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How dreadful was yesterday's massacre of those attending religious services for Palm Sunday in the Coptic Church of St Mark's in Alexandria, Egypt.

It puts me in mind of my dear friend and well-known local Coptic priest, Fr. Tom Flanagan, who died last May. May he rest in peace. Born in Plymouth, England, Fr Flanagan grew up with Irish roots. He became coach to the national Spanish rugby team and served as a referee for 18 international rugby games. He was also a tennis coach to many renowned players, including champions Virginia Wade and Sue Barker.

Fr Flanagan's duties as priest in Ireland included ministry to the Egyptian, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Syrian communities. However, he was well-known among all the denominations. Being from the ancient Coptic Orthodox religion, he often jokingly said that he was the only 'real' priest in Ireland.

Yesterday's atrocity, which followed another attack in Tanta, was thought to have been aimed at Pope Tawadros II, leader of the ancient Coptic church, who was worshipping in St Mark's at the time but escaped unharmed.

The blasts, claimed by Islamic State, came just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the Arab world's most populous country before the end of April.


The suffering and witness of the Coptic church has been profound in recent years.
How true.