Aghapy TV brings teachings of Coptic Church into homes of followers
By Vivian Salama
CAIRO: For Mounira Tadros, raising three children is a time consuming task. Every morning she must make the children - ages 10, 8 and 4 - breakfast, see to it that they are dressed, send them off to school and, in the evening, supervize their studies, cook dinner and put them to bed. To her, motherhood is a full-time job in itself.
"I really don't have time for much else," Tadros explained. "The kids have a set schedule and during school time, it is hard to stray from it."
There are several activities Tadros admits she tries to find time for - among them, sending the children to attend the Coptic liturgy at her church and Sunday school classes. Still, she says the family seldom sees the high domes of the Orthodox church.
"It's just too hard between studies, work and the different schedules of the kids to find time to attend the Mass," she admitted.
Now, there's an answer to Tadros' prayers.
It's been a long time in the making, but the first Coptic television network, Aghapy TV, broadcast its first program Tuesday to audiences in the United States. Under the auspice of Pope Shenouda III, the Heliopolis-based network aims to bring the teachings of the Coptic Church, through liturgies, Bible studies, children's programming and more, into the homes of Copts worldwide.
"We have a motto that if we are not on air, we are not on earth," explained Bishop Moussa, head of Coptic youth affairs. "It represents the presence of the Copts all over the world and gets them to be together in a fellowship through this channel. It presents the Coptic entity concerning certain issues, such as our opinion toward abortion for example, toward homosexuality."
As the largest religious minority in Egypt, Copts make up approximately 12.5 percent of the country's 72 million inhabitants. Another two million live in diaspora throughout the world. Church officials say attempts to launch a channel for the Coptic faith have been ongoing for some 15 years. Pope Shenouda had made numerous attempts to negotiate the creation of a network with the Egyptian government, but all attempts failed.
"If you are on the air, nobody can limit your outreach, therefore we are not asking for permission anymore," said Moussa.
Already broadcasting on Egyptian satellite networks are a number of Islamic programs, which generally revolve around the teachings of the Koran and stories about the Prophet Mohammad. There are Christian based networks, most of which broadcast out of Lebanon.
Pope Shenouda decided the time was right to establish a privately owned Coptic network and, in early 2005, the groundwork was laid for not one, but two networks, each through completely different sources.
Through the private funding of Bishop Boutros, and with the help of Father Bishoy El-Antony, the Aghapy network, which draws its name from the Coptic word for "love," has been transmitting its state-of-the-art promotions for the new network for several weeks. Programs are taped in the private homes of parishioners across Cairo and then edited in the Heliopolis studio. From there, one of the Coptic clergymen then hand-delivers a tape with some 80 hours of edited programs to TeleStar, an American satellite provider. Programs will air in Arabic and English, with hopes to later broadcast in French and German.
"We need to identify ourselves," explained Father Bishoy El-Antony, director of Aghapy TV.
"We need to spread our feeling, to identify the problems of the country; our problems as Copts. We have to have a voice," said Moussa, adding that it will not be held responsible should the channel inspire anyone to convert to the Coptic faith. "This is not our strategy. It will not be involved very much in politics."
Last month, sectarian clashes erupted in Alexandria after Muslims attempted to storm a church which had hosted a play deemed offensive to Islam two years ago.
Three people were killed in the conflict. Coptic Christians have complained over restrictions for building churches, as well as unequal opportunities in employment.
Another Coptic network is on Aghapy's tail. CoptSat is directed by Bishop Marcos and developed through efforts by the Coptic Council of Bishops to establish programming for its followers around the world. Like Aghapy, CoptSat would initially broadcast overseas in an effort to raise enough money before bringing it back to Egypt. The plan, according to its directors, is to eventually have CoptSat air on Sat7, a channel already airing a number of Lebanese Christian programs, such as Al-Hayat (Life), and Moagiza (Miracle). Still a ways away from a launch date, the network is financed exclusively through private donations and church contributions.