Back in January, I asked you to pray for the people of Egypt. Remember those heady days when revolution was in the air? And then the domino effect started rippling through the entire Middle East.
Will it all end in tolerant and freedom nurturing democratic republics? Where the rule-of-law supercedes the tyranny of authoritarian dictatorship? I pray it does, especially for the peace-loving people of Egypt.
But our Christian brothers and sisters there need our prayers. In fact, all Christians living in the Middle East, and wherever they are oppressed across the globe, need our prayers and support.
This report from Egypt is fraught with both peril and promise,
Further political success may come the Muslim Brotherhood’s way. The interim military government which followed Mubarak has announced parliamentary elections in September and presidential elections two months later. Reflecting on the potentially huge political changes to come, one bishop told us: “Under Mubarak the Muslim Brothers were under Gestapo control; they were underground. Now they are very visible. They may get up to half the seats in the next election. This is a great concern for us. There was a strong message awaiting us when we met Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib in his office in Cairo. A gentle, self-effacing man, Patriarch Naguib wasted no time in saying: “Now is the moment to really participate in the evolution of society. What matters is to have confidence in our beliefs and to have the strength to express our message.”
The problem for Patriarch Naguib is that the Catholic Church in Egypt is small and lacks influence. With a total of 250,000 faithful, Coptic Catholics are dwarfed by their Coptic Orthodox cousins, who number more than eight million. Senior Church figures in Cairo with close Vatican links indicated that when Mubarak’s regime wanted a Christian perspective on an issue it rarely, if ever, turned to the Catholic community. In any case, relations between the two churches are tense. Doctrinal differences may be few but pastoral problems abound, with Coptic Orthodox leaders demanding re-baptism of Catholics wishing to marry a member of their Church. One evening as we tour Upper Egypt we visited a Catholic church under construction. We learned that work had been halted for two years after local Orthodox leaders and their community had complained to the local planning authorities.
But change on such a seismic scale could yet help to break down the walls of division between the two churches. Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III’s ill-fated decision to publicly back President Mubarak in the early days of the so-called January 25 Revolution resulted in his faithful defying his orders; they continued to protest in favour of political change. Senior clergy told us that since that fateful time the Orthodox lay faithful have increasingly broken ranks from their bishops, sensing that the moment is theirs. Indeed, social change runs far deeper than ever could be realised by the likes of us foreigners visiting the country for a brief period. Egypt’s high birth-rate (the average age in Egypt is about 24) means that the country’s entire infrastructure is playing “catch up” as Egypt tries to keep pace with a massively expanding population.
Read the entire report on the ground there by the UK branch of Aid to the Church in Need. Please send them your support and prayers. Because without the Cross, there is no freedom.