CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's pope urged his congregants to be joyful and "not be afraid" in his Mass for Coptic Christmas, trying to reassure a community feeling anxious about the rise of Islamists to power here.
Pope Tawadros II also prayed for peace and stability for Egypt when he led his first Christmas Midnight Mass late Sunday night. He asked God to guide Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his government to lead "wisely."
Tawadros was elected in November to replace longtime Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after 40 years as leader of the ancient church. His prayers reflected the concerns of the Coptic Christians, who represent about 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people. Many are feeling unsettled under the country's first Islamist president and a newly passed constitution that could open the way for stricter Islamic law in Egypt.
Even before the rise of Islamists to power, the Christian minority had long complained of discrimination by the state and the Muslim majority. But over the two years since Egypt's uprising against authoritarian rule, the community has grown more concerned about its future as Islamist political forces, long repressed under the previous autocratic regime, grew more assertive.
"Don't be afraid," Tawadros said in his midnight sermon, selecting messages from the Bible to reassure his congregation. "Even if humans feel lots of fear, remember God will take care of you. This is a collective message because fear is contagious. ... This is a message of reassurance."
Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on Monday according to a different calendar than Roman Catholics and Protestants use.
Tawadros also appealed for unity, urging Morsi and his government to act with "wisdom."
"We pray for this beloved country, Egypt, for God to protect her safety, security, stability; to protect her unity and more so, her image," Tawadros said.
"We don't pray for the land. We pray for the humans, all humans ... starting with the president, Mohammed Morsi, and all officials, and for God to give everyone wisdom and responsibility to manage the affairs of this country and its people in true Egyptian spirit."
With the prospect of Egypt taking a turn toward a more religious, Islamic state, some Copts are reportedly considering leaving the country.
Some say they are turning to God and to prayers in these uncertain times.