International Orthodox Christian News

Coptic Pope joins 2,500 mourners at funeral for NJ priest

Posted on Wed Feb 18 2009 EAST BRUNSWICK — The viewing for Very Reverend Father Bishoy Demetrious drew 2,500 mourners for three days straight at the St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church on Riva Avenue last week.

At Saturday's funeral services, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, current pope of the Coptic Orthodox church founded in the first century in Egypt by apostle St. Mark, was in attendance. He was joined by 40 priests and and five bishops from around the United States.

The pope shed tears, as did others, for their beloved priest who succumbed to a lengthy illness just shy of his 59th birthday. Revered as a pioneer, charismatic leader and founder of the congregation, Father Bishoy was hailed for his legacy of growth and vision.

"This man was a legend," said Rafik Wahba, secretary of St. Mary's. "The history of the church will look upon him as one of the pioneers of the Coptic Christian community in the United States. I don't think we will see another leader like him for many generations to come.

Arriving in the United States from Egypt in 1971, Father Bishoy started a church on the corner of Riva and Hardenburg Lane which originally consisted of one building, 3 acres and a congregation of about 50 families.

By 1999, under his stewardship, a church had been built on the site, along with several other buildings, and membership had swollen to about 1,250 families. To help alleviate the overcrowding, Father Bishoy spearheaded efforts to create three Coptic Orthodox churches in Holmdel, Howell and Edison.

"He had the ability to reach your heart through his humbleness, firmness, show of love, communication and conviction of his mission as a leader of the church," said Wahba. "His sense of firmness, leadership and extreme organization skills, he controlled the church through his love."

Onsy Youssef, church treasurer, shared a recent story of Father Bishoy's charisma when he recently asked his congregation to contribute $200,000 toward acquisition of the former Webber School for use as an expanded Sunday School and day care center.

"Within 45 days, we collected $210,000 including legal fees and everything," said Youssef. "He knew how to reach people. Without his strength, personality and all his vision, we could not have gotten all this property."

Youssef noted that plans to turn the Webber School into a day care center are going well and that the church hoped to begin construction "'within a month or two."

About 600 children currently attend Sunday School classes Friday through Sunday.

"He believed in the importance of youth in the church," said Wahba. "His motto was: The more time they spend in the church, the less time they spend in the malls — doing all the wrong stuff."

Youssef noted that he and his fellow church committee members have committed themselves to completing the vision of their founder.

Born on March 1, 1950, in northern Egypt, Father Bishoy Demetrious came from a religious family — his father and two of his brothers entered the priesthood. He attended theological school in Cairo, where he studied under His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.

A classmate of Father Bishoy's under the pope was Father Michael Tobia, who will now assume the role of senior priest at St. Mary's, which also has two younger priests — Father Mark Hanna and Father Kyrolos Said.

Father Bishoy Demetrious is survived by his wife, Sonya, and two daughters, Mariam and Monica.

"First of all, he was a man of prayer," said Nabil Khalil, a trustee at St. Mary's. "When we faced any problems, he did not get panicked, he went and prayed and the problems would get solved."


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