Egypt's Coptic Christians Celebrate

ORTHODOX Coptic Christians, one of the earliest Christian churches, celebrated their Christmas Eve Jan. 6, attending church services and ending a six-week fast.

The Copts' Laila al-Kabira, or Christmas Eve, ends with midnight mass presided over by the church's primate, Pope Shenouda III, and carried live on state-run Egyptian television and radio. Part of the mass is in Coptic, a language based on Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Copts, whose name comes from the Greek word for ``Egyptian,'' center their beliefs on the story of Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt with the baby Jesus, when they sought sanctuary from Herod. According to tradition, St. Mark founded churches in Alexandria, on Egypt's coast.

The estimated 6 million Coptic Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 58 million people. The rest are mostly Muslim. Copts have become a target in the two-year campaign by Muslim extremists to displace Egypt's secular government with Islamic rule. More than two dozen Copts have been killed.

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