If a suicide bomber had detonated himself in a pew at St Peter’s Basilica while the Pope of Rome was presiding over the liturgy, the world’s media would be talking about an assassination attempt on the life of Francis, which it surely would have been. When a bomb or a bullet gets within a whisker (that is to say, within a church compound) of a pope at prayer, it may reasonably be surmised that the target is that praying pope. Why else would a rather devout Muslim seek to outfox security to gain entry to an iconic church on that particular day? It’s not likely to be for inter-religious dialogue and ecumenical fellowship, is it?
But when a suicide bomber tried to gain access to St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria on Palm Sunday while the Pope of Alexandria was presiding over the liturgy, the world’s media seemed to ignore the presence of Tawadros II, for some reason, as though he were a bit player in a fringe play. To around 18 million Coptic Christians worldwide, he isn’t ‘a pope’; he is His Holiness the Pope, Patriarch of the See of St Mark in the Province of Alexandria, Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan and all Africa, with an apostolic lineage going all the way back to 42 AD. A bomb going off in his historical seat is an attack on him.
Alexandria’s pontiff doesn’t get as many column inches as Rome’s; perhaps he isn’t supreme enough. But you’d think an assassination attempt on his life – however amateurish and botched – would merit a few headlines, wouldn’t you? The mainstream media have condemned the Palm Sunday outrage with an outpouring of sorrow and sadness, compassion and prayers, and column inches dedicated to political assurances that more will (or must) be done. But no mention at all that Pope Tawadros II was the likely target.
Make no mistake, this was an attempt on the life of the Pope – not that Pope, but this one.