President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has inaugurated Egypt’s largest cathedral in the new administrative capital east of Cairo, a day after a deadly bomb blast near a Coptic church.
The newly built Cathedral of Nativity had its first Mass under heavy security on Sunday 7th January, the eve of Coptic Christmas.
Copts make up about 10% of Egypt’s Muslim-majority population. Many say the state discriminates against them and does not offer them enough protection.
The cathedral, located in the new Administrative Capital, built in the desert 45 kilometres, east of Cairo, was built under the supervision of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority.
The country’s biggest construction and engineering firms are still putting the final touches on the neighbouring religious buildings, including Al Fattah Al Alim Mosque; which embodies Sisi’s vision of Egypt as a religiously tolerant society.
The Cathedral covers 15 acres and has been designed to hold a capacity of 2,500 people in the ground floor and another 7,500 in the upper floor, making it the largest church in the Middle East.
Official spokesman for the New Administrative Capital Khalid al-Husseni told the press that the construction of the new cathedral was completed within a record time of no more than seven months.
He pointed out that all the specifications of geometric forms for the establishment of churches were taken into account, and bells were imported from Italy and installed to the church.
In his speech during the Christmas mass, Pope Tawadros II said the word Christmas is basically a Coptic term that dates back to ancient Egypt.
“Christ means Jesus and Mass means birthday. This word was created in Egypt and therefore we call it Christmas Cathedral,” Tawadros said.
“This Cathedral was built under the patronage of the Egyptian political leadership and it bears the name of Christ for the first time,” he added.
He pointed out that President Sisi has commissioned the construction of the country’s largest church in the new Administrative Capital during the last Christmas mass in 2017, therefore it was named after this day.
The pope stressed that Egypt witnesses a new era of mega projects, clear political and economic vision that show the original image of Egypt to the world.
Tawadros II thanked the Armed Forces Engineering Authority for its efforts in accomplishing the project, pointing out that this cathedral can be matched by the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
He also thanked those who donated to build the new mosque and cathedral in the new Administrative Capital, saying, “This unique project became a symbol of coexistence and national unity.”