Church in Egypt faces poverty and oppression
A bishop in Egypt leading a small group of Christians in the face of oppression and poverty has said the survival of his diocese depends on the compassion of friends of the Church in need.
Against a backdrop of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina’s Diocese of Guizeh would appear to be a timeless and tranquil evocation of an ancient civilization. But in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Aziz Mina said his tiny, 5,000-strong oriental Coptic Catholic community is beset by problems – especially grinding poverty and an anti-Christian ethos.
He said Coptic Catholics were frequently out of work because of anti-Christian employers and that there were severe restrictions on building churches and outdoor worship. Bishop Aziz Mina said, “The Catholic Coptic Church has no properties. The people are very poor. They can’t pay for things. The Church in our country still does not have the resources of its own necessary to survive.”
Speaking on a visit to ACN’s international project headquarters in Germany, Bishop Aziz Mina said that the extensive help of Aid to the Church in Need was essential. He highlighted the Catholic charity’s support for formation of seminarians, Mass stipends, training of Sisters, Child’s Bibles and other catechesis. “If you at ACN didn’t help, it would be difficult to continue,” said the bishop. “Few organizations are willing to offer the support for the Church in the way you do. I am sure that you are quite unique in your commitment to helping to build the human person in the life of Church.”
Amid reports of problems relating to militant Islam and the growth of the extremist political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, Bishop Aziz Mina said, “I cannot say extremist Islam is growing but there is something in the air.” He continued by saying, “Our challenge is to present faith in Christ in the face of Muslim society. In today’s circumstances, the conditions are not easy, but we are doing a good job.”
He came to ACN’s HQ in Königstein, near Frankfurt, to present a project for a catechism center in Guizeh Diocese aimed at encouraging clergy and lay to develop their faith supported by expert trainers and media programs. “Until now, when it comes to catechism and faith formation, each of my priests tended to do the same thing in his own parish. I want to develop a plan for everyone, which ought to be possible because ours is one of the smallest dioceses in the country.”
He went on to thank ACN for its support with recent initiatives, including an annual summer youth camp which attracts up to 250 people for regular Mass, talks and workshops held at Baltim overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. For some young people, it is the only opportunity for a holiday. The bishop said, “For us, this is very important. It means we can offer very good formation of youth at a time when they give it plenty of time and attention during the summer holidays."
The bishop said the camps encourage people to keep their faith in spite of ongoing problems. He said, “Living in an Islamic environment influences your behavior. You’ve got to remain faithful to what you believe and love all people. That’s not easy.”
Out of a population of at least 75 million more than 90 percent of who are Muslim, Christians in Egypt are seven percent, and most are Coptic Orthodox. Catholics number only 200,000, and there are about the same number of Protestants.
With picture of Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Guizeh, Egypt (Photo: ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
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