Coptic Orthodox pope travels to Euless to consecrate church
10:35 PM CST on Sunday, February 3, 2008
By KATHY A. GOOLSBY / The Dallas Morning News
EULESS TX Three years after its founding, St.
Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church received the
blessing of the church's patriarch on Sunday.
Pope Shenouda III journeyed from Egypt to lead
the 2 ½-hour service, which was attended by an
overflow crowd and included prayers for "the
peace, the fathers and the assemblies." It
culminated with the consecration of the church's altar.
"Send down upon us the grace of your holy
spirit," the 84-year-old pope prayed as he and
four bishops rubbed incense onto the altar's wooden surface.
A flurry of excitement erupted from the packed
house as Pope Shenouda circled the room's outer
walls, blessing pictures of the church's icons.
Congregants strained to get a close-up glimpse as
he passed or to capture the pope's image on cellphones or digital cameras.
"This is a huge thing," said Ramiz Gilada, who is
on the church's board. "It is an event that happens only every 20 or 25 years."
Church member Ereney Nagib of Grand Prairie said
the pope's visit is a huge blessing for the church.
"It's like God came to visit us because he gives
us the messages from God's mouth," said Ms.
Nagib, 28. "The pope is like a father to us, and
we have been waiting for him to come here."
The Euless church is one of five that the pope is
consecrating during his U.S. visit, officials
said. Church consecration by the pope is a
longstanding tradition of the Christian Coptic
Orthodox Church, which was founded in Egypt more than 19 centuries ago.
The group claims 15 million members and has
churches in every state, including two other
North Texas congregations in Colleyville and Richardson.
Officials at the Euless church, which is led by
the Rev. Ghobrial Samaan and counts 184 families
in its membership, learned of the pope's visit
only two weeks ago, Mr. Gilada said.
"Normally, you have about six months' notice," he said.
Church members scrambled to prepare for the
pope's arrival on Saturday, when he attended the
evening prayer in preparation for Sunday's
service. Euless Mayor Mary Libb and Police Chief
Michael Brown attended the consecration, which
alternated between English and Arabic.
"It's just awe-inspiring," Ms. Libb said. "I
think it's a treasure to see something like this happen."
Pope Shenouda sat on an ornately carved wooden
chair during the ceremony, rising occasionally to
lead prayers and blessings. He frequently waved a
censer, a domed metal container used to burn incense, during the liturgy.
After the official service ended, a plain wooden
chair was pulled forward and Pope Shenouda sat
down to address the congregants. His humorous
side bubbled to the surface almost immediately.
"Now we are crowded into the church, I want it
every Sunday to be the same," he said, evoking
laughter from the congregants, many of whom came
from other churches for Sunday's special service.
He gently reminded Father Samaan to get to know
all the families in the church, and he urged
parents to be good teachers for their children.
"When I ask children, 'What did you take in
Sunday school?' they always tell me the same
three lessons," Pope Shenouda said. "The 'I don't
know' lesson, the 'I don't remember' lesson and the 'I didn't attend' lesson."
Turning to the women, who were seated on one side
of the sanctuary, he told them it's their job to
ensure the children are learning their lessons.
When the women pointed at the men across the
aisle, it was the pope's turn to laugh.
"Transferring sins from one to the other is not
accepted," he said, eyes twinkling.
As the time to leave drew near, Pope Shenouda
stood and bestowed a final blessing on the gathering.
"I wish for you a blessed life abiding in the Lord, and also a happy life."