Police in Egypt are boosting security around churches as Coptic Christians prepare to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Sunday (January 7th) after a year of deadly attacks targeting the ancient community.
More than 100 Christians have been killed in the spate of violence, including a shooting at a church south of Cairo last week claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Security forces have sought to quell attacks from ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, which has increasingly targeted Christians.
While the group has taken aim at other civilians, including more than 300 Muslim worshippers massacred at a Sinai mosque in November, it has focused on the Coptic community, which accounts for about 10% of Egypt's population.
"This year we will not stop supporting the state and the president and play our national role, but we hope officials will find a way to reduce the attacks," said Bishop Makarios of the southern Minya province.
In December 2016, an ISIS suicide bomber killed close to 30 worshippers at a church in Cairo in the St. Mark's Cathedral complex, the seat of the Coptic papacy.
In Sinai, where ISIS is based, hundreds of Christians were forced to flee in December and January after a wave of assassinations.
ISIS suicide bombers killed more than 40 people in twin church bombings in April and shot dead almost 30 Christians a month later as they headed to a monastery.
The year ended with an ISIS element killing nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.
Long awaited church law
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has attended Coptic religious ceremonies and called for a reform of religious Islamic discourse to weed out extremism.
He may attend the Christmas mass on Saturday, as he did last year, in a cathedral in a new administrative capital Egypt is building east of Cairo.
At the end of 2016, the Egyptian government adopted a long-anticipated law to regularise the construction and restoration of churches.
Unlike the construction of mosques, churches previously needed security clearances, and rumours that a church would be built sometimes led to attacks on Christians in the conservative rural south of the country.
In December, hundreds attacked a church south of Cairo that had been operating without a permit for more than a dozen years.
But a year after the new law, a rights group report says there are still no specific and clear rules on how to implement it.
After extremist attacks, "the second most important issue is the tensions and violence related to holding Coptic rituals", said Ishak Ibrahim, who wrote the report for the Egyptian Personal Rights Initiative.
Closures of unlicensed churches and buildings used for religious purposes even increased last year, he said.
"When the Copts asked for permission, the official bodies refused," he said.
But a few days ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations, the government announced it would facilitate requests and expedite the regularisation of unauthorised churches.