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Coptic Christians Making Pilgrimages to Jerusalem in Record Numbers


"To visit Jerusalem and the holy places was always my wish," merchant Refaat El-Sayeh, a Coptic Christian from the city of Al-Kosheh, told Religion News Service. "You feel the hand of God."

El-Sayeh and 25 others from his town are part of the growing number of Egyptian Christians visiting Israel at unprecedented rates. 

For years,  El-Sayeh and others like him were told to stay out of Israel. Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, discouraged Egyptian Copts from traveling to Israel as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians. 

Following Shenouda's death in 2012, the number of applications for tourist visas to Israel spiked from several hundred to around  3,000 annually. 

The Egyptian government has contributed to this recent increase in visitations. 

Last month the nation's Higher Constitutional granted Egyptian Christians the right to take a one-month paid leave to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a privilege  granted only to Muslims in the past. 

Naguib Gobrail, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights and the attorney who filed the lawsuit three years ago, told Daily News Egypt the verdict is an unprecedented victory. 

Now, Christians like El-Sayeh can travel to Israel without fear of losing their jobs, and they don't show signs of stopping. 

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