On Monday, April 24, 28 members of UC Riverside’s Coptic community held a candlelight vigil at the Bell Tower from 7:30-8:15 p.m., to mourn those who died in bombings that took place at multiple Coptic churches in Egypt on Sunday, April 9. The bombings took place during Palm Sunday, with the Islamic State group (IS) taking credit for the bombings.
In the city of Tanta, Egypt, a bomb was detonated at 10 a.m. during prayer at the Mar Girgis church, which killed 29 and injured 71. Three hours later, in Alexandria, Egypt, a second bomb was detonated at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox church killing 18 and injuring 35.
In response to the bombings, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that there will be a three-month state of emergency in Egypt.
The vigil started with everyone gathering in front of the Bell Tower with their candles in-hand. Then, they started reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” in unison. Once the group completed the prayer, nine members of the vigil took turns reading a blog post that was written by Father Anthony Paul. The blog post was a reaction to the bombings and how, while there may be a feeling of anger and hatred, the Coptic community should respond with love and forgiveness. The post also described what Paul saw in the immediate aftermath of the bombing at St. Mark’s church.
Once the reading concluded, the microphone was opened up for anyone in attendance to express any thoughts or reactions that they had about the bombings. Third-year sociology major Christine Ibrahim, fourth-year mechanical engineering major David Awada and first-year biochemistry major Bishoy Joseph each spoke.
Ibrahim was the first to speak. She explained, “Something that I learned on Lazarus Saturday, during a sermon my own priest was saying what Palm Sunday really meant … The palm represents victory … And so I was very confused as to why, at that point, is Christ walking in on a donkey? What is he victorious of? And at that point I was thinking he is victorious of walking to kill our sins.”
Next, Awada described his feelings about the bombings and other acts of violence taking place. “It seems like these events, these massacres and these bombings and these killings and these shootings, are becoming a consistent part of our lives today,” he stated. Awada later insisted, “We don’t give in. We don’t fight hate with hate. We fight hate with love. We pray for those who bomb us and we love our enemies and that’s what we are about.”
Finally, Joseph spoke saying, “I have realized that there is no reason for me to ever talk down the Coptic church, or anyone to talk down the Coptic church, and there is no reason for me to ever lose pride in my church and I will forever stay strong with that church because I don’t realize how strong we are to the point where, a week after this (the bombings), churches were filled unlike I have ever seen in my entire life.”
After Joseph finished speaking, a brief moment of silence was held. Next, the group recited the “Nicene Creed” that then led into a final recitation of the “Lord’s prayer.”
The vigil ended after announcements by third-year psychology major and President of Coptic Orthodox Christian Club Mariam Hanna about upcoming meetings for the club.
Hanna stated in an interview, “Our church teaches us that we should always forgive and pray for those who persecute us.” She later added, “My initial reaction (to hearing about the bombings) was a human factor, anger, but when I really thought and reminded myself of what my church stands for, it was just pure envy (for those who died in the bombings), I guess. They got a one-way ticket to heaven.”