By Michael Terheyden, Leaders of the Salafist movement are calling the late Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, the "head of the infidels."  Wagdy Ghoneim actually celebrated his death in a message posted on Facebook. The Salafist cleric said, "We rejoice that he is destroyed…. May God have His revenge on him in the fire of hell – he and all who walk his path." This is true hate speech. As we enter into Holy Week we need to pray for the Coptic Christians. KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) – According to an article written by Wayne King and published on Compass Direct, as the Coptic community mourns the death of their beloved religious leader, his Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Salafis are hurling hateful insults at him. The title of the article is "Salafist Leaders Celebrate Death of Coptic Pope in Egypt." The writer says that these attacks reflect open contempt for the Copts.

Leaders of the Salafist movement are calling the late Pope the "head of the infidels," among other things. Furthermore, during an official moment of silence in remembrance of Pope Shenaouda in the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, several Salafi members refused to stand in remembrance of him. Some even walked out. The Salafis make up 20 percent of Egypt’s new parliament, so all this hostility does not bode well for the Copts or for freedom in Egypt.


The Salafis are followers of a movement that models itself on Islam’s patristic period. The Salafis believe that this time period, which lasted for the first three generations, reflects the pure and authoritative teaching and practice of Islam. Contemporary Salafism is seen as a literal and puritanical approach to Islam. A minority of Salafis espouse violent jihad against the civilian population. Members of this violent minority are referred to as Salafists.

Perhaps the most malicious insults against the late Pope were made by the Salafist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim. He actually celebrated the Pope’s death in a message posted on his Facebook page. The Salafist cleric said, "We rejoice that he is destroyed. He has perished. May God have His revenge on him in the fire of hell – he and all who walk his path."

In addition, Ghoneim claimed that the Coptic Pope publicly advocated for the human rights of Christians in Egypt while he was secretly orchestrating religiously motivated violence against Christians. Ghoneim also accused Pope Shenouda of waging a war against Muslims in Egypt. "He wanted the sectarian strife," Ghoneim said. "He wanted to burn Egypt."

What twisted words these are! It is Ghoneim who is inciting sectarian strife as he speaks. And it is the Islamists, especially Salafist Islamists, who have been burning Egypt. We have not read about any Muslim mosques, businesses or homes that have been looted, attacked or set on fire in the news, but we have read about many Coptic churches, businesses and homes that have been.

In March of 2011, about one month after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, the Coptic community of Soul was attacked by a mob of 4000 Muslims, mostly Salafists. The mob attacked Coptic homes and burned their church to the ground.

A couple months later another mob of Muslims attacked Saint Mina Church in Cairo, but Copts barricaded access to the church and fought off the mob. Not far away, the Virgin Mary Church was set on fire that same evening in Imbaba, a suburb of Cairo. By the time the fire was put out, the church was gutted, and the church attendant was dead. In all, about fifteen people were killed that night and about 230 injured.

The following month in June, a mob of nearly 200 Muslims torched eight Christian homes in the Upper Egyptian village of Awlad Khalaf. The attack was initiated by a rumor that a house being built by Wahib Halim Attia was going to be turned into a church. Three people were injured due to the violence.

And in September of that same year, as construction neared completion on Saint George Church in Elmarinab, a village in the upper Egyptian province of Aswan, thousands of Muslims demolished its walls, columns and dome. Then they set the church on fire. They also torched construction materials being stored on the site, a nearby supermarket and four Coptic homes.

As a follow up to this incident, a court just sentenced the pastor of St. George’s Church, Father Makarios Bolous, to six months in jail and fined him 300 pounds because the court claims the church building was too high. The court also ordered that the height of the church be lowered.

It appears that Ghoneim came under fire for his malicious comments. Insulting people after their death is considered one of the rudest things someone can do in the Middle East, and Pope Shenouda was respected by many people, including Muslims. However, instead of apologizing, Ghoneim merely denied any wrongdoing. Then he issued the following challenge to all Christians:

"You believe in your Bible and say its words are holy. [Your Bible teaches] ‘Love your enemies and bless all who curse you.’ Your enemies – you love them and those who curse you – you bless them. So I say, God curse you! Bless me now. Bless me. Isn’t this your religion? I am going to say it again – I am your enemy, and I say, God curse you. Now, say it, ‘We love you Wagdy. And God bless ou Wagdy.’"

He is right, we Christians are to love our enemies. One of the most beautiful sentences in the Catechism states, "God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange" (221). Thus, we are to love our enemy because God loved us first and destined us to share in His inner life as one body in Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

However, God also hates evil, and the atrocities against the Copts and Wagdy Ghoneim’s statements are evil. They make us wonder if the so-called Arab Spring was just the cover for a growing evil. When we see the widespread failure of our public institutions and all the unrest in Western countries today and the mindless hatred in response to the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, we may wonder if this same evil is spreading throughout the world.

Consequently, we might ask ourselves, what is an authentic Catholic response to evil?  The answer was revealed to us about 2000 years ago on the first Good Friday, when Jesus confronted evil and defeated it for all time by his Passion and death. The only true solution to evil is divine, sacrificial love. And this kind of love is most perfectly expressed in space and time on the cross.

So does that mean that we are all lambs going to slaughter? In one sense, perhaps; but in another sense, the answer is a resounding no! For Christians, the cross is not a passive response or a kind of defeatism. It is an active, willed response. Jesus was not a passive agent. He said, "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again" (Jn 10:18). By the cross, Jesus fought evil in obedience to the will of the Father for love of the Father and us. So Jesus was like a lamb in one sense, but he was also like the lion of Judah. We are to imitate Jesus.

We all share in the cross, but it is not necessarily the same cross. We can discern God’s will from the circumstances and opportunities in our life, from our particular confrontation with evil. So the Copts will confront evil in Egypt differently than we will confront evil in the United States. And each person will also have his or her unique cross. Our job, then, is to pick up the cross that God has chosen for us (bearing in mind that God never wills evil).

The important thing is our fidelity, not our success (Blessed Mother Teresa). We can maintain fidelity by turning evil into moments of grace. And we do that by turning to God when we are confronted by evil. We pray for those suffering from it and for those causing it. We pray for God’s mercy, but we also pray for God’s will. Then we drink from the cup and put our trust in God’s providence. We respond to evil like everything depends upon us, but we pray like everything depends upon God (Saint Augustine).

We can have faith "that all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:28-29). What appeared to be the greatest act of evil in history, the crucifixion of the Son of God, bore the greatest good, our redemption and the beginning of the new creation. The Resurrection follows Good Friday.


Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God’s grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.