EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ — The local Egyptian Coptic community was stunned today following news of an ISIS attack against three churches in Egypt, claiming the lives of 43 persons and injuring more than 100 others.
In East Brunswick, the aftershocks could be felt by members of this close community, even as they celebrated Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, at St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church.
“My heart breaks for the friends and relatives of who lost loved ones in another senseless act of terror this morning in Egypt,” said Mayor Brad Cohen in a statement given to TAPinto East Brunswick. He visited St. Mary’s during the morning Mass to reassure residents of his support and that of the entire community.
“Let us all work to end this culture of hatred and division as we approach the season of rebirth, renewal, and hope,” he continued, referring to the lethal attacks on two churches in Egypt’s Tanta and Alexandria. A third bombing, also in Alexandria, the seat of the Egyptian church, was thwarted by local security.
At St. Mary’s, the East Brunswick Police Department had officers stationed nearby to display an increased presence during the services, which were attended by several hundred residents and their families. “We are proud to send the EBPD out to protect our houses of worship when these horrible events occur,” said Cohen.
Maher Khalil, who manages the office at St. Mary’s, got the news of the first attack when he arrived at work at 5 a.m. today. At that time, the early Mass, which goes from 4 to 9 a.m., was already in progress. “I told the priests about the first bomb, then the second one occurred a few minutes later.”
“I think the president of Egypt will take more action,” said Khalil, noting that the national security officer had already been fired. Khalil remained fixed on the incoming reports, watching the number of those reported injured increase. “Churches are very crowded today. This is a big community, especially in Alexandria.”
St. Mary’s claims one of the largest worship communities in New Jersey and is a central focus of the growing Egyptian Coptic population. Smaller congregations are growing locally in Holmdel, Spotswood, South River and Old Bridge, as Egyptian Christians seek refuge in the United States, according to Khalil.
“Following the bombings in Cairo 12 months ago, our church set up a fund for the families of those lost to terrorism,” said Khalil, who manages the church’s daily life. “It is likely that we will start a fund for these victims at our Easter Vigil Mass next Saturday evening.”