“Our church was more than a building … it was a place where we built community, shared meals, married our young people, christened our babies and welcomed newcomers to the faith,” a statement by Anba Mina, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Mississauga, Vancouver, and Western Canada said.
Anba Mina was referring to the fire which started in the early hours of Monday 19 July 2021 in the Coptic Orthodox Church of St George in Surrey, British Columbia in west Canada, which completely destroyed the church building and everything inside, including the icons, altar utensils, saints’ relics, furnishings and pews. All that remains of the church are charred pieces of walls.
Officials said no one was injured in the fire and no other buildings were affected.
The fire came in the wake of a series of attacks against Catholic Churches in areas of indigenous populations. Police said that the church was the target of an arson attempt the previous Wednesday, 14 July, when according to video surveillance cameras, a woman was seen trying to set the door ablaze at around 2:30am. The door was damaged and reported to the police.
The police is treating the two incidents as separate events, and investigators are treating the Monday fire as suspicious.
“We are in shock and struggling to cope in the emotional wake of this incident,” Bishop Mina said in the statement. “We are grateful to all of those who have reached out expressing their sympathies, prayers and offers of support.” He concluded by saying: “While today is a day of sadness, we will not be deterred but will rebuild. Our church will always be open to all, and will continue to be a beacon of light and hope for all in our community.”
The afternoon following the fire, Tuesday 20 July, saw the Coptic congregation, together with the priests of St George’s, gather at the site of the burnt down church for prayer. That was in response to an invitation from the church leaders to express grief and pray together. The hundreds of Copts gathered observed all traffic rules, respected the neighbourhood residents, made sure their gathering did not block the entrances or exits of near-by buildings or houses, did not cross over to the remains of the church in order not to disrupt ongoing investigations, and observed health restrictions.
21 July 2021