As Coptic Christians bury an estimated 44 killed in terrorist bombings during Palm Sunday services in Egypt, the oldest Coptic church in the United States is praying for both the families of the Christian "martyrs" and the Islamic State (IS) that has claimed responsibility for the deaths.
The attacks at St. George's Church in Tanta and at St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria also wounded more than 125 worshippers, Morning Star News reported, making the bombings more deadly than the 2016 Christmas bombing at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in suburban Cairo. Last year's attack that killed 24 and wounded 50 had been considered Egypt's worst bombing against Christians in the nation's history.
In the United States, the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mark in Jersey City, N.J., is praying and persevering, the church's deacon of public relations Joseph Ghabour told Baptist Press on April 10th.
"We deem their terrorist attack as an attempt to disrupt our prayers and disrupt our festivities, and we lost many more souls than we did in the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo," Ghabour said. "But we can only go on and pray and spread the message of peace and love that our Lord taught us."
In the Apostolic denomination believed to flow from a church founded by Saint Mark in the middle of the first century, the slain Christians have been called martyrs.
"We know that the martyrs are in a much better place," Ghabour told BP. "Pray for the terrorists who are trying to instill hate in the hearts of all Egyptians, whether they are Muslims or Christians, and we will not let the terrorists succeed in doing so.
"We pray for all those who hate us, and we ask that God provide His guidance to them to enlighten their hearts and their minds to know the right way."
The Palm Sunday attack in Tanta, about 60 miles north of Cairo, killed at least 27 people and wounded 78, Morning Star reported on April 9th. Hours later, a suicide bomber whom security officers stopped at the door of the church in the coastal city of Alexandria detonated explosives he had concealed on his body, killing at least 17 people and injuring 48 others. The same day, IS claimed responsibility for both attacks. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi soon declared a three-month state of emergency.
Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church, had just addressed worshippers at the Alexandria congregation before the blast, Morning Star said, but he was not injured.
"These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people," Tawadros said in an official statement after the attacks.
Christians, who comprise 10 percent of Egypt's population, have been increasingly attacked and persecuted since the 2013 coup in the country, Morning Star reported, with the Egyptian army having little success in protecting the Coptic minority.
In New Jersey, Ghabour said the church of 2,000 worshippers is saddened by the attacks. The church is among nearly 200 Coptic congregations in the United States, according to the Coptic Church database at CopticNetwork.net. Security at the New Jersey church is always in place, Ghabour said, but is heightened during holy days and feast days.
"Christians are—whether Coptic Christians or Catholics or any other Christian—a target these days for terrorists," Ghabour said. "They believe we are soft targets … so we always have security measures in place. They are more elevated during the festivities, particularly during Easter, Christmas—all the major holidays."
The church is requesting prayer from other Christians, including Southern Baptists.
"The world would be a lot better place for everyone if everyone loved each other as the Bible teaches us," he said. "All that we humans can do is to pray that God provides guidance to these people and enlightens their hearts and their minds."