Egypt's Catholics: We live in land of peace and tolerance
Egypt, Politics, 2/14/2000
Throughout the years, Egypt has been the land of peace and tolerance where all people, regardless of race, color or religion, enjoy equality.
Thousands of Catholic Christians are looking forward to the 3-day visit of Catholic Pope John Paul II, due to arrive in Egypt on February 24th. While still an archbishop in Poland, John Paul II visited Egypt in 1963 and performed Mass at St. Joseph's Church in Cairo.
In terms of Christian adherents, Roman Catholics rank third in Egypt behind Copts and Evangelists. Most reside in Cairo, though many Catholic churches exist throughout the country. Catholicism enjoys notable stability in Egypt. Its laymen play a vital role in carrying out the non-liturgical activities of the church. All members of the Catholic church, whether priest or layman, have a well-defined role to play.
Though Catholic priests do not take part in any political activity, they often encourage open dialogue in various political, social and economic issues through meetings and seminars organized for young Catholics and even Muslims. This fact is demonstrated in the educational policy adopted by the Board of the Theology and Humanities Catholic College in Maadi, where dialogue is freely conducted with Muslim theologians.
Over the years, Catholicism has played a vital part in Egypt's social life and in the development of trade and industry. In journalism, we find the late Takla brothers, who established Al- Ahram press establishment, and the Zedan brothers, who founded Dar Al-Helal. Also well-known are Dr. Khalil Sabat, former Dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication, and Dr. Boutros Kassab, the esteemed attorney. The prestigious Dr. Paul Ghalyoungi, who specializes in pharaonic medicine, is a close friend of writer Anis Mansour.
A number of Roman Catholics are also known for their leading activities in trade and industry. For instance, the late Sednawi, a wealthy Catholic, established a number of stores, schools and hospitals throughout Egypt. The Lakah brothers, leading figures in the iron and medical equipment sectors, are currently organizing the Pope's Mass to be held at the Indoor Hall, Cairo Stadium in Nasr City. The Iskaf and Gresh families are famous opticians and glass manufacturers, while the Antaki brothers play an important role in the textile industry. The famous Egyptian directors Henri Barakat and Yussuf Shahin, as well as late actor Beshara Wakim, are also Catholics.
Roman Catholics are just one of many Christian sects in Egypt, the largest being Copts. Others include Maronites, Syrians Chaldeans and Armenians. Cardinal Nasrallah Botrous Safir currently living in Lebanon, is the current Maronite Archbishop. The sect takes its name from the 7th century AD Saint Maron. They came to Egypt during Ottoman rule, mostly as Levantine traders. Well-known Maronite figures in Egypt include late comedian actor, Naguib el-Rehani, writer May Zeyada, philosopher Yussuf Karam, and the late journalist Philip Galab.
The Syrians constitute one of the oldest Christian sects in Egypt, and have established a number of churches and monasteries, the most famous of which is Virgin Mary's Monastery in Wadi Natroun, also known as the Syrian Monastery. Among prominent Syrian public figures are Rear Admiral Samir Wallati and Nabil Ghaba, known for their courageous deeds in the 1973 October War.
The Chaldean sect, on the other hand, dates to the 19th century and originated in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Abba Roufae II, Head of the Chaldean sect, is known for his opposition to US interference in Iraqi affairs. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz is also Chaldean.
Though not large, the Armenian Christian sect is famous in Egypt for its many famous actors such as Mimi Gamal, Nelli, Lebleba, and singer Anoushka. Armenians arrived in Egypt in the 18th century, establishing St. Grigorious Church in 1734. Patriarch Jan Boutros, who currently heads the Armenian sect, resides in Lebanon.
These various Christian sects in Egypt are concerned with establishing strong relations and communication channels with Muslims through their various associations. The first of these was established in 1938. It was known then as "el-Safa Brothers," and aimed at maintaining close ties between Muslims and Christians. After several closings, the association resumed its work in 1975 under the new name of "Religion Brotherhood". Father Henry Ayrout and former Health Minister, Abdu Mahmoud Sallam, are among its most prominent figures.
The Egyptian Justice and Peace Committee, affiliated to the Catholic church in Egypt, also plays a vital part in enlightening Egyptians on various national issues through monthly seminars. Muslim lecturers are often invited to participate.
In the field of education, there are more than 160 Catholic schools throughout the country, employing up-to-date instructional material and pedagogical methods. Despite all these activities in which Catholic priests, laymen, and associations are engaged, Catholics have never been heard to claim they are targets of religious intimidation or persecution in Egypt.
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