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By Michael Terheyden

3/4/2011 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good

As Christians, we understand freedom and sacrifice better than most. Thus, when we witness the tragedy of the Copts, we should recall that we have something of great value to offer the world. One way we can offer our wisdom to the world is by standing up to injustice and oppression whenever we encounter it in our own lives.

Saint Bishoy Monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, Egypt

Saint Bishoy Monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, Egypt


By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (

3/4/2011 (4 years ago)

Published in Middle East

Keywords: Copts, Christians, Anti-Christian, persecution, Egyptian Army, Saint Bishoy Monastery, Michael Terheyden

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - We are witnessing a revolution by the people in Egypt. By the sheer force of their numbers, Muslims and Copts forced President Mubarak out of office. But now we need to ask ourselves if this historic change will bring greater freedom for all the people. Based on an article written by Mary Abdelmassih and published on the website of the Assyrian International News Agency, it appears that the revolution has not benefited Egypt's Coptic Christian minority and may portend a worsening situation for them.

After the uprising began about a month ago, the police who had been protecting the monks deserted their posts. One of the monasteries was subsequently attacked by prisoners who had escaped during the uprising. And six monks were injured at the second monastery when it was attacked by armed Arabs and robbers. As a result, the monks requested help from the state security office, but they were told that no police were available to help them. They also called the military and were told they had to protect themselves until the military could send help. It was then that the monks decided to build fences for protection.

Then around February 20, the army attacked Saint Makarios Monastery of Alexandria located about 62 miles from Cairo. The article states that the army stormed the monastery using live ammunition. When the attack was over, more than ten monks were injured. One was shot. All of the others were beaten. The army destroyed the fence and part of the monastery. They also confiscated the monk's building materials. 

About two days later the army approached the fifth-century, Saint Bishoy Monastery in Wadi el-Natroun with five tanks, armored vehicles and a bulldozer. Saint Bishoy is about seven miles further from Cairo than the first monastery. The attack was brutal, and it lasted for about thirty minutes. By the time it was over, around eight people were wounded and four were arrested.

The military denied the attack at Saint Bishoy. They claimed that they only demolished some fences on state property. They also issued a statement claiming that they respected ". . . the freedom and chastity of places of worship of all Egyptians." However, since the monks feel vulnerable to violent attacks from escaped prisoners, Muslim fanatics and the Egyptian military, they are holding a sit-in at the monastery in protest. In addition, thousands of Copts organized a peaceful demonstration at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo and then marched toward the famous Tahrir Square of the revolution.

I cannot begin to understand the frustration and desperation that these poor Christians must feel. The very persons who are supposed to protect them, arrest them, beat them and kill them. Could anyone feel less valued and more unwanted in this life, besides our Lord himself? Are they simply to die because they are hated for existing? What alternatives do they have? It is for reasons like this that men go to war. But the Copts do not go to war, they hold sit-ins and demonstrations. They must truly be the suffering souls of the world-wide Church.

The evil being perpetrated upon the Copts reminds us that governments have incredible power over their citizens. It is too much power to be in the hands of extremists or the self-serving or the arrogant. Such people have ruled humankind for too long. Governments are not to exploit, manipulate, degrade, or kill their citizens. The proper function of government is to support, serve and protect its citizens. When governments oppress their citizens through deceit or force, they relinquish their moral authority, and they are no longer legitimate.

Paragraph 1903 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it this way: "Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'"

While most of us are not able to directly help our brothers and sisters suffering persecution in Egypt and other parts of the world, we can pray for their safety and that the revolution will bring authentic human freedom to all of the people. But this is not all we can do. As Christians, we understand freedom and sacrifice better than most. Thus, when we witness the tragedy of the Copts, we should recall that we have something of great value to offer the world. One way we can offer our wisdom to the world is by standing up to injustice and oppression whenever we encounter it in our own lives. Perhaps in this way, we can help to encourage the kind of truly human change that Egyptian Muslims and Copts hoped for when they stood together in Tahrir Square.


Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.



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