BAYONNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Concerned Coptic Christians in New Jersey have watched from afar as the violence in Egypt has unfolded, believing their faith is under attack, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
Father Rafael, who leads a Coptic Christian church in Bayonne, N.J., says his heart breaks when he sees Coptic houses of worships, schools and businesses being burnt to the ground there.
“I am praying,” said Father Rafael, who has family in Egypt.
The country has seen a violent fallout since the July 3 coup that unseated President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who became Egypt’s first freely elected president following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. The post-coup crackdown has left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds in detention.
Father Rafael said nearly 80 churches have been set on fire in the past week. Coptic-American organizations blame the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters.
“Because they are trying to create pressure on the church to give up,” said Samouel Saleeb, a worshipper in Bayonne whose cousin and another relative were killed in the violence. He said the five men responsible for the slayings were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I felt a horrible because my cousin wasn’t my age,” Saleeb said. “He was 25 years old, and he just got married three months ago. … Why should he die? Why?”
New Jersey has the largest population of Coptic Christians in the United States. Copts say they have been persecuted for centuries but that the violence got worse when Morsi came to power.
Father Rafael was in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2012, when a church was burnt down there. He also said he saw mobs smash crosses in churches.
“He witnessed the church bombing and carried one of these bodies that’s been killed,” Saleeb said.
The Coptic-American community has asked the military to protect churches, and worshippers there have formed a political party so they might have a voice in government.
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