Members of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, British Columbia, were shocked to discover that the church burned to the ground on Monday morning, the latest in a rash of church burnings and vandalism across Canada in recent weeks.
“It’s been an extremely tragic and difficult event for us to grasp and to wrap our heads around,” Steven Faltas, a board member for St. George church, told National Review “Somewhere between 300 and 400 families attended this church quite regularly, with nearly-daily services and activities being offered. So for it to overnight not be there anymore has been extremely difficult for us to deal with and to absorb.”
Several churches have burned to the ground in Canada in recent weeks, with additional churches and a statue of St. John Paul vandalized. The incidents occurred across hundreds of miles, from British Columbia all the way to Nova Scotia.
The burnings and vandalism began after First Nation tribes discovered unmarked graves at the sites of former so-called Indian residential schools. These schools were established in the 1830s to assimilate indigenous children into Canadian society, and some continued to operate until the 1990s.
A 2015 government commission found that the residential school system constituted a “cultural genocide,” and former pupils have detailed allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the schools. Over 1,000 unmarked graves were discovered by various tribes over the past several months.
A majority of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church in Canada. Most of the churches that have burned to the ground since the discoveries of unmarked graves were Catholic, such as the 100-year-old St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alberta.
However, the St. George Coptic church fire is unusual in that the church has no connection to the Indian residential schools program.
“The Coptic Orthodox church…doesn’t have an affiliation with the residential school program,” Falkas said. “The Coptic church in Vancouver is approximately 30 years old so, based on the timeline that I’m aware of, that’s quite a few years after the residential school program was stopped.”
The circumstances surrounding the burning remain murky. An unidentified white woman set fire to a wreath on the church door on July 14, in footage captured by a surveillance camera. The fact that the church burned down several days later has raised suspicions of arson: “It’s hard not to think that these two instances have some commonalities,” Faltas commented.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey did not respond to National Review’s request for comment in time for publication. The RCMP has already termed the fires at St. George and other churches as “suspicious.”
“The RCMP is tracking/investigating these crimes where we are the police of jurisdiction,” RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival told the Daily Caller on Tuesday.
“We’re reaching out to all levels of government for assistance, knowing that we’ve been innocent bystanders to a political mess that we weren’t involved with,” Falkas said.
Falkas added that the Coptic community in Surrey would regroup following the burning.
“As believers we rely on our scripture and the word of God to remind us of the promises He has made,” Falkas said. “And even though today might be a day of mourning, tomorrow will be a day of joy.”
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