President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi chose the evening of the Minya attack to become the first Egyptian President to attend a Christmas Eve mass in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. During his surprise visit, he extended holiday greetings to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and all of Egypt’s Coptic citizens.

“It was necessary to attend and wish you well,” he said in a short speech, greeted by rousing applause from the worshippers. “We are Egyptians, and we have to be only Egyptians. We will build our country together. We will truly accept and love each other.”

Televised on state television, President al-Sisi’s symbolic visit, standing alongside the spiritual leader of Egypt’s 10 million or more Coptic citizens, contrasted with the reluctance of previous presidents to associate publicly with their Christian minorities.