A Kirkland church has a painful connection to the Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt that killed at least 44 people. A priest at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church served for years at one of the bombed churches.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombings at Coptic Christian churches in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, where at least 27 died, and hours later in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where the death toll climbed to at least 17, the Interior Ministry said.

Father Angelos Sarkis, who served for years at that very church in Tanta, didn't want to step away from the altar, Sunday, and led Palm Sunday services.

He later passed on a message through Avram Wahba, a sub-deacon at St. George.

“The first word out of his mouth was, ‘we forgive them,’ and I think that really speaks to what we're called to do, his message was we forgive those who did this, they don't know what they're doing,” Wahba said Sunday.

St. George is one of three Coptic Christian congregations in the Seattle region. There are about 1,000 families among the churches. They may be quite far from a place many of them consider home, but on Sunday they were reminded that, in some ways, they're really quite close.

“We’re in God's hands, whether we're in Seattle or in Egypt or even in heaven,” Wahba said.

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up to help victims of the church.

USA TODAY contributed to this story.