Egypt’s president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, inaugurated what is now the largest Christian cathedral in the Middle East just in time for Coptic Christians to celebrate their Christmas holiday.
The new church — the Nativity of the Christ Cathedral — held its first Sunday Mass this week, a celebration in which al-Sisi participated, according to the BBC. The worship center is located near Cairo.
Egypt just opened the biggest cathedral in Middle East, accommodating up to 8,000 worshippers pic.twitter.com/Jpl6vKBOF8
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) January 7, 2019
Though Islam accounts for the vast majority of Egypt’s religious makeup, 10 percent of the population identify as Coptic Christians, or Copts. Over the years, many Copts have claimed the Muslim-majority country discriminates against them by not affording them appropriate security and protection.
Al-Sisi, however, has argued he’s a defender of Christians and religious freedom. At the opening of the cathedral, which the Muslim president commissioned in 2017 as a gift to the Copts, al-Sisi said, “We are one and we will remain one.”
The Christian church’s opening coincided with the opening of the new Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque nearby. Both religious facilities are located in a new development serving as the country’s administrative capital.
VIDEO: Security is tight as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi officially opens the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Egypt's New Administrative Capital, a day after a deadly bomb blast near a Coptic Christian church pic.twitter.com/pQsHTmLB6T
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 7, 2019
Al-Sisi said the tandem opening of the mosque and the church was a sign of unity between Muslims and Christians in the Middle Eastern nation.
President Donald Trump celebrated the church’s opening, too, praising Egypt and al-Sisi for “moving his country to a more inclusive future.”
Excited to see our friends in Egypt opening the biggest Cathedral in the Middle East. President El-Sisi is moving his country to a more inclusive future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2019
The grand opening of the cathedral came two days after an Egyptian police officer was killed trying to defuse a bomb at another nearby Christian church. No group has claimed credit for the attack.
Author and humanitarian Johnnie Moore, who has served as an informal faith adviser to Trump, told CBN News the bombardment from ISIS in the Middle East “created fertile ground for a new spirit of tolerance to rise across the region and you have leaders who are facilitating this.”
“There’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘What the enemy meant for evil, God uses for good,’” Moore explained, referring to Genesis 50:20, which reads, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
For Coptic Christians, it should be noted, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7.