Rep. Chris Smith Speaks at Rutgers in Defense of Coptic Christians
On Sunday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) addressed thousands of American Coptic Christians as they welcomed His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark of the Coptic Orthodox Church, at Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, NJ. Pope Tawadros II is the 118th pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian Church in the Middle East.
“Your Holiness—Pope Tawadros II—all people of faith and goodwill are deeply grateful for your historic visit,” Smith said. “Your prayers and voice matter a great deal and have tremendous power.”
Sunday’s event at Rutgers, where Pope Tawadros II spoke about “The Church of Egypt and Her Role in the World,” came amidst his visit to the Northeastern U.S. which included events in Smith’s Congressional District last weekend. On Saturday, Sept. 22 Pope Tawadros II visited St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church on Route 34 in Holmdel, NJ, and on Sunday, Sept. 23, Pope Tawadros II attended the consecration of Archangel Michael Church in Howell, NJ; Smith joined parishioners in both churches for prayer. The Coptic Archdiocese of North America includes nine churches in New Jersey.
Other dignitaries at Sunday’s event included the Director of NJ Homeland Security and Preparedness Jared Maples, and Detective Chaudhry of NJ Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Congressman Smith has worked to protect religious believers around the world and in Egypt and received the 2014 Coptic Solidarity Leadership Award for his work combating religious persecution targeting Copts and People of Egypt.
He authored the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, enacted into law in 2016, which gives the State Department more tools to promote and defend religious freedom around the world and gives the Secretary of State authority to designate a group that that has engaged in severe violations of religious freedom as an “entity of particular concern”. Among the groups named this year by Secretary Pompeo as engaging in violent attacks against faith communities are known terrorists groups al-Qa'ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban.
Smith had held multiple hearings on religious persecution including “Advancing Human Rights to Combat Extremism” to counter violent extremism in the Islamic world, “Human Rights in Egypt”, and “Human Rights Abuses in Egypt”.
Below are excerpts of Rep. Smith’s remarks, “The Struggle Against Persecution of Coptic Christians:”
Your Holiness—Pope Tawadros—all people of faith and goodwill are deeply grateful for your historic visit.
Thank you, Your Holiness, for radiating the love, compassion and mercy of Jesus Christ and for calling not just Coptic Christians—but all believers and those seeking God—
I’ve had the privilege of hearing you proclaim the Gospel and celebrate the rich Coptic Christian liturgy twice on your trip—at St. Mina in Holmdel and at Archangel Michael in Howell—and felt blessed by your sermons and exhortations to holiness.
Like so many people around the world, I am especially inspired by your courage—and the bravery of your clergy and laity—in the midst of persecution and terrorism.
The 2017 Palm Sunday Church bombings that included St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria and St. George’s in Tanta killed 47 believers. The bombing in Alexandria took place just minutes after Pope Tawadros departed the Cathedral to monitor the earlier bombing in Tanta. There was the Minya bus attack that claimed the lives of 29 people on pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor. And all the world was outraged and mourned the beheading and martyrdom of 21 Coptic men by ISIS on a Libyan beach.
Surely Jesus was prophetically talking about the Copts when He said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’; sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Over the years, I’ve chaired congressional hearings on the persecution including two hearings on the abduction of young Coptic girls for forced marriages.
As the prime author of the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act—a law that empowers the President of the United States, the Departments of State and Defense and other agencies with new tools including sanctions against individual abusers and a fresh mandate to rigorously confront and combat religious persecution—I am confident we can and will do more for the Copts.
This past Summer, Secretary of State Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback convened a global summit designed to inform, create and implement a more effective plan on religious freedom.
And on an encouraging note, His Holiness has written that President el-Sisi “is…working hard to ensure that Christians get all their rights as Egyptian citizens. Coptic Christians have always been excluded from the Egyptian equation, but President Sisi is working towards changing this.”
Working towards change means we all have much to do to realize the dream.
Working towards change means there must be a strong sense of urgency, unity and an indomitable will to overcome.
Working towards change means strongly opposing any and all attempts to silence, harm or destroy people of faith.
Your prayers and voice matter a great deal and have tremendous power.