* Mayor says Copts are "the kinds of people you want in your
* Jersey City home to oldest Coptic church in U.S.
By Lily Kuo
JERSEY CITY, N.J. Sept 14 A small group of women
at the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mark's prepared for Sunday
services in the parish's simple basement kitchen, baking cookies
and neatly packing them into containers and paper bags.
"Peaceful, loving, easy-going," Lodi Tannios, 29, said,
describing her fellow worshippers while working in the kitchen,
which was decorated with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
"We don't ask for much except to be respected."
Tannios and other St. Mark's members are more than 4,500
miles (7,240 km) from the demonstrations raging in the Middle
East in protest of a 13-minute film portraying the Prophet
Mohammad as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser - but
they know they could feel the backlash.
The film was promoted by a U.S.-based Egyptian Coptic
Christian activist, Morris Sadek, who said his intention was to
highlight discrimination against Egypt's Coptic Christian
minority by Muslims.
"The tensions have always been there but it's never been
that bad," Tannios said.
The film and protests have brought sudden and often
unflattering attention to Coptic communities in areas such as
Jersey City, where Mayor Jerramiah Healy said as many as 25,000
members of the faith live. St. Mark's is the oldest Coptic
church in the United States.
Tannios, who moved from Egypt to Jersey City more than a
decade ago, said the uproar over the inflammatory film was
dragging the church into a situation out of sync with its
Officials speaking for Coptic churches in the United States
have been quick to separate the religion from the video. There
are more than 150 Coptic churches in the United States, with
strongholds in New Jersey, California, Florida and New York,
according to the website of the Coptic Orthodox Church Network.
"These actions are not the actions of a true Coptic
Christian," said Bishop David of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese
of North America.
In Jersey City, a sprawling city across the Hudson River
from Manhattan, residents said the Coptic Christians were a
distinguishable but fully integrated part of the community.
"They open small businesses, their children are in schools,
they work," said Mayor Jerramiah Healy. "Their lives revolve
around their families... These are the kinds of people you want
in your city."
St. Mark's, established in 1970, is made up of five small
houses converted mostly into Sunday school space, and a tall
sanctuary painted red with white crosses. It sits on the corner
between a street of row houses and an avenue of shops and
restaurants. Coptic Christians in Jersey City and nearby towns
drive in for the Sunday services, which are conducted in English
Children from the church go to public schools and their
parents work in local businesses. Lodi's mother, for instance,
works as a manager at a nearby Burger King.
A police officer who patrols St. Mark's and another Coptic
church in the city said he did not fear violence or backlash
from Muslim residents because of the video.
"We would have heard about it. It would be brewing," said
the 59-year-old police officer who declined to be named because
he was not authorized to speak to media.
He too said the Coptic Christians were an integral part of
"They basically live here," he said. "They're involved in
the experience of Jersey City. What happens to Jersey City
happens to them."
Yet in Jersey City and elsewhere across the United States
there have long been tensions between members of the Coptic
Orthodox Church of Alexandria, a religious minority in the
Egypt, and Muslims.
Christians and Muslims have co-existed peacefully for
decades but occasional sectarian clashes have taken a more
violent turn following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak and the rise of Islamists to power. The acting head of
the Coptic church, Bishop Bakhomious, in Egypt said in August
that the country's new government fails to fairly represent the
Christians who make up 10 percent of the population and have
long been a minority.
"I like Christians only," said Same Hani, 45, a Coptic taxi
driver in Jersey City originally from Cairo who had a wooden
cross hanging from his rear-view mirror.