Coptic Pope Tawadros II seen on a visit to the Vatican with Pope Francis in May
Human rights officials in Egypt say that at least 25 churches throughout the country have been torched by supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, although the unofficial count may be more than double that number. Numerous eyewitnesses described the attackers as chanting slogans in support of Morsi as they attacked the churches as well as businesses and homes owned by Christians.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), at least 25 churches across Egypt were attacked by arsonists on Wednesday and Thursday, following the violence in the capital, Cairo, between security forces and supporters of Mr Morsi.The Coptic Church is Egypt's largest and oldest Christian denomination, dating back to 42 AD. Other denominations include Greek Orthodox and Protestant.
Christian schools, shops and homes were also targeted, it said.
The Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city about 390km (240 miles) south of Cairo, with a large community of Coptic Christians, was one target.
Witnesses likened the area to a ghost town, with residents hiding indoors.
Patriarch Louis Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic church which is based in Iraq, said churches belonging to his community in Egypt were among those targeted on Wednesday.
"This is a real disaster," he told the AFP news agency, saying the region was a "dangerous volcano".
Last month, the Coptic Church's Pope Tawadros II expressed his support for the massive demonstrations throughout Egypt calling for the removal of Mohammed Morsi from office. Many Christians said the rights of Egypt's 12 million Copts were eroded by a constitution written by the formerly outlawed Islamist party while Morsi's supporters say that the church was inviting attack by supporting the massive demonstrations that led to the Egyptian military ousting the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Egypt's Health Ministry, at least 638 people were killed in clashes this week when security forces moved in to clear out an encampment of pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators. Defense Minister and interim president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has also promised to rebuild the damaged churches in a statement on Egyptian state TV shortly after the coordinated attacks.