PARK SLOPE — High church leaders from Egypt joined the congregation at Resurrection Coptic Catholic Church on Nov. 5 to celebrate their pastor and appoint him monsignor.
Rev. Francis Fayez, pastor of the church since 2013, received his new title at the solemn Mass that was punctuated with singing, cymbals, and cries of joy. Bishop Thomas Halim Habib of the Diocese of Sohag, and Bishop Emeritus Kyrillos William Samaan of Assiut, concelebrated.
The gathering honored Msgr. Fayez’s shepherding Coptic Catholics in Brooklyn and his multimedia ministry sharing the Gospel worldwide.
“I am overwhelmed,” he said after the Mass. “And I am very happy.”
Many friends from throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn attended, especially parishioners and staff from Holy Family-St. Thomas Aquinas Church, also in Park Slope, where Msgr. Fayez has resided since coming to Brooklyn.
Father Patrick Keating said that through his role as vicar for financial administration for the diocese, he became friends with Msgr. Fayez and has attended Mass many times at the church. On Nov. 5, Father Keating read the Gospel message and offered a special prayer for his friend.
“It was an honor and a privilege,” said Father Keating, who is also the diocese’s econome 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.”
As pastor, Msgr. Fayez has faced multiple challenges, like renovations and repairs to the church, serving the parish during the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year the flooding from Hurricane Ida.
Still, Msgr. Fayez has also managed to install traditional icons at the church, with help from 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 tradition from the 6th century to teach new Christians who could not read Scripture.
The brothers are originally from Sohag, Egypt, a city on the west bank of the Nile River, about 300 miles south of Cairo. They grew up in the Coptic Catholic church.
Christians in Egypt are about 10% of the population. Of that group, 1% are Coptic Catholics. They comprise 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. As of 2017, they numbered 187,320 people in 166 parishes, according to the Vatican.
Christians in Egypt have suffered persecution by Islamic extremists, and Coptic Catholics have endured some of the violence.
Msgr. Fayez has described an incident in the 1990s when he tried to cross the Nile, but some people on the other side attacked him because he wasn’t fully bearded and he wore a cassock — sure signs that he wasn’t Muslim.
They beat him and tried to drown him until other people intervened.
Violence ramped up 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 toppled, and the violence waned under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. However, Christians, including the Coptic Catholics, say they are underrepresented in many sectors and are sidelined in administrative positions.
Yet despite the discrimination, the Christians are determined to stay on in their native land and embrace the role of sharing the good news through words and actions.
‘Step by Step, We Grow’
Msgr. Fayez strives to share the Gospel far beyond Brooklyn. Although the number of Coptic Catholics may be small, the pastor’s teachings range worldwide, thanks to technology.
His website (francisfayez.com) is a portal to social media channels that stream the Mass and post his homilies to viewers in the U.S., back home in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East. It is a state-of-the-art operation with video cameras, lighting, and other components. On Nov. 5, Ayman Fayez was at the production controls for the livestreaming of the Mass on Facebook and YouTube.
“We want to keep our tradition and our rite going for the people and new generations, our culture and our faith,” Msgr. Fayez said. “More and more people are following the website, especially in Egypt and Lebanon, Syria, and also now in Yemen.
“So, step by step, we grow, and we proclaim the Word of God.”