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Christian Coptic Orthodox Church opening expected to draw more Egyptians to Manning region

Traditional hymns being sung during the opening mass for the St Mary and St Pope Kirolos the 6th Church at Cundletown.
The singing of traditional Coptic hymns plays a big part in each mass.

ABC News: Emma Siossian

More Egyptian migrants are expected to call the New South Wales mid-north coast home after the opening of a Christian Coptic Orthodox Church at Cundletown.

Previously, Coptic Christians in the region had to travel to Sydney to attend church, but after a Coptic priest was ordained in the Manning region, they began searching for a permanent local place to pray.

One of the driving forces behind the project has been Moheb Ghaly, who was born in Egypt and is a long-time Manning Valley surgeon.

Dr Moheb Ghaly OAM led the push for the Coptic church at Cundletown and is standing outside it on the opening day.
Moheb Ghaly says the church opening at Cundletown was "overwhelming".

ABC News: Emma Siossian.

Dr Ghaly said locals had searched for a long time to find land for the church, and had wanted somewhere central so people from outside the region could also attend.

He said people of all faiths were welcome at the church, and the project had been a labour of love.

"I've been here more than 30 years and I used to drive to Sydney to go to church once a month, but then a number of people came here, more Coptics came," he said.

Named after former head of church

Dr Ghaly beamed with happiness when he joined a packed congregation at the church's opening mass on March 9.

"I'm so emotional about it all, it's overwhelming," he said at the time.

A huge crowd seated at the opening mass of the new Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.
The opening mass of the new Christian Coptic Orthodox Church drew a huge crowd.

ABC News: Emma Siossian

Dr Ghaly said the church had been named St Mary and St Pope Kirolos the 6th Church.

He said it was his wish that St Pope Kirolos the 6th be included in the name because the saint was the head of the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church from 1959 to 1971 and was famous for his miracles.

"I'm obsessed about this saint. I am a surgeon, I know one plus one equals two, so there has to be something to convince me, and I believe in the miracles, I have read about them and my hair stands up, they are true stories," he said.

"There are more than 40 volumes of books out there from many people documenting these miracles, either people sick, or wanting kids, or foretelling what's happening … it's hair raising, my faith is so reaffirmed by knowing about him."

Dr Ghaly said his faith had also played a big role in his work as a surgeon in the Manning region.

"It's a miracle that I came here to this town especially, and then the success in my work was just amazing. The love of the people in town is just beyond description."

Church underpins strong community ties

Holy bread being offered at the end of the opening mass at the Cundeltown Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.
Holy bread was offered at the end of the opening mass at the Cundeltown Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.

ABC News: Emma Siossian

Coptic Sunday School teacher Gigi Nashed said the church had a big role to play in the local Egyptian community.

"We lived here for years and we didn't even know each other," she said.

"We met each other through clubs or sports and then realised there were other Egyptian people in the area, so we started to meet, but we did not have a church and we could not pray as a group until this happened.

Gigi Nashed and Theodora Rizk inside the new Coptic church on the opening day.
Gigi Nashed and Theodora Rizk say being Coptic Christians is part of their identity.

ABC News: Emma Siossian.

Another member of the church, Theodora Rizk, also thought more Egyptian families would now choose to call the Manning Valley home.

"I was born in Egypt, I came when I was 12," she said.

Coptic Christians in the Manning share Egyptian food after the Cundletown church's opening.
Coptic Christians shared Egyptian food after the Cundletown church's opening.

ABC News: Emma Siossian

"It's good to see part of you here. It's nice to have these two identities, the Australian one, but also your traditional culture.

"We [Egyptians] often look for a place according to whether there is a church there or not.

"We want our kids to grow up and know who they are, and where they come from, and the beliefs and the traditions that are practised at home are still practised here at the church."