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Pa. Copts urge unity in aid for Christians in Egypt

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 11:14 p.m.

If Cairo dentist Adel Abdel-Shahid needs anything right now, it's simple things that most people outside Egypt would take for granted.

He has asked his nephew Mark Matta, 36, of New Castle for antiseptic mouthwash.

“It's too expensive,” Matta said. “It's almost triple what it costs here.”

As Coptic Christian churches in Pennsylvania grapple with events of the past week — attackers struck more than 60 churches, vandalizing or burning them — they are just beginning to discuss sending aid to help Egyptians and the churches.

“They need everything,” said Matta, a deacon at St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church of Ambridge. “Food, money, simple items.”

As discussions on humanitarian aid get under way, Coptic Christian officials here believe the effort should be unified among American churches.

“We should do something to help our Egyptian brothers,” said the Rev. Bishoy F. Mikhail, pastor at St. Mary's. “But we'll do it in a united way.”

Rebuilding the more than 60 churches will require “help from everyone,” he said.

On Sunday, Coptic Christians in Ambridge got a show of support from the Rev. Michael Kochis, pastor at nearby St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“Father Michael said he wanted to be part of our efforts,” Matta said. “It was very, very touching ... especially coming from very different cultures and backgrounds.”

“They are our neighbors. We look at the news, and it's so real for them,” Kochis said. “They have friends and relatives there. I wanted them to know they are not forgotten.”

Protesters looted and torched nearly 40 churches in Egypt and heavily damaged 23 others when chaos erupted as Egypt's military-backed interim administration moved in to clear two camps packed with supporters calling for former President Mohamed Morsy's reinstatement.

The action killed scores of protesters and sparked deadly clashes nationwide.

Coptic Christians, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, generally keep a low profile but became more politically active since ex-President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Christians sought to ensure fair treatment in the aftermath.

Matta said the initial push here will be through political action — lobbying and protesting — to raise awareness of the issue. About 200 Coptic Christians protested the church attacks on Monday in Nashville.

Then there will be detailed discussions about how best to help the Egyptian people and raise money for the effort.

Egyptians hope the West stays out of the dispute and allows them to handle their affairs, he said.

What they need most is a quick return to normalcy, Mikhail said.

“They need to feel that they are safe when they go out and practice their daily life,” he said. “The situation there is still a little bit crazy.”

Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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