Egyptian Copts celebrate Easter at home amid coronavirus pandemic

CAIRO (Web Desk): The coronavirus pandemic forced the Egyptian government to prevent gatherings, close down schools and universities, and implement a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., among other measures.

The decisions, after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and social distancing encouraged, affected citizens across the country, including Egyptian Coptic Christians and their Easter celebrations.

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Marks Diocese led the Easter Mass which falls April 19 but unlike every year, this year the pope did not receive any guests or an audience at the Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Those in attendance, mostly Christian clergy, practiced social distancing by ensuring they stayed safely apart from each other to avoid getting in contact with someone possibly infected with the virus.

Despite people not being able to visit the church, the Easter Mass aired live on several Egyptian TV channels, and was also broadcast on social media pages for the Coptic Orthodox Church.

A source confirmed that the pope sent his apologies for not being able to welcome officials who wanted to wish him well, as they do every Coptic Easter. The source said the pope needed to avoid gatherings and crowds as a precaution to avoid getting contaminated.

The pope did take part in one of the celebration’s most important rituals. As part of celebrating the Easter Mass, the pope, alongside Ibrahim Ayad, the cathedral’s cantor and lead deacon, reenacted the resurrection inside the Divine Liturgy.

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the center of Islamic learning in the Muslim world, congratulated Coptic Christians on a Facebook post.

“I congratulate Christian brothers in Egypt and the world on their holiday. I always cherish the bond of brotherhood and love that brings together Egyptians — Muslims and Christians. This kind nation shows the most wonderful examples of solidarity in times of adversity, especially during the pandemic,” Al-Tayeb said in his post.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sent his greetings to the pope. The president praised what he said were the “honest and kind sentiments” between Egyptian Muslims and Christians.

Coptic Orthodox Christians make up the majority of the 10 million Christians in Egypt, a country of 100 million people.

Several Egyptian public figures sent their greetings to Copts around the world, including TV personality Sheikh Khaled El-Gendy.

“May God protect them for Egypt and may He spread mercy, safety, security and peace,” El-Gendy said while appearing live on his TV show.