A bomb exploded in a Coptic Church packed with Palm Sunday worshipers killing about 27, and  close to 71 were injured in the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta about 100 kilometers from Cairo. The explosion occurred on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar as Coptic Christians were celebrating the final Sunday ‘Palm Sunday’  before Easter to mark the moment when Jesus Christ is believed to have triumphantly entered Jerusalem.

Egyptian state television reported the latest assault on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes about 10 percent of the population has been increasingly targeted by Islamist extremists in recent years. The attack comes just weeks before Pope Francis visit to Egypt, the most populous Arab nation.

Since the overthrow of former Egyptian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, violence against Christians has risen since 2013. The Islamic State’s branch in Egypt has been orchestrating the attacks on Christians and sending threatening messages for mass execution to the Egyptian Christians, according to CBC TV.

According to the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis immediately condemned the bombing of the Coptic Church and expressed his deep condolences to the bereaved in a message which read, “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Church and the entire dear Egyptian nation.”

Pope prays for victims of attack on Coptic church in Egypt. Photo: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com

Since 2013, some supporters of the overthrown President Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, blamed Christians for supporting his ouster, and the tensions between the two groups has resulted in clashes between the Muslims militias and Christians. The leaders of the Islamists groupings have previously incited their followers to attack Christian homes, schools, Churches, and shops throughout the country.

Read: Extremism in Egypt: when countering terrorism becomes counter-productive

According to the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Egypt, over 160 Christian-owned buildings and churches have been attacked including over 40 churches, which were looted, damaged and torched.

The history of the Coptic Church in Egypt

According to the historical tradition, the Church was established by Saint Mark, an apostle and evangelist, in the middle of the 1st century, when the Apostle Mark visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria – the head of the Coptic Church. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land and the largest Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in Egypt, northeast Africa and the Middle East.

By the end of the second century, Christianity was well established in Egypt, where the Church of Alexandria was exchanging Paschal epistle with the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch concerning the date of Easter, and there were about forty dioceses under the Patriarch of Alexandria, in the north of the country in the Delta area.

The Coptic Church Centre in the United Kingdom said, the historians named the Coptic Church as the ‘Church of the Matyrs’, not only because of their great number, but also because of their desire for martyrdom. When prevented from worship, they did not hide in the catacombs, but worshiped openly. Many went from place to place, seeking the crown of martyrdom, not considering it death, but rather, as entry into the new life.

The persecution of the Christians in Egypt

For the four centuries that followed the Arab conquest of Egypt, the Coptic Church generally flourished and Egypt remained predominantly Christian.

The Copts states that by the beginning of the second millennium AD the Copt started suffering from specific limitations, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. For example, there were restrictions on repairing old churches and building new ones, on testifying in court, public conduct, adoption, inheritance, on public religious activities, and on dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from being a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim country. The Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence.