Thursday, 30 June 2011

"We trust in God. We pray: 'Jesus, take care of us.'"

In April, our Head of Press and Information John Pontifex travelled with a small Aid to the Church in Need team to Egypt on a fact-finding trip. It was his second attempt to visit the faithful in Egypt, after the original travel plans were put on ice as the 25th January Revolution gathered pace. In this series of blogs, John will be posting his diary entries from the trip, giving an eye-witness glimpse into life for Egypt's 10 million Christians - more than any other country in the Middle East.

Thursday, 14th April 2011

Assiut, in Upper Egypt, is a University city. We arrived here today to find the Bishop – Kyrillos William – keen for us to meet the young people who attend the major institutions here. Walking through the streets, I suddenly realised that the bishop was quite able to walk around with his distinctive tall brimless hat with veil and his ivory-capped stick, without feeling at risk. Back in Sohag and Minya, the bishop had tended to keep a much lower profile.

Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, Egypt

This difference is down to Assiut having a much higher proportion of Christians – in fact it’s more 40 percent Christian, whereas Luxor and Sohag had been more like 20-25 percent. And this greater equality was reflected in a much more upbeat Catholic faithful.

Having visited a catechetical centre which is to be rebuilt thanks to funding from Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Kyrillos took us on to a halls of residence. There I met a young woman named Lydia, aged 21.

Lydia, a young Christian woman from Assiut in Upper Egypt

Lydia is training to become a pharmacist. She explained that not covering her hair and her Christian names caused some consternation among prospective employers, but her attitude was far more resolute than what I had seen thus far.

She told me: “We are proud of our Christian identity and we don’t want to change. I love Egypt. It is my country. We trust in God. We pray: ‘Jesus, take care of us.’”

But nobody can doubt the pressures against the Church and the Coptic Catholic Church in particular. Bishop Kyrillos, a lively and erudite man explained the scandal of how the Coptic Orthodox insists on rebaptism of Copts Catholics marrying their faithful. We were told today that thousands of Catholics abandon their faith every year. Yes, many of them turn to Islam, in many cases for financial reasons – enhancing job opportunities etc. But there are also those who switch to Orthodoxy which holds sway in many areas.

For instance, the other evening, we went by night to a Catholic church under construction where work had stopped part-way to completion. We were told that the authorities had stepped in after complaints not from Islamists but from disgruntled local Orthodox. The truth is stranger than fiction.

Find out how you can help Christians in Egypt

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