Copts whose church was one of dozens destroyed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters have returned to the charred house of worship, with their pastor vowing the violence suffered by his flock will make them "better Christians."
"This will learn us to be better Christians," said Pastor Sameh Ibrahim of a torched congregation in Minya, the capital of Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt, where some 14 churches were reportedly attacked in recent days.
Across Egypt, at least 60 churches have been targeted, along with Christian schools, homes,businesses and even an orphanage, according to conservative estimates. In the areas of Minya, Beni Suef, Fayoum and Assiut, Christian homes and businesses have received leaflets warning them to leave or face reprisals by Islamists, Christians said.
Christian homes and businesses in Minya have reportedly been marked with black X's to single them out for attack.
Another pastor in the area shares his concerns. "We live in our church, so when someone attacks out congregation, it's as if our house is being attacked," said Pastor John Amin of the Meni Mazar church in published remarks.
"Our children are afraid," he added.
As violence envelops Egypt, Christians are paying a heavy price with scores of their most sacred buildings and monuments being systematically destroyed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in what one Coptic leader called an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
The group, which is clashing with the military throughout the North African nation, has zeroed in on Christians since the Muslim Brotherhood-backed administration of Mohamed Morsi was ousted on July 3. The military removed him from power after he imposed several sweeping constitutional changes that appeared to put the nation of 90 million on a path toward Islamist rule.
“The Muslim Brotherhood continues its attacks on churches to implement their scheme, which includes ethnic cleansing and the forced displacement of Copts,” Abul Ezz el-Hariri, a Christian and former presidential candidate from Alexandria, told MidEast Christian News. “Egyptian churches are part of a blueprint by the MB to lure other Islamist groups.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood continues its attacks on churches to implement their scheme, which includes ethnic cleansing and the forced displacement of Copts.”
- Abul Ezz el-Hariri, a Christian and former presidential candidate
At least 50 Christian churches and schools have been looted and set ablaze since fierce fighting broke out last week. In one recent case, Islamists torched a Franciscan school and then paraded three nuns on the street like "prisoners of war" before a Muslim woman offered them refuge, according to Catholic World Report.
The campaign of intimidation also has targeted the homes and businesses of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's population. Egypt's Christian community is one of the world's oldest, and generally kept a low-profile before becoming more active after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the rapidly spiraling Islamification that followed under Morsi.
Under fire, Christians are solidly backing the military's harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt...confirms its strong stance with the Egyptian law enforcement, the armed forces, and all of the institutions of the Egyptian people in its confrontation of the violent armed organizations," the nation's Christian leader, Pope Tawadros II, said in a statement.
Monasteries, dioceses, churches, schools and other property of Copts have been targeted since government security forces broke up Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Raba al-Adaweya and Nahda squares on Wednesday.