Coptic Martyrs of Cairo, Remembered in New Jersey


Forty days later, the pain of terrorism in Egypt resonates as far as New Jersey.

On December 11, 2016 the Coptic community of Egypt was shaken by a suicide bomber, killing 28 worshippers in the St. Peter and St. Paul Church adjacent the Coptic Cathedral.

“Deliverance from our enemies comes only from God,” said Archbishop Karas, patriarchal exarch for North America in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

“But this is not new, martyrdom is part of living our lives in Christ.”

Archbishop Karas was one of many religious and political dignitaries present during a commemoration service at the St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Holmdel, NJ. Copts sometimes jest that their diaspora in New Jersey is the ‘Shubra’ of the United States, referring to the mixed but heavily populated Coptic neighborhood in Cairo.

Approximately 1000 visitors gathered on January 13 to honor the martyrs who lost their lives, fitting with the traditional Egyptian custom of mourning the deceased on the fortieth day after their passing.

This corresponds to January 20, but host Fr. Michael Sorial explained the service was moved forward to avoid scheduling on the presidential inauguration.

Fr. Sorial offered thanks to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his response to the tragedy. Immediately he promised to restore the Cairo church to its original condition in time for Coptic Christmas on January 7, and honored the victims with a state funeral.

The work completed, Sisi visited Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II for Christmas mass in the Coptic Cathedral for the third year running. He is the first Egyptian president ever to do so.

Fr. Sorial also hosted a number of New Jersey political figures, among them longtime friend of the Coptic community Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

“We look up to God, for only faith can truly comfort us at a time like this,” said Menendez. “And in each other we find the strength to move forward.

“As long as I have a vote and a voice in the US Senate, I will be a bold advocate for tolerance and acceptance, for freedom of religion, peace, and security – both here at home and around the world.”

Menendez was joined by fellow senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who offered his condolences in a recorded video.

“I am grateful the Coptic community lives those values of joy, of peace, of mercy, of compassion,” said Booker. “You evidence the values that are needed now more than ever to combat that kind of violence.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) dispatched an official letter.

“My prayer is that following this darkness and evil, the light of the Christian community in Egypt will burn brighter than ever before,” he wrote.

“I commit to you to work toward a more secure future for Christians in Egypt and in the region.”

Also joining the commemoration was Ambassador Ahmed Farouk of the Egyptian General Consulate in New York.

“In Egypt, that fact is that we are all Copts—whether we are Muslims or Christians,” said Farouk. “The 28 martyrs are in a better place than all of us, for sure.

“The only big loser is terrorism, and it will keep losing as long as we stand united.”

In his keynote address, Archbishop Karas reminded the audience that these martyrs cannot be remembered without also remembering other Christian and non-Christian victims of terrorism around the world.

But he impressed upon those in attendance that such witness is not only for those who are killed. It is meant also for the living.

“For most of us, martyrdom means we die to ourselves, and give our lives completely to God,” he said. “We honor Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of the 28 martyrs by taking up our cross, to follow our Lord.”

For complete video of the memorial service, please click here or watch below.


Not Quite Home for Christmas

Lonely Christmas

I have lived overseas now for about eight years.  We have lived in three different countries, but even so, I feel quite at home here in Egypt, where we have been for four years.  We have lots of friends and my life is busy with four young kids.  For me, living overseas is the norm.  While I love so many things about America, and I would love to live in the same state, or even town, as my family, I am perfectly content living as an expat.

But there are times when homesickness strikes.  Times when you just wish you could be two places at once, or that you could travel over the ocean as easily, and cheaply, as driving from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  And one of those times is the holidays.  Particularly Christmas.

The family I grew up in still gets together on Christmas despite growing from the original 7 to now 29 people.  And if I sit and think about that too long, especially at the time they are actually gathering, which is usually when I am sleeping here, that can make me sad.  I would love to be with my family on Christmas.  But of course, I am with my family on Christmas as I celebrate with my husband and kids.  What is the difference?

The last few years I have felt that Christmas has snuck up on me.  We celebrate American Thanksgiving, and before I can think about it, I have to have the Christmas Advent calendar up in order to count down to the 25th.  Meanwhile, here in Egypt, the official holiday of Christmas isn’t until January 7, according to the Coptic calendar.  And while you can see lots of Christmas trees and wrapping paper on display at local shops, there isn’t exactly the festive atmosphere that you would find in the States.  One of the biggest reasons the 25th almost comes without notice is that my girls have a regular school day and are either studying for or taking their mid-term exams.  The church where we worship has begun Christmas choir practice for the girls, but their program will be on New Year’s Eve.

And so I am learning what I need to do personally to make Christmas special for me and my family in our home here in Egypt.  I need people and special celebrations.  If we aren’t invited to others’ celebrations, then I need to host celebrations for us (or maybe for me!)  I need to bake and enjoy the time spent in the kitchen with my kids, as that is one of my favorite memories from Christmases in Pennsylvania… all the kitchen preparation beforehand.  I need to listen to Christmas music and make an effort to teach my kids the carols they should know.  We need to attend Christmas productions and concerts at local churches.  And we need to set new traditions that make our Christmases ones that our children will one day miss.

This year I am hoping to host three Christmas teas.  What is easier, and tastier, than making a bunch of Christmas sweets, and inviting others to join and indulge?  One group will be teachers from my daughter’s Egyptian school, where I have begun teaching on a very part-time basis.  This is an experiment and something totally new for them.  Another group will be of Egyptian Christian friends.  Again, a bit of an experiment, but we can celebrate the holiday together, perhaps for some of them in a new way.  And the last group will be of other foreign moms like me.  This will be the most naturally comfortable and possibly the tastiest as they provide some of their favorite traditional sweets.

No matter where we are, if with my husband and our children gathered together, we are home. And this home is now Egypt.  It requires some adjustments and creativity, and perhaps some courage to step out and try new things.  One of our Egyptian traditions is sailing on a felucca on the Nile River on Christmas morning. It is very different from the craziness that ensues when 17 grandchildren descend on my parents’ house on Christmas day.  But these are special times and new memories that we make ourselves. Perhaps one day our own children will have a longing for Egypt. But we pray they will be able to celebrate wherever they are, even if not quite home.