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Archbishop passes on victim letters

Published 19/04/2015

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called for more support for Christians facing persecution
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called for more support for Christians facing persecution

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has personally handed over letters of condolence from the families of British terror victims to the leader of the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

The gesture, believed to include letters from the family of murdered British aid worker David Haines, was made to Bishop Tawadros, the Pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians, as the archbishop made a whirlwind visit to Egypt.

The two-day trip, described as a "visit of condolence", follows the murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. The migrant workers were kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic State (IS) militants in February.

Mr Welby, who has called for more support for Christians facing persecution, took the personal messages after a grieving British relative "came to see him a few weeks ago and asked him to take these letters with him", according to his spokesman.

The spokesman said: "He personally took 21 letters with him and has handed them over.

"The essence of the visit is to show solidarity following the murder of the Coptic Christians. It is also reminding people of what has happened. The people he has met so far have been genuinely delighted that he has made this very brief visit here to pledge his support and stand by them."

The archbishop has previously condemned the beheading of Mr Haines by IS militants in September as a "brutal, cruel murder" and an "act of absolute evil". He called on churches to pray for the family.

Mr Haines, a 44-year-old aid worker, was seized in Syria in 2013. He was being held by Islamic State militants who have killed other international captives including journalists.

Mr Welby also met the Grand Imam of Al Azar - the key authority in Sunni Islam - during his visit.

A series of meeting with religious and political leaders has been lined up for the archbishop to personally show his "love and concern" but also to hear about the suffering of Christians in the region.

The archbishop leaves early tomorrow.

There was also a chilling reminder during the visit of IS's bloody activities as the militants released a video appearing to show the killing of two groups of captured Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

Ethiopia has long drawn the anger of Islamic extremists over its military's attacks on neighbouring Somalia, whose population is almost entirely Muslim.

The video starts with what it called a history of Christian-Muslim relations, followed by scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons. A masked fighter brandishing a pistol delivers a long statement, saying Christians must convert to Islam or pay a special tax prescribed by the Koran.

Abba Kaletsidk Mulugeta, an official with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church's Patriarchate Office, said he believes the victims were probably migrants.

"This is outrageous," Mr Mulugeta said. "No religion orders the killing of other people, even people from another religion."

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