CAIRO: Some 750 Egyptian Coptic Christians departed Cairo Airport Friday heading to Jerusalem for the upcoming Easter celebrations, Youm7 reported.
The move defies the official stance of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which considers travel to Israel a violation of an edict issued by the late Pope Shenouda III in 1978 forbidding travel to the Holy Land and Jerusalem “as long as the city remains under Israeli occupation.”
Despite the ban, thousands of Copts have visited Israel over the past few years during Easter.
Travel to Israel requires obtaining a visa, which the Coptic Church declares is a form of “normalization,” despite the fact that Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1997. Egypt’s Evangelical and the Catholic churches, however, have not forbidden traveling to Israel for pilgrimage, considering it as a personal choice.
Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of St. Mark See himself was slammed by public figures after his visit to Jerusalem in November to lead mourning for Archbishop Anba Abraham, head of the Coptic Church in the Holy Land.
“We, (Egyptians) with all our political and religious orientations, have been always proud of the Coptic Church’s firm decisions against normalization with the Zionist entity following the 1977 Camp David peace treaty. The visit will likely pave the way for a significant increase in the number of Copts going for pilgrimage in Jerusalem amid Israeli security forces’ constant attack on Palestinians,” The Strong Egypt Party said in a statement following the visit.
Unlike its date in the churches in the west, the date of the Coptic Orthodox Easter is based on a Julian calendar; thus it falls around three weeks later.
According to the Coptic Calendar, Easter Sunday falls this year on May, 1.