On December 11, 2016, a suicide bomber linked to an Islamic extremist organization entered Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s church in Cairo and killed 25 people. The father of 15-year-old Marian was one of the victims. He died in her arms. But even through this tragic loss, she hasn’t doubted God’s love.
We meet Marian in the family house they share with her uncle’s family on the church premises. It’s located in a busy district near the city center of Cairo. Her uncle is a guard in the church, just as her father used to be. The house is filled with pictures of Marian’s father, Nabil. He was 45-years-old the day he died.
In the corner of the small living room they keep the clothes he wore that Sunday morning—blood stains still visible. Marian points at one of her father’s pictures, “The peaceful way my dad smiles in that picture is the way he smiled when he passed away.”
It’s a vivid memory for Marian.
That Sunday, just days before her 15th birthday, Marian went along with her father as he guarded the church. “We had breakfast together, and we were joking with each other,” Marian recalls. “He was exceptionally happy that day.”
After the first service, Marian’s father asked her to go home and bring some tea. What happened next would change her life forever.
“I had just started the water cooker when I heard a big explosion. I thought of my father immediately.”
Marian takes us on the same route she took that day, across the square to the entrance of the church where she had been talking with her father just moments before. “There was white smoke everywhere, and people were running around in panic,” she recalls. “I was in shock, but I managed to run outside. I started asking everyone if they’d seen my father.”
Now, months later, the courtyard is empty and silent. But every time Marian walks here, she remembers that day in December. Near the entrance of the church, Marian kneels down. She gently caresses the floor:
“This is where I found him,” she says softly.
“He was just lying there, still holding tight to the keys of the church, even though the explosion had blown him meters away.” In the chaos of smoke, dead bodies and blood Marian knew she had to say goodbye to her father. “I put his head on my lap. He gave me the keys and asked me to take care of my younger brother and sister. Then he closed his eyes and smiled peacefully, his face shining. Then he went to heaven.”
In the church, Marian shows us the remains of the attack. People had told her where her father stood when the attacker came into the women’s section of the church; how he ran after him to stop him. She can recreate the situation effortlessly: “Look here, you see the dents of the blasts on the pillars, the walls. The church didn’t repair them on purpose, so we remember how the women died for their faith that day and how my father, as the only male victim, died as well.”
Anger, sadness, disbelief. A lot of emotions kept Marian’s mind busy the days after the attack. “My father was a great man, a loving father, I missed him so, so much. I asked God why?”
Marian shows us a necklace with her father’s picture. Although she still misses his physical presence, now, months after the attack, she doesn’t feel like he has left her. “I believe he is encouraging me from heaven to live close to God,” she says. “I feel like he’s telling me that I’m not alone, that Jesus is with me.”
Marian, her mother, and younger brother and sister continue to live with their family on the church premises for now. Meanwhile, Marian is working hard in school. She is smart and wants to become a doctor one day like her father would have wanted her to be. “And I go to church now each Sunday; my faith has grown. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know that God will take care of me.”
Anger and sadness have made room for peace and love in the past months; Marian can’t stop talking about it during our visit. “I have felt God’s incredible comfort through these times. And I’ve felt the warm love of the Christian community. God takes, but He gives back more. I can’t repeat it enough, and I want the young adults around the world to know it as well.”
“God is love. God is kind. God is merciful. I have experienced this in my most difficult hour.”