Egyptian Coptics find refuge in Westminster

By Sandra Abdelmalak/Garden Grove Journal

Given the rise of persecutions of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the recent political unrest within the country, there has been a steep increase of Copts fleeing Egypt and finding a new home for themselves in southern California.

One of the many Coptic Orthodox churches in California that has experienced a population spike due to the increase in Egyptian immigrants is Archangel Michael Church in Santa Ana. After receiving the authorization and blessing of Bishop Serapion, Archangel began renting the Westminster Good Samaritan Church on 14362 Willow Lane to hold additional services on Saturday and Sunday.

“In the last few years, we’ve had lots of immigrants coming from Egypt due to the recent events there,” said Father Mark Hanna, one of the four priests at Archangel. “In the last year we are even getting about two to three families, sometimes within a week.

“So the rate was too high and we were getting so crowded that we felt that we were in need of another premise.”
The location in Westminster was chosen to accommodate many of the immigrants who live in apartment complexes around the area. In fact the church even sends out minivans to pick-up and drop-off those who do not have any other transportation to get to church.

“When we came here, we didn’t know anything about the culture or even what we had to do here,” said Mervat Hanna, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt and came to America with her husband and three children in 2009. “The church offered a lot of help for us.”

One of the most ancient Christian churches in the world, the Coptic Orthodox Church was founded by the apostle and gospel writer, St. Mark, in Egypt in the first century. Since then, the church has made it a priority to preserve its original Orthodox faith, which has been handed down through generations, maintaining an unaltered pattern of worship that follows the early apostolic doctrines.

Since its origins, the Coptic Church has survived several years of persecution. Suffering under the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and Arab-Muslim invasion, the Copts managed not only to maintain their faith but spread their churches all over the world. Recently, this religious minority in Egypt has had to deal with several blatant attacks, including the bombing and burning of churches as well as continual kidnapping and forced conversion of women.

“In Egypt there is discrimination and persecution, so I came here to protect my children and create a good future for them,” said Hanna.

“Our brothers, the Muslims, are ruling the country,” said Father Mark. “Nobody knows exactly where they are taking the country to and how they will treat people there, especially the Christian Copts.”

In the meantime, Archangel has made it a priority to provide for and assist the influx of immigrants. From the moment they are picked up from the airport, the church helps the immigrants find housing and furniture, establish a bank account, and get a driver’s license. Archangel even provides English and Pharmacy technician classes for free at their church.

“I remember when I first came 10 years ago,” said Father Mark. “They made it such a smooth transition and made me feel that the church is such a great support. Hopefully, God will make His own plans to fit the service. It is, in the end, His service.”