PARK SLOPE – Top church leaders in Egypt joined the congregation of the Coptic Catholic Church of the Resurrection on November 5 to celebrate their pastor and appoint him Monsignor.
Father Francis Fayez, pastor of the church since 2013, received his new title during the solemn mass punctuated by songs, cymbals and cries of joy. Bishop Thomas Halim Habib of Sohag Diocese and Bishop Emeritus Kyrillos William Samaan of Assiut concelebrated.
The gathering paid tribute to Msgr. The Coptic Catholic shepherds of Fayez in Brooklyn and his multimedia ministry sharing the Gospel around the world.
“I am overwhelmed,” he said after mass. “And I’m very happy.”
Many friends from across the Brooklyn Diocese attended, especially parishioners and staff from Holy Family-St. Thomas Aquinas Church, also in Park Slope, where Msgr. Fayez has resided since arriving in Brooklyn.
Fr Patrick Keating said that through his role as vicar for the financial administration of the diocese, he befriended Msgr. Fayez and attended mass at the church several times. On November 5, Father Keating read the Gospel message and offered a special prayer for his friend.
“It has been an honor and a privilege,” said Fr. Keating, who is also bursar of the diocese and moderator of the curia. “It was a celebration of both Msgr. Fayez and his work here, his faith and his dedication to his parish community.
Despite the challenges
As pastor, Msgr. Fayez has faced multiple challenges, including church renovations and repairs, parish service during the COVID-19 pandemic, and flooding last year from Hurricane Ida.
However, Msgr. Fayez also managed to install traditional icons in the church, with the help of his twin brother Ayman Fayez, an Egyptian filmmaker, who is also a classically trained “iconographer”. With naturally blended pigments, the artist “writes” vibrant depictions of the Gospel, a 6th century tradition to teach new Christians who could not read the scriptures.
The brothers are from Sohag, Egypt, a town on the west bank of the Nile, about 300 miles south of Cairo. They grew up in the Coptic Catholic Church.
Christians in Egypt make up about 10% of the population. Of this group, 1% are Coptic Catholics. They include one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full union with the Vatican and thus recognize Pope Francis as a leader.
Coptic Catholics follow the Alexandrian Rite, with liturgies in their traditional Coptic language. In 2017, they numbered 187,320 people in 166 parishes, according to the Vatican.
Christians in Egypt were persecuted by Islamic extremists and Coptic Catholics suffered some of the violence.
Msgr. Fayez described an incident in the 1990s when he tried to cross the Nile, but people on the other side attacked him because he was not fully bearded and was wearing a cassock – sure signs that he was not a Muslim.
They beat him and tried to drown him until other people intervened.
The violence escalated during the brief administration of the late former President Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013), who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Before coming to Brooklyn, Msgr. Fayez served a parish in Tahta, Egypt, where Mass was canceled for nearly a month in 2013 because Coptic Catholics feared leaving their homes.
Morsi’s regime was overthrown and violence decreased under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. However, Christians, including Coptic Catholics, say they are underrepresented in many sectors and sidelined from administrative positions.
Yet despite the discrimination, Christians are determined to stay in their homelands and take on the role of sharing the good news through words and deeds.
“Step by step we grow”
Msgr. Fayez strives to share the gospel far beyond Brooklyn. Although the number of Coptic Catholics is small, the pastor’s teachings are spreading worldwide, thanks to technology.
His website (francisfayez.com) is a portal to social media channels that broadcast the Mass and publish his homilies to viewers in the United States, at home in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East. It is a state of the art operation with video cameras, lighting and other components. On November 5, Ayman Fayez was in charge of the production of the live broadcast of the mass on Facebook and YouTube.
“We want to keep our tradition and our rite for the people and the new generations, our culture and our faith,” said Msgr. said Fay. “More and more people are following the site, especially in Egypt and Lebanon, Syria, and now also in Yemen.
“Thus, step by step, we grow and we proclaim the Word of God.”