As Egyptian society slowly recovers from the shock of the twin suicide bomb attacks on two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, the real picture of the devastation caused is starting to emerge.
The victims have now been buried, while dozens of wounded Christians remain in hospital – some in a critical condition.
Below, World Watch Monitor hears from the relatives of one of the victims. Michael Nabil Ragheb, 29, a pharmacist, was a husband to Sara Fekry, a doctor, and a father to three-year-old Priscilla. He was also a deacon at Mar Girgis (St. George) Cathedral in Tanta, where he died while helping to preside over Mass.
Sara, Michael’s wife:
“I married Michael in 2012 and our love story lasted four years, during which time God blessed us with our daughter, Priscilla. I loved Michael so much. He was a very kind man and had a tender heart. A few days before the incident he was feeling that he would pass away soon. The day before the incident, on Saturday 8 April, while we celebrated the birthday of our three-year-old daughter, Priscilla, he mentioned this to me again.
“Michael was a deacon in the church. He had a good voice and sang in the choir, where he was responsible for reading from the Bible and singing the Coptic hymns during Mass.
“On Palm Sunday he was actually one of those responsible for the hymns, so on Sunday morning the three of us went to the church to attend the Mass and celebrate the feast of Palm Sunday.
“Michael asked me not to sit in the front row of benches, but to sit in the back of the church and wait for him there until after the celebration. He then got dressed in his deacon clothes and started with the service.
“I didn’t know why he asked me to do sit in the back of the church, but it was God’s will, as in the middle of the service, at about 9.10am, the explosion took place.
“I heard the sound of a very huge explosion and the whole church shook like it was struck by a violent earthquake.
“Then it became dark in the building and people started to scream. For a moment, I thought it was Judgment Day, but then I got up and rushed to the front of the church, where the choir of deacons had been standing. When I got there, I saw many bodies and body parts lying in a pool of blood. It was like a massacre and I got a very big shock when I found Michael, lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
“My husband lived the life of heaven on the earth. He continuously prayed and read the Bible. I’m very happy for him as I know he is in a good place, with Jesus in heaven.”
Nabil Ragheb, Michael’s father:
“On Sunday morning I was surprised by one of my neighbours, who was knocking on the door of my flat, asking me where Michael and his wife were.
“I told her they went to Mar Girgis. She then told me that she heard about an explosion that had taken place at Mar Girgis. I immediately rushed to the church. When I arrived the street was filled with a great number of people, including police and ambulance personnel. I saw one of Michael’s friends and when I asked him if he knew where Michael was, he told me that he had gone to heaven.
“Then I went in to the church and found my son drenched in blood.
“Michael was a very kind person. He had a very strong relationship with God and is now in a very good place, in heaven, where he will celebrate Easter with Christ.”
Kerolos Nabil Ragheb, Michael’s brother:
“The parting of my brother is very difficult for us. At the same time, however, we are very happy for him because he met his fate and went to heaven.
“We, on the other hand, are still struggling in this mortal life, and our fate isn’t known yet. I love him so much and I hope to be with him soon. I’m sure that he is in very good place in heaven, with the others who died because of their faith and with the Saints. I envy him.
“I want to say to my martyred brother: ‘I love you so much and I want to be like you’. I also want to say something to ISIS: ‘I’m ready to die for my faith, like my brother. It’s my desire to follow him in this. I’m waiting for you, so don’t delay and please tell me which church you will bomb next so I can wait for you there. I look forward to meet Jesus, so please don’t delay, as I wait for you’.”
Fr. Ishak Habib, Michael’s uncle:
“Michael was very diligent. He was top of his class in university, where he graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy with distinction. He was also a graduate from the Coptic Theological College.
“He was successful, both in his working life and spiritual life. He was a son of the Church from childhood onwards and was a very obedient, humble and honest person. Since 2006 he served at Mar Girgis as a deacon, teaching the children in Sunday school. We are sure that he has gone to a good place, to heaven, and that comforts us.