Never take your freedom for granted

Joel van der Veen
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For many of us, Sunday is a day of routine. Lots of us sleep in; others go to church, or perhaps take part in other activities we enjoy.

My Sunday afternoons follow a predictable schedule: lunch, a nap and maybe a movie. By and large, it’s a day to relax, whether that takes the form of a game, a good book or family time. It’s also a chance to reflect on the week that’s passed and plan for the week ahead.

Last Sunday, my fiancee and I broke with our usual routines to attend an afternoon event organized by our church. Our seniors and young adults groups had organized a gathering together, an attempt to bridge the gap between our generations.

For much of the afternoon, we played board games together. We joined four affable seniors for a few rounds of Rummikub, making conversation and getting to know each other between hands.

We later switched tables and enjoyed some snacks and coffee, plus more chatter. An emcee introduced each of the youngsters to the crowd; we sang some hymns and newer songs, heard a brief inspirational message and joined in for a closing song.

Our generations have our differences, but we also share much in common. One thing we have enjoyed for most of Canada’s history is freedom of religion, a right enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This gives us the freedom to worship together, to enjoy fellowship as a church community, and to express our beliefs without fear of persecution — something unknown to many.

The Coptic Christians in Egypt are one such group. The election of President Mohammed Morsi last June and the rise of the Islamic Brotherhood has exacerbated a "climate of fear and uncertainty,” in the words of Daily Telegraph reporter Richard Spencer.

Members of the ancient church say they feel threatened, marginalized and unsafe, thanks to actions ranging from random harassment and intimidation to brutal violence.

One church in Alexandria was the target of a car bombing on Jan. 1, 2011, killing 23 people. A series of attacks in Cairo on Coptic churches and homes four months later resulted in 15 deaths, according to The Globe and Mail.

Earlier this month, tensions rose to a boiling point in the village of al-Marashda after a Coptic shopowner was accused of abusing a Muslim child. Buildings were burned and an angry mob tried to demolish the local Coptic church, according to United Press International.

This atmosphere has led to a mass exodus, as it were, of Copts from Egypt. During one six-month period in 2011, according to the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights, almost 93,000 Coptic Christians emigrated; about 17,000 of them headed to Canada.

Thousands more are said to be planning their departure, but Egypt’s current economic and political woes have left many citizens too poor to consider that option, even in the face of religious persecution.

We would find it hard to imagine: thousands denied a freedom we enjoy without a second thought. President Morsi has pledged to respect Christians’ rights, but this has provided Copts with little comfort.

As we hope and pray for peace in a region where it has been a scarcity for so long, we should also stand up, in whatever way we can, for what is right. In the words of the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Even if your Sunday routine consists of a nap, a bowl of cereal and American Dad!, be thankful for the freedom you possess — and never take it for granted.

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Organizations: Islamic Brotherhood, Daily Telegraph, Globe and Mail Coptic church United Press International Egyptian Federation of Human Rights

Geographic location: Egypt, Canada, Alexandria Cairo

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