CAIRO: A delegation of prominent Coptic figures visited Minya on Wednesday to begin negotiations with its governor over halting the construction of the new diocese of Maghagha city in Upper Egypt.
Legal advisor to Pope Shenouda III Ahmed Ramsis El-Naggar headed the delegation that was set to meet Minya Governor Ahmed Diaa El-Din.
The diocese decided to postpone until next week a sit-in scheduled to be held at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya on Wednesday, in a bid to resolve the dispute through negotiations.
Diaa El-Din had issued an order to halt the construction of the new diocese because of what he described as "the diocese’s lack of commitment" to an agreement signed with the governorate on Wednesday.
The governor’s decision angered the Copt community. Thousands of Copts demonstrated inside Maghagha’s old diocese, while hundreds pledged to hold an open sit-in until construction resumes.
The governor had approved building a new diocese in Maghagha over an area of 1,800 square meters of land to replace the old diocese, which was about to collapse, and which covered an area of 600 square meters.
The dispute between the diocese and the governor is over the interpretation of two articles in the contract they signed on March 13.
The contract, a copy of which was made available to Daily News Egypt, states that the old diocese buildings should be completely torn down before the construction of the new one begins.
It also stipulates that the plot of land that housed the old diocese should be allocated to the building of a hospital or a clinic to serve the entire community, whether Muslim or Christian; and that any symbols of its former Christian identity be removed.
Diaa El-Din accused the head of the diocese of violating the terms of the contract, when the archbishop of Maghagha, Anba Agathon refused to tear down the wall surrounding the old diocese.
The governor added that he will not allow the presence of any religious symbols on the new community service building, as he refuses the establishment of two neighboring religious buildings, whether they are affiliated to Islam or Christianity, in his governorate.
Agathon, however, told Daily News Egypt that the church “complied with the contract’s terms completely."
He added: "We have in-fact removed a large part of the outer wall [of the diocese’ old building], but we kept part of the outer wall to safeguard some of the belongings that remain in the building until they are transferred and the demolition [of the old building] is complete."
Agathon also said that he is committed to turning the old building into a hospital that serves everyone, Muslims and Christians, but without removing its Christian symbols.
"We can’t remove the Christian identity of the building because it will be a public Church hospital," he said.
He believed the reason behind the governor’s insistence to tear down the wall is to remove the cross that is embossed on it.
He added that keeping the wall is also important to protect the bishops, nuns and their property as well as to preserve the official documents related to members of the diocese.