It was just a regular Sunday morning. I was getting ready for church, thinking about my plans for after the service – nothing out of the ordinary. I got into the car with my mom, and instantly, I knew something was off. A few minutes into the drive, my mother told me about the horrific events that had occurred in Egypt just a few hours earlier. A Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, Egypt had been bombed. I was in shock. This was not the first time something like this had happened, but it still hit me hard.
As a Coptic Orthodox Christian living in America, I’m sometimes out of touch with what goes on in Egypt. However, when something this drastic takes place, it really shakes my world. I spent most of Sunday going through the motions, thinking that this couldn’t be real. How could I explain this act of violence and hatred to the youthful, innocent 4th graders I taught in Sunday school?
Despite this emotional chaos, I knew that focusing on the negatives would not accomplish anything. During the past 48 hours, I have seen immense support from many people – Coptic and non-Coptic. I too have tried to do my part, being there for those who needed support and spreading awareness about the events. It was comforting to see social media being used as a tool for good in times like these. As I scrolled through my social network feeds on Sunday afternoon, all I saw were articles, photos, and quotes related to the bombing – anything to let the world know what happened but also to remind people not to lose hope. One recurring post was a photo of the Arabic letter ن (“noon”), which stands for the word “Nazarene,” a term used by Muslims for Christians. I lost count of how many people changed their profile photos to a picture of that letter to show solidarity with those who were killed in the bombing. The unity that is characteristic of the Coptic community was very much apparent.
The attack on St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Egypt has had a powerful effect on students here at NJIT, which has a large Coptic population. On Monday, the student organization Coptic Society had its last meeting, which featured a prayer and a talk given by guest speaker Bishop Angaelos from the United Kingdom. Of all the Coptic Society meetings that took place this semester, Monday’s was the biggest, with over 70 attendees. Bishop Angaelos’ talk was quite fitting in light of Sunday’s events, providing clarity and comfort. A renowned spokesperson for the Coptic Church, he has spoken to many news agencies over the past few days. I was lucky to interview him as well and hear his thoughts about the events.
Bishop Angaelos says, “We’ve faced attacks, we’ve face persecution, we’ve faced violence and we’re still there to tell the tale.” The Coptic Church has suffered persecution from the time of its birth, over 2000 years ago. Yet it is resilient, unshakeable. How can it continue to survive in the face of these attacks? The way it always has: Bishop Angaelos asserts, “We’re a peaceful people… I think it’s important to realize we’ve never taken up arms, we’ve never been aggressive, never fought. Yet we’re still there… No matter what happens to us, we’re not going to retaliate.” Despite the repeated violence and hatred towards the Coptic Church, being peaceful is so instinctive to its members. As followers of Biblical teachings, Coptic Christians trust in God and direct their energies into praying for and even loving their enemies.
Bishop Angaelos instructs his listeners, “We need to continue to be strong in ourselves and to love and forgive others, to live the Christian message. It’s simple, because people think this is Sunday school stuff, but the actual fact is that this is the secret to it. Love people. Forgive people. Love others as yourself.” In this past year, there have been a lot of unkind and hateful speech and actions – all over the world. The Coptic Church is peaceful, compassionate, and loving – even to those that hate it. We can all learn from it.
Significant help has already begun in response to Sunday’s tragedy, like crowdfunding to raise money for the families of the victims. Despite being an ocean away from Egypt, we can help out. I was overjoyed when so many of my fellow Coptic students suggested ideas for how to help. I was even happier to see non-Copts take interest in the issue and offer support. We are all human, and every human life is equally important. One of my friends asserted that when any people suffer, regardless of their differences, others should empathize with them. If you would like to help out, please spread awareness about this issue. Also, to make a monetary contribution, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.