On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the Islamist Palm Sunday terror attacks on two Coptic churches that killed at least 37 people and injured nearly 60 others, Vatican Radio reported.
After his weekly Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord “convert the hearts of the people who are sowing terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make and traffic weapons.”
The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement from the organization’s Amaq news agency. “Islamic State squads carried out the attacks on two churches in Tanta and Alexandria,” the statement declared.
The first explosion in Tanta, about 70 miles north of Cairo, killed at least 26 worshippers at the Mar Girgis (Saint George) Coptic Church.
The blast occurred “in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” officials reported, and more than 70 people were injured. Footage from the site shows crowds gathered around bodies and large blood stains on the pews and church walls.
The second bombing took place hours later in front of Saint Mark’s Church in the coastal city of Alexandria, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than 30, according to Egypt’s health ministry.
“We pray for the victims claimed this morning,” Pope Francis said in remarks to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday Mass and the Angelus prayer.
The Pope also expressed his sorrow to the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros, and to all the Egyptian people.
“To my dear brother, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II,” Pope Francis continued, “to the Coptic Church and to all the dear Egyptian nation I express my deep condolences. I pray for the dead and the injured, and I am close in spirit to the family members and to the entire community.”
Historically, jihadists will often carry out their terror attacks on Christian feasts to underscore the religious nature of their campaigns. For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorated Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before his crucifixion and death.
Pope Francis is slated to visit Cairo, Egypt, from April 28-29, amidst a recent spate of Islamist persecution of Christians in the North Sinai area.
The Islamic State has carried out a series of brutal jihadist attacks on Christians, including the shooting, burning and beheading of seven people in the region and the torching of a number of houses. The bloody persecution has driven more than 250 Christian families from the city of al-Arish, scattering them among 13 different provinces.
A branch of the Islamic State operating in Egypt recently released a video vowing to eliminate the presence of Christians in Egypt and to “liberate Cairo,” the city the pontiff will be visiting.
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