American Copts step in to aid persecuted Egyptian Christians following Palm Sunday bombings

Disperse the enemies of the Church, fortify her, that she may not be shaken forever.” –Orthodox prayer said during Pascha (Easter Week services)

Recent terror attacks on Coptic Churches have been horrific, barbaric, arrogant, and quixotic, but the response from Coptic Christians here in the United States has been something truly beautiful.

This past Palm Sunday, the Islamic State claimed credit for two explosions that ripped through places of worship in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria, killing scores of believers and even prompting some churches to cancel their Easter celebrations out of security concerns.

Following the attacks, which occurred during the holiest week in the Christian calendar, Coptic Christians in the United States took action with prayers and humanitarian assistance for their brethren suffering in the wake of the blasts.

Hours after the bombings made headlines, worshippers at a Coptic Christian Church in California’s Central Valley gathered to mourn and pray for their brothers and sisters devastated by the gruesome attacks. According to a story at KFSN, at a late Palm Sunday service at a Coptic Church in Visalia was marked by a prayerful memorial of the martyrs:

On the other side of the church’s glass door, seven candles lit the front of the Coptic Christian Church in Visalia, and pews were filled with parents and children for a Palm Sunday service.

Though the men were on the left and women on the right, this congregation was not separated. The news of what happened several hours earlier in Egypt is bringing them closer together.

“Devastated,” churchgoer Peter Mossad said. “Couldn’t believe it was happening again.”

In addition to prayer, Copts in the United States are also responding with humanitarian aid. Two of their big focuses have been monetary assistance for victims and greater security for churches.

In addition to prayer, Copts in the United States are also responding with humanitarian aid. Two of their big focuses have been monetary assistance for victims and greater security for churches.

One of the biggest challenges facing the ancient religious community has been ensuring that their parishioners are safe when they come to pray and worship. While most churches in Egypt already have security cameras, these are too few to deter attacks. Believers in the United States are consequently working to raise funds that will pay for metal detectors at the front of churches, adding another layer of security for a beleaguered people.

“We asked the churches in Egypt what they needed and the answer was simple,” explains Michael Rizk, a board member at Coptic Solidarity — an international grassroots coalition of Coptic Christians — who works at a biotech company in North Texas. “They all said, ‘We know God will hear our prayers, all we’re asking for is security so that we can go pray.”

H.O.P.E., a social services program run by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States and headquartered in Tampa, Fla., has assisted their sister churches by facilitating the donations process for the added security measure. Through a dedicated portal on their website, H.O.P.E. is also running a portal where people can donate funds to “to assist the families of those martyred and to help those who were wounded by these horrendous acts.”

“We’re not going to be defeated.”

The response from parishioners — even after a few days of donations — has been “overwhelming,” Fr. James Gendi, a priest at St. Mary & Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Houston told Conservative Review over the phone.

“A lot of our church members still have friends and family in Egypt,” he continues, “so every time something like this happens, we usually see thousands of dollars sent over to help.”

The attacks themselves are tragic enough, Rizk says, but what adds insult is a lack of media coverage of events like this in the United States.

“[The media] speak about President Trump bombing a runway for days, over and over and over again. And they cover this Russian hacking stuff for months, over and over and over, but when it comes to persecution of Christians, you get a little line that scrolls across the bottom of your screen,” he says in frustration. “That’s ridiculous.”

This dearth of coverage makes it all the more important to point out that the Palm Sunday attacks didn’t happen in a vacuum. Egypt’s Christians have been feeling the squeeze from Islamists in the country for sometime, a narrative that runs contrary to President al Sisi’s tough-on-terrorism public image.

In fact, Coptic Solidarity keeps a running tally of anti-Christian violence in Egypt, which includes a long train of abuses including mob violence, arson, and a lack of protection from local law enforcement. Patrick Poole at PJ media highlights some many of these such instances in detail at PJ media.

Coptic Solidarity advocacy director Lindsay Griffin says that while the al Sisi government talks a good game about religious freedom, Egypt’s Christians are still waiting on real, solid reforms.

“It’s easy to make a speech and it’s easy to attend a mass,” she says, “but this government has shown almost no willingness to address the real problems for Copts on the ground.”

But al Sisi finds himself in a difficult position. On the other side of his commitment to fight jihadist terrorism is a population that is mostly Muslim, and where centuries-old cultural animosities towards Christians run deep.

Risk says that the key for the United States is to take both of these factors into account when dealing with the Egyptian leader, and that U.S. support should hinge on real reforms, such overhauling a jihad-friendly education system and actively prosecuting perpetrators of religious violence.

“[Sisi] is a man who has come to the United States asking for support,” Rizk explains. We should support him, but absolutely hold him accountable for human rights.”

Coptic Christianity is an Orthodox tradition in Egypt, the roots of which go back to the first century A.D and traces its roots back to the Apostles. Currently, Egypt’s Christians make up around 10 percent of the country’s population, while the Coptic diaspora boasts millions of believers all over the world.

During our conversation, Rizk reminded me this sort of persecution began as soon as Christianity came to the land of the Nile. The Church’s first Patriarch, St. Mark the Evangelist, was not only martyred but dragged through the streets. After two millennia in a country that has seen the likes of Romans, Islamists, and Dictators, he adds that this is “nothing new.”

“I’ve talked to the families who have been affected by this,” explains Rizk. “They say they’re not afraid of churches, they’re not afraid to go into churches. They know if they die, they die as martyrs. They can blow up the buildings, but the Church is in our heart.”

“That speaks to the courage of the Copts,” he continues. “We’re not going to be defeated.”

To learn more about how HOPE is helping Christians in Egypt, you can follow the link here.

Source: American Copts step in to aid persecuted Egyptian Christians following Palm Sunday bombings