His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said Jan. 31 that he supported Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“We have called the president and told him we are all with you and the people are with you,” said Shenouda, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Shenouda became pope in 1971 of the Coptic Church, an orthodox body whose tradition holds that Mark, a disciple of Jesus and author of the Gospel According to Mark, founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt, in A.D. 42.

An estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million citizens are members of the Coptic Church. During Shenouda’s tenure, the number of Coptic churches in the United States has increased from four to more than 100.

Shenouda’s support for Mubarak came as domestic and international pressure has built for Mubarak to resign.

The New York Times reported that while the “march of millions” in Egypt did not materialize numerically Feb. 1, hundreds of thousands of people did protest in Cairo against Mubarak, calling for him to leave the country.

“Many Copts worry that Mr. Mubarak’s exit would leave them dangerously exposed – either by chaos, or to a government that may be more tolerant of Islamist extremists,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

A member of St. Mark’s Church in Alexandria, Samy Farag, told the Journal, “We need Mubarak. What we need above all is to be safe.”

“We feel safer with him because he heads a big, strong party,” Farag said. “If he leaves, parties will come to power that we don’t know.”

Bishop Anba Suriel, head of the Coptic Church in Australia, said, ”We are supporting the right of people to protest peacefully but we are fearful that extremist groups will take over the country – this would be a disaster for Egypt and for the Copts.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America announced a three-day period of prayer and fasting to pray for the safety of their fellow believers in Egypt.

Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, expressed his support for the Coptic Church’s call for prayer.

Kinnamon said he was praying that “the people of Egypt will experience a just and hopeful resolution of the current crisis.”

Baptist leader David Kerrigan told EthicsDaily.com that Egyptian Christians had reason to be fearful about the emergence of radical Islamic leadership.

However, he said that even if the Muslim Brotherhood did gain power, “they will want to secure external Western funding and for that they may well protect the Christian minority. Besides, Egypt is in truth quite a secular state – we are not about to see a repeat of the religious fervor we saw in Iran in 1979.”

Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission, which was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.

“Egypt has been a benign influence, a kind-of-friend to Israel and certainly to the U.S., and a bulwark against a politicized Islam,” said Kerrigan. “But its people are impoverished, their freedoms restricted and so the human spirit will eventually rebel.”

“What is clear is that the mission of the church in the region will happen in a different context now,” he said. “I think it’s likely there will be greater openness to internet, to the exchange of ideas, to more openly planning their future.”

Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), issued a Jan. 31 statement, urging Lutherans to “pray for an end to the violence and for a peaceful solution that will benefit all people living in Egypt.”

He spoke for “a just future for those living in Egypt.”

The ELCA supports 10 missionaries in Egypt, the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services and the St. Andrew’s Refugee Service.

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