By Fredrick Nzwili
NAIROBI, Kenya ( CNS) — Some Catholic leaders have joined the Coptic Orthodox Church in mourning the 41 people — including 18 children — who died in a fire in Egypt’s capital, Cairo.
According to news reports, at least 5,000 Coptic Christians were preparing for the morning liturgy Aug. 14 at the Martyr Abu Sefein Church in Imbaba, a suburban area of the city, when the fire started. The deaths resulted from an ensuing stampede and smoke inhalation.
Eyewitnesses said of some screaming worshippers jumped out of windows, as the fire spread to higher floors of the church building. Church officials said the blaze was caused by a short circuit in the air conditioner, but The Associated Press reported that witnesses also pointed to a faulty generator.
“We have received the news of the deaths in the Orthodox Church with much shock,” Bishop Noel Seyoum Fransua of Hossana, Ethiopia, told Catholic News Service. “I wish to express my condolences to the Orthodox Church in Egypt. We really feel sorry about the sad occurrence.”
Cardinal Souraphiel Berhaneyesus, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, offered “my sincerest sympathies on the behalf of the Ethiopian Catholic Church and myself. … “I assure you (of) our prayers to your church, the deceased and wish a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured.”
In Germany late Aug. 14, Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, said his prayers and thoughts were with the victims, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA.
“A place where there should be blessing became a fiery hell,” he said. “Words fail us in view of the high number of fatalities. I grieve with the Coptic Church in Egypt and in our country.”
Although Egypt is 90% Muslim, at least 10 million people are Coptic Orthodox.
Coptic Orthodox Father Joseph Mutie, general secretary of the Organization of African Instituted Churches, based in Nairobi, also expressed condolences.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has directed military engineers to take over the reconstruction and renovation of the church.