Coptic churches call off Christmas festivities

Some Coptic churches in Canada are cancelling part of their Christmas celebrations in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in Egypt last week.

In Toronto and Montreal, the regions with the most Coptic Orthodox churches, many have called off the “social and fun parts” of the holiday out of solidarity with those affected by the New Year’s Day attack.

Fr. Mark Mankarious of the Ti Agia Maria and St. Demiana Coptic Orthodox Church in west Toronto says there will be no traditional banquet or kids’ activities after tonight’s holiday mass. The church will have increased police presence and extra ushers to keep watch on the congregation, but the 4-hour mass will go ahead as planned.

At Saint Mark’s in north Toronto all is going ahead pretty much as usual, says Fr. Marcos. The church has cancelled a dinner the priests traditionally hold for newcomers after the service, so that the church will be locked up immediately after mass.

Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Longueuil, just south of Montreal, is sending the funds it would have spent on games and festivities to the families of the victims in Egypt.

Coptic churches throughout the country are also boosting security efforts after the RCMP expressed concerns that extremists may target the diaspora abroad.

The attack in Alexandria on New Year’s Day left at least 23 dead, and it sparked riots in Egypt and alarm across Europe and North America.

Copts, who originate in Egypt, are the largest Christian population in the Middle East and account for an estimated nine per cent of the 83 million people living in Egypt.

Because the Orthodox Church observes the Julian calendar, Copts celebrate the birth of Christ as being Jan. 7, as opposed to Dec 25.

Canada is believed to be home to the largest Coptic diaspora after the United States. Conservative estimates suggest there are nearly 250,000 here, mostly living in Eastern Canada.

There are five Coptic Orthodox Churches in Montreal and more than 20 in the Greater Toronto Area.

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