Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings of two Coptic churches in Egypt during Palm Sunday services. The first bombing occurred at St. George Church in the city of Tanta, which killed 25 and wounded 60. The second bombing occurred at the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, which killed 11 and wounded 35. Four police officers died in the Alexandria suicide bombing. Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, delivered the Palm Sunday service at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral prior to the bombing and is reported to be unharmed.

Pope Francis made the following statement after the attack on the Coptic churches:

Pope Francis has decried a deadly attack on a Coptic church in Egypt during Palm Sunday celebrations, just weeks before his planned visit to Cairo.

The pontiff expressed his “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation,” and said he was praying for the dead and wounded in the attack. Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.

The pontiff asked God “to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”- Washington Post

Egyptian Coptic Christians are one of the oldest Christian churches outside of Israel and have faced persecution since their creation.

Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria – the head of their church.

This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.

The Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ.”- BBC

Featured image courtesy of EPA