Coptic pope approves Gaza border barrier

"I support moves to protect our borders by any means deemed appropriate by the government," Coptic Pope Shenouda III declared in a recent television interview, referring to the underground steel barrier being built by Egypt along its 14-kilometer border with the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Replying to a question about the permissibility of visits by Coptic Christians to Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, Shenouda said: "We allow visits on certain conditions, but I personally haven’t been there before. If I go, it will be with the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar."

Commenting on important events of 2009, the pope said: "Domestically, we saw internal divisions within the Muslim Brotherhood that led to the resignation of its deputy guide; [sectarian] clashes between Egyptian citizens in Upper Egypt; and controversies in the papers over the next presidential candidate."

"At the time of [late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser, nobody could open his mouth. Then came Sadat, who allowed some degree of press freedom," he said. "And when [President Hosni] Mubarak granted total freedom of the press, the papers began launching severe attacks against him and his family."

On the November football match between Egypt and Algeria, which saw alleged assaults by Algerian fans on their Egyptian counterparts, the pope said: "I thanked God that we lost, because the Algerians would have acted disproportionally if they hadn’t won."

On normalizing relations with Israel, the pope said: "As long as Israel is occupying Palestine, normalization must be made conditional."

The pope went on to deny the existence of differences among members of the Coptic Holy Synod over the issue of papal succession. "They’re all my sons," he said.

Finally, on recent alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the pope noted that the phenomenon had occurred before. "I have assigned a committee to refute anyone questioning these apparitions with the evidence," he said. "The committee will submit a report to the church and state its official opinion on the matter."

The pope received official congratulations from Mubarak and Libyan President Momar Gaddafi on the occasion of Coptic Christmas on 7 January.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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