind two daughters, Sandi and Rodina, who is a newborn. Roshdy was due to get married in a month. She was excited, and minutes before her death texted friends about getting together before the wedding.
“[Roshdy] was one of the most dedicated women who served in the police,” her friend Safaa Ibrahim told Egypt Independent. “She loved her work and her country very much, and she insisted to continue working, even a few weeks before her wedding…She did not ask for a vacation.”
El-Hagger was no stranger to violence. In a tragic terrorist attack in 2014 in Marsa Matrouh, she lost one of her two sons who was also an officer. El-Hagger’s husband, Ezzat Abdel Qader, is the assistant of Al-Behaira security director.
Her husband said during her funeral: “We don’t have anything left but to pray for her, we wish that God will give us the strength and patience to bear her death.”
Islam Fathi, El-Haggar’s nephew, told Dream TV host Wael Ibrashy that he was proud of his aunt, who was always “known for her kindness.” He said that even though El-Haggar was Muslim, she would pray at the church alongside her Coptic Christian neighbors.
“I say to our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters: Do not be sad,” Fathi told the TV host. “Muslims and Christians are one. It’s not about Muslim attacking Christians. No. My aunt was a Muslim. She was a believer…She was protecting Christians who were also praying in the Church.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is now making extra efforts to protect Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population. A three-month state of emergency for the country has been declares and more troops are helping police secure public spaces.
We all hope that if we are in trouble someone will hear our cries and jump in.
One woman was heard one night after her Bible group met.
Imagine walking home after a little fellowship and studying the Bible. Your heart feels content. Your soul feels nourished. But one woman experienced a panic as she narrowly escaped being kidnapped.
According to Fox News, a 21-year-old woman was leaving the Bible study on the east side of Cleveland when she was attacked by a couple of men wearing ski masks, black coats and blue jeans as she tried to get into her vehicle.
The two males tried forcing her into the backseat.
“Get in the car,” they demanded.
She was able to pull away and run back to the house where the Bible study was. But one man grabbed the hood of her coat and pulled her back towards him.
He then dragged her from the driveway and across the street. The victim kicked and screamed to alert neighbors as she scraped the pavement. This is when her Bible study friends came outside to her rescue. The men were scared off and ran through backyards to escape, leaving only footprints in the snow.
Customers from a local tavern heard the noise and came out to assist the woman’s friends.
“It could have happened to anybody and it’s unfortunate that it happened to somebody I know, and somebody who was just coming here to go to a Bible study at the church,” Sam Hartman told Fox.
The neighborhood is shaken from the event.
“It’s a nice area, but it’s frightening to have things happen like that — the Shaker Square bank hold up two weeks ago; they are kind of black marks on what should be a nice neighborhood,” said another neighbor.
Investigators hope to find evidence of who the two perpetrators were by obtaining surveillance video.
What if people didn’t step in? The news could have been bleaker.
You know the Golden Rule or law of reciprocity? It is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. This rule is also associated with what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:12: “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”
This is something to recognize when we see someone in need.
Author and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke at the National Press Club on April 7th and said there needs to be five amendments to Islam. She said “individuals” within Islam today are coming forth and admitting that Muhammad provides ‘too much inspiration to too many bad people.’ Listen to her recommendations.
Worship service attendance is up in New York City, but down among young adult Jews, according to recent studies. On the other hand, fewer Spanish-speaking teens are attending Catholic mass, but more are showing up at Evangelical churches.
A recent Barna study shows not only increased New York City church attendance, but growing numbers of “born-again” Big Apple believers.“The findings defy not only stereotypes about ‘godless’ New Yorkers,” writes Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a guest column in the Washington Post, “but also illustrate that, despite all the talk about secularizing America, church participation has remained remarkably unchanged nationally for most of 80 years.”
But what about all the reports in the media that nobody goes to church anymore? Actually only a very small percentage of Americans claim no affiliation with any particular faith. Tooley acknowledges the “much ballyhooed religiously unaffiliated” numbers, but notes that it translates to “about 15-20 percent of Americans (some of whom still report attending religious services and most of whom still profess belief in God.).” In fact, he points out, “About 75-80 of Americans percent say they are Christian, with Jews the next largest religious group, numbering under 2 percent.”
In fact among Jews, the Pew Research Center reports “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish – resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox,” as reported recently by the New York Times.
The study shows that it’s the younger Jews who have catapulted this movement. The editor-in-chief of The Jewish Daily Forward found the results to be “devastating,” but not all hope is lost. There is a group called Reboot that was formed specifically to help young Jews feel more connected to their Jewish identity.
The co-founder of the group is Roger Bennett who, as a “non-religious Jew” himself, found that many of his peers wanted to connect in some way to their Jewish heritage, but did not want to go to synagogue every week or practice the seemingly dusty old religion their parents and grandparents had been brought up with.
Bennett began reaching out to Jews in the creative fields – producers, writers, playwrights, architects, actors and so forth. As a result, Reboot was born and has grown to hundreds of members, with people such as Emmy Award-winning TV writer Damon Lindleof, Los Angeles Times journalist Joel Stein, comedian Jill Soloway, novelist Aimee Bender, science write Josh Foer and How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, who gather each year to talk about new ways to get the younger generation engaged.
“Reboot has turned into a national network of young, creative Jews founded on the belief that every generation must grapple with the questions of identity, community, and meaning on its own terms,” explains Courtney E Greenhalgh of Workman Publishing. “Reboot has created over 100 projects reaching an audience in the hundreds of thousands, including the National Day of Unplugging and the international architecture contest Sukkah City, among others. It was a Reboot meeting that inspired A. J. Jacobs to write his bestseller The Year of Living Biblically.”
Among Latinos, the surprising trend is a return to church – although it’s not always to the Roman Catholic mass of their childhood. Hispanics living in the United States are now increasingly evangelical Protestants, according to a national survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“While Catholic affiliation has dropped by 16 percentage points,” reports Hafiz, “evangelical Protestant affiliation has increased by six percentage points in the same period to 13 percent today. In the same amount of time, the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics has also increased by seven percentage points to 12 percent. Reported in the Hispanic Values Survey, the findings show a significant shift in the religious landscape of Hispanic Americans.
‘“The rise of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics is critically important for understanding the changing composition and political profile of Hispanics in America,” said the Public Religion Research Institute’s Dr. Robert P. Jones. “Many pundits have argued that evangelical growth will lead to a conservative shift among Hispanics over time, but the rival emergence of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics, who are liberal on a range of issues, serves as an important counterweight.”
The survey also showed that Hispanics have a generally more favorable opinion of Pope Francis as an individual than they do of the Catholic Church, as 69 percent of Hispanics surveyed have a positive impression of Francis but only 54 percent said they had a favorable impression of the church, according to Hafiz.
The increasing diversity in the Hispanic community will have repercussions when it comes to courting the Latino vote, writes Hafiz. “When looking at 2012 voting habits, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated voted for Obama, whereas the majority of Evangelicals voted for Romney. It’s really interesting to see this political polarization between the two groups that are growing the fastest. You are dealing with a religious diversity that 20 years ago wasn’t there.”
Has the African-American Christian church lost its influence? Has it become weaker? “The Black church is the single most important institution in the Black community,” writes theologian James Cone. “Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing to the present, it has been the oldest and most independent African-American organization. Its importance is so great that some scholars say that the Black church is the Black community, with each having no identity apart from the other.”
And the Black church remains extremely influential. As Illinois legislators considered legalizing same-sex marriage in their state, a number of traditionally Democratic clergy in the Black community put out the word that they will work to unseat lawmakers who vote in favor, reported CBS News affiliate WBBM’s reporter Mike Krauser.
Bishop Larry Trotter, of Sweet Holy Spirit Church in Chicago, vowed there would be consequences for lawmakers who support same sex marriage.
“I think that they will feel the crunch. I think that they cannot take for granted that they can come to the church and get the church’s sanction and votes and signatures and then go to Springfield and don’t speak what the people want them to speak. If that’s how we have to be heard, we will be heard.”
Bishop Trotter and Bishop Lance Davis, of New Zion Covenant Church in Dolton, said they are planning what to do next. Their activism seems to fly in the face of many Christian conservative leaders who say America is in a “post-Christian” period – citing political setbacks on homosexual marriage and hostility from cultural elites in the media and academia.
“It’s true that America often feels religiously different from past decades,” writes Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a guest column in the Washington Post, “even though rates of religious practice remain mostly unchanged and in some cases even higher than in supposedly more pious eras.
“Unlike 50 or 100 years ago, the commanding heights of American culture are no longer dominated by Christian belief,” writes Tooley. “Not very long ago, universities were still seriously church affiliated, newspaper editors and publishers were often churchmen in their local communities, publishing was dominated by church-affiliated publishing houses, and even Hollywood was led, if not by pious film makers, then at least by persons, especially immigrants, with deep appreciation for America’s religious heritage.”
Such culture-shaping institutions today are vastly changed, mostly owing to what Tooley refers to the collapse of “Mainline Protestantism,” – the increasingly liberal and declining mainstream denominations. They’ve been replaced by a resurgence in Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity – both which have shown a growth in membership.
“The quiet religious revival in New York City is mostly below the radar screen. But it showcases how Christendom, although it ebbs and flows, after 2,000 or so years, is not going away.”