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Egyptian Chronicles II - Moving towards 2033 with the Catholic Church in Egypt

Listening to young people

At the Catholic Coptic Patriarchate, we meet ANBA THOMAS, one of the bishops of this Eastern Church in communion with Rome. Biblical and involved in pastoral work with young people, he immediately grasps the opportunity represented by a decade of the resurrection.      

 Olivier Fleury with Bishop Thomas

He sees it as a project for young people. To touch them, it will involve artists, making films, edit biblical texts related to the event.

“Let's listen to young people! We can receive so many ideas from them. Let's start with the joy of celebrating the resurrection, explaining to people all that Christ gives us and making us want it!”

On leaving, a light rain begins to fall, a sign of blessing, says Nelly, the head of the Focolari community in Egypt.      

Unity on the Easter date

Father RAFIK GREICHE serves the Greek Catholic Church, another Eastern Church related to Rome. Much of our conversation focused on the issue of unification of the Easter date. 

During the visit to Pope Francis in 2013, Pope Tawadros proposed a solution that has not yet been answered. “The people are thirsty to celebrate Easter together because the families are mixed. They suffer from being divided at this moment. Especially in Lebanon”, says Rafik. But in Egypt, since 1965, the Catholic and Evangelical Churches celebrate it with the Orthodox Copts. 

“You throw a seed. You have to let it grow and totally rely on the Holy Spirit.” He wonders how to contribute and proposes to talk about this path around 2033 at each party, especially at Easter. Also responsible for the communication of the Council of Churches of Egypt, he is committed to talking about it, especially to young people.  

With Father Rafik Greiche

The enthusiasm of the youth

In the evening, we are in the Catholic parish of St. Therese, welcomed by its priests, all Carmelites, and several parishioners including some young people. 

A Carmelite of Palestinian origin explains to us "the gentle voice" of Saint Therese of Lisieux which is an invitation to surrender with confidence to the infinite love of God and to do his will, step by step, in the consciousness of our frailties.

A young man asks Olivier how he received this vision and if he is sure that it comes from God. The latter tells of what he experienced in Sydney and the confirmation he received on Mount Carmel in Israel. These friends are touched because they live precisely the spirituality of Carmel. 

“For a feast we bring a gift and the best gift to bring to Jesus for these two thousand years is the unity for which he prayed,” said one of the parishioners.

At the parish of the holy Theresa

A young man added: “I presented this idea to the young people who told me that it is too far away. So, I came to inform myself. Now I am convinced by this idea. I promise to be part of it. I understood that this path begins now and 2033 will be a culmination. I would like to say to all: let's walk together and forget about our differences!”

And a Carmelite brother: “When I heard about this project, I immediately thought it was for all the churches. I will speak about it in my sermons, I will pray for you. You sowed a seed, it's up to us to let it grow. One of the first fruits I see is the enthusiasm of the young person who just spoke.”

Olivier and I are touched at the sight of the joy, the smile and the approval of the young! Really, the Christian people want to live this event!

Convincing the “heads”!

At another meeting we had the joy of conversing with Father Patrice, also Carmelite and president of the religious superiors of Egypt. He told us: “Your initiative is a great opportunity to unite all the Christians of Egypt around the risen Christ. We must wake up the consciousness of his resurrection. The unity must be brought forward in order to testify together. All the meetings you have had will have continuity and, in a next step, you will need to bring together the people you have visited.”

Patrice, Carmelite

He tells us of his strategy inspired by Theresa of Avila who said that we must first convince and unite the “heads”. If they are united the people will follow. “Unity of the heads and unity of the hearts of all, around the person of Jesus. Let's start with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by focusing it around the Resurrection!”

He then takes his phone to request a hearing from the Apostolic Nuncio and gets it for the day before we leave!

Witnessing Christ in a context of Muslim majority 

The Franciscans have been in Egypt for 800 years and with 57 congregations both female and male are the strength of Catholic religious life. We visit them the day after a day organized by the University of Al Azhar, on the occasion of the 800 years of the meeting between Francis of Assisi and Sultan Al Kamil, in Damietta.

“An interesting day that we prepared together with our Muslim friends. All spoke freely. We hope that this dialogue will continue. Our vocation is the spirit of Assisi: dialogue with all begins with friendship. A necessary dialogue also within the Catholic Church, so diverse in Egypt”, says the provincial KAMAL TADROS.

      

The Franciscan community, at the bottom Kamal Tadros 

According to him, the Muslim majority is a reason for Christians to unite more. In this context, it will be a great challenge to speak of the death and resurrection of Jesus since Muslims have another conception of his work.

In discovering the vision of JC2033, he exclaims “It's wonderful. Every Christian must be part of it! We must prepare this event together, with all our diversities. We do not need to be all alike. Let us do as Jesus who gathered around him so different apostles!”

     

The perspective of martyrdom

In the evening we arrive at the big Jesuit college where HENRI BOULAD and MAGDI NAZMI are waiting for us. In this college more than three quarters of the students are Muslim. The first part of the interview is devoted to the question of dialogue with the Muslim world. 

“When I shared your project with the young people I'm accompanying, they received it with great joy,” says Nazmi. “It is beautiful to share our faith in Christ”. He animates a big youth movement of more than 5000 young people, but does not like the big gatherings. For him, the important thing is to encourage everyone to meet Jesus. How? Through an experience of sharing and communion. “Life is the subject of my prayer. The quest for youth is: how can I touch Jesus, feel the true presence of God in my life?”

From the left: Sherin Helmy, Olivier Fleury, Martin Hoegger, Magdi Nazmi. Assis, Henri Boulad

For H. Boulad, the essential question is that of Jesus: who do you say that I am? This question must be deepened during the decade of the resurrection. How to talk about him? Today a real mission is very difficult. For young people who ask themselves the question of religious life, they must be attracted by presenting them with the perspective of martyrdom. But for that it is necessary above all a Pentecost experience. 

Unity, easy or difficult?

In one of his parishes, we meet Bishop KRIKOR COUSSAN, bishop of the Armenian Catholic Church. A beautiful encounter experienced in simplicity and fraternity and followed by an excellent Armenian meal! 

Krikor Koussan, with a translation of Olivier Fleury's book in Arabic 

“Congratulations for this initiative”, he tells us from the outset. She will demonstrate our unity through witness and service. 

For him, the important thing is to prepare young people based on the Bible. A man of unity, he shares his passion with us: “Unity is difficult here. But for me it is easy. With Orthodox Armenians we are always together. I pray unceasingly for the unity of the Church, especially in Egypt and first within the Catholic Church”!

A jubilee in 2025 in the Catholic Church? 

“The resurrection is the pillar of the Christian faith. Therefore, the decade of the resurrection will animate all the churches,” says Mgr. Bruno Musaro, the representative of the pope in Egypt ("the apostolic nuncio") who receives us in the salon of the nunciature that keeps the memory of the recent visit of the Pope Francis. 

 

Sherin Helmy, Bruno Musaro, Martin Hoegger, Olivier Fleury and F. Patrice.

He reminds us that the Catholic Church marks every 25 years with a jubilee. In principle the next will be in 2025. Perhaps it will be related to this decade? He shares a conviction: if there is a movement related to this decade, the Pope will follow. But we do not know it yet, he said looking at the ceiling, in an attitude of prayer! 

In all our travels, he recommends us to meet bishops and episcopal conferences, because that is the way in the Catholic Church.

“We have to launch the idea everywhere. Thank you for doing it! Continue, go ahead!”, he concludes before posing with us for the traditional photo. 

Martin Hoegger, Head of Inter-Church Relations at JC2033

 

NEXT - Egyptian Chronicles III - Moving towards 2033 with the Protestant, Evangelical and Anglican Churches in Egypt

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