Coptic Christians are coming to America

Seasoned international correspondent Scott Heidler is based in New York City for Al Jazeera English covering the United Nations and other major stories from the Americas.

Ridgewood, NY – The ethnic face of the Queens neighbourhood Father Michael Sorial’s Coptic Orthodox Church has called home for decades is changing. More Christian families from Egypt, founding home of his faith, are mixing in with the Latino population.

This thanks to growing violence and insecurity since the Egyptian revolution last January. Many are fleeing their home country looking for a safer place for their families. Father Sorial’s St. Mary and St. Antonios Church has seen the number of his faithful nearly double since the revolution. The church has had to add on services and expand their community programmes.

Sitting in his chapel he told me; “Every month pre-revolution we had two to three families coming per month. And we thought that was a significant amount. Post-revolution the numbers have just ballooned and we are seeing that number probably on a weekly basis.”

Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite

The demographics of those immigrating are changing too. There have been several waves of Christians that left Egypt for the US, a community currently estimated to be 400,000.

Born in the US, Father Sorial spent his early years in the state of Texas. His parents were part of an early wave back in the 1960s. He called it the “wave of the pioneers” who fled religious persecution.

Then when visa requirements were relaxed in the 1990s, a wave of less-educated more rural Egyptians came to the US for better economic prospects. They’re much different than the current wave.

“The newer trend we are finding is that they are the extremely, extremely educated and very financially secure are now getting out of Egypt. I think they want to protect their investments, the security and safety of their family. With the instability and uncertainty of what the future of Egypt holds, people are saying we want to get out because they don’t know what’s going to come down,” he said.

Amir Moroks arrived a few months ago. He’s a businessman and was worried about making a living in Cairo. “Economy has been a big impact a big focal point that led all individuals to think about their future,” he told me while walking down a street next to the church.

Monique El-Faizy is a Copt living in Manhattan. She is writing a book about Copts and thinks the trend of Christians fleeing Egypt will continue.

“They feel as though there has been an increase in sectarian violence, that’s undeniable since the revolution. The number of church burnings and sectarian incidents has increased. Not only that, they are worried that in an Islamising Egypt, there won’t be room for them,”  El-Faizy said.

Father Sorial says there will always be room for them in his church. But he’s concerned about what will become of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community if they continue to leave.

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