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People prepared for the arrival of Pope Tawadros II at St. Mary & St. Antonios Coptic Orthodox Church in Ridgewood on Sept. 14.

The parishioners of St. Mary & St. Antonios Coptic Orthodox Church in Ridgewood treated Sept. 14 as if it were a holiday, taking the day off from work to witness the arrival of their holiest figure.

On the second day of a weeks-long trip to the U.S., Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox faith — a denomination of Christianity based in Egypt — officially consecrated the church on 60th Place, the oldest such parish in all of Queens.

The previous day, a delegation from the Egyptian Consulate greeted the Pope at JFK Airport before he spoke to nearly 200 priests at the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North American in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.

According to Father Antony Andrews, an assistant priest for the parish who spoke to QNS on Sept. 17, the church was “fully packed” with parishioners anxiously awaiting the Pope’s arrival.

“There were tears of joy for some people,” Andrews said. “Being part of such an important event in the history of the parish made so many people feel good that day.”

A video posted on the church’s Facebook page showed that as the Pope walked into the church and down its center aisle, many parishioners reached out to gently touch His Holiness. Andrews described the Pope as “very warm, very gentle and very loving,” and explained that he took the time to greet all the parishioners and even take pictures with them after the ceremony.

The Pope’s message to the priests and parishioners was that the Coptic Orthodox faith has a purpose here in America, according to the account of Father Michael Sorial, a priest from New Jersey. At the same time, the Pope also spoke about his love for Egypt and explained that all must remember where they came from while continuing their mission here.

For one parishioner, Veronica Nashed Ghaly, that message rang true. She explained that the ongoing conflicts and political unrest in Egypt have deterred many of her Egyptian-American friends from visiting the country out of fear. While it was “a blessing and an honor” to have the Pope come visit, he wants “his children to come back” and visit as well, Nashed said.

“He may be the Pope, but from what I remember he is the most down-to-earth person I have ever met,” said Nashed, who met the Pope years ago when she visited St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. “You can talk to him as if he’s your best friend or someone you’ve known for years.”

The Ridgewood sect of the Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in 1973 by Father Yohanna Guirgis, who passed away in May. Nashed is currently leading an effort to co-name the street corner at Woodward Avenue and Grove Street in honor of the late priest.

 

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