Egyptian Coptic Church celebrates Arab diversity in the US

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Storms often ruin weekend plans, but not at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

Despite heavy rains, Northern Virginia’s largest Coptic church held its annual Egyptian Festival May 22–23 by moving activities into its gym on Sunday.

“I think they did a good job of plowing through the rain and setting up indoors,” said Ben Thompson, a visitor to the festival from nearby Arlington, Virginia.

Held for the past 17 years, the festival promotes Egyptian culture to Americans through food, music and handicrafts. St. Mark administrator Adel Messeh said the festival is a good way to perform community outreach.

“We want to get the community around us to know about us,” Messeh said. “We want them to know about our culture.”

Built in 1994, St. Mark Church serves a congregation of some 1,000 families living in and around Washington. The festival also promotes a spirit of unity for the church community.

“We spend two days talking, eating and having fun in a spiritual setting,” Messeh said. The event is managed by church volunteers and most of the food is donated by congregation members.

Musicians played modern and traditional Egyptian songs during the two-day festivities. Handicrafts for sale included traditional Egyptian clothes, furniture, papyrus, statuettes, tableware and jewelry boxes. Congregation members purchase the goods in Egypt and donate them to the church. The Egyptian Embassy in Washington donated items for sale at this year’s festival.

Egyptian Embassy Consul Ashraf Salama, who attended the event, said the embassy represents all Egyptians abroad.

“The Coptic community is part of the Egyptian community and we are there for the Egyptian community,” Salama said. “We donate items so that fundraising for the church improves.”

Messeh said funds raised by the sale of food and handicrafts go to church programs such as the Hope Clinic, part of the church’s Mission Life Center. Staffed by church volunteers with medical expertise, the clinic serves members of the church and the community at large who cannot afford medical care.

Ingy El Wekil, a culinary arts student of Egyptian origin, attended the event because a member of the congregation invited her family. El Wekil said cultural festivals educate Americans about diversity in Arab countries.

“Events like this give a different perspective to people who think that all Arabs are Muslims,” El Wekil said. “It sheds some light on the fact that there are other religions [in the region] … and really shows that at the end of the day people are people.”

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