Sunday, 3 July 2011

Egypt: Reflections, challenges and hopes

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.

Sunday, 17th April 2011

I am writing this on the plane somewhere between Cairo and London. In fact, looking at the satellite images of our progress on screen, we’re just crossing the English Channel. My mind is buzzing with the experiences of this past 10 days. It’s difficult to take it all in.

As it happened, my driver who took me from the clergy house in Maadi, Cairo, nearly dropped me at the wrong terminal until I pointed out his error to him. Drama, right to the last minute!

What am I to make of the trip? We certainly covered a huge amount of ground, going to every Catholic diocese. In fact, after the first phase, spent in Cairo, we visited a diocese a day. In the aftermath of the Revolution, it feels like Egypt has rolled the dice – gambling on its future – but the dice is still rolling and nobody knows what it’s going to land on.

If it’s a six, democracy and respect for minorities are guaranteed. If it’s a one, however, historians will look back and show how Islamists – the Muslim Brothers, or the Salafists – were able to hijack the Revolution and introduce a theocracy every bit as punitive as Iran or Saudi Arabia.

A Coptic Cross at sunset

For Aid to the Church in Need, it’s clear. The charity must respond to Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib’s call to help the Church respond to the opportunities opened up by change. In a time of turmoil, building up the faith is more important than ever: building parish centres, catechetical and Christian education work, Mass stipends for poor and persecuted priests, helping the monastery outside Alexandria, formation of priests, support for Sisters providing crucial pastoral and humanitarian help – the list goes on.

And that extraordinary line from the Patriarch comes back to haunt me, his reference to the charity’s commitment to prayer, emphasised in all our correspondence. What he said about this sums everything up for me.

He said: “I like the fact that in your letters about project support, you always ask us to pray for the benefactors. You remind us that this is at the centre of who we are to each other.”

Find out how you can help Christians in Egypt

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