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Egypt: the construction site of the largest cathedral in the Middle East, “symbol of coexistence”

The largest Christian cathedral in the Middle East is being erected 40 km from Cairo on the decision of Egyptian president al Sisi, as a “symbol of coexistence”. On three shifts, 3000 men work in the construction site 24 hours a day. A first part of the complex was inaugurated on Christmas eve, celebrated by Coptic Christians January 6-7. Now it’s a race against time to complete it by next Christmas. Everyone is at work, Christian and Muslim engineers, with the support of the military. SIR visited the site

Cairo: la nuova cattedrale vista dal deserto

It’s still a building site but once finished it will be the largest Christian cathedral in the Middle East. On the decision of the “pharaoh”, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the Coptic Christian cathedral is being built in an area approximately 40 km from Cairo, the so-called ‘New Cairo’, Egypt’s new administrative capital. On January 7 2017, during the Coptic Orthodox Christmas-eve Mass, the Egyptian President announced that the new cathedral would be inaugurated in a year’s time, by Christmas 2018. The former Egyptian general defined it

“a symbol of coexistence”

A race against time began after the announcement, with 3000 construction workers on three shifts, 24 hours running. Under the sunlight during the day and with the light of photo-beams at night time. Against all odds, after six months of planning, the church of the Cathedral, named Christ’s Nativity church, “the first in Egypt bearing this name”, opened its doors to welcome Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II and the top authorities in the Country, notably President al Sisi, as planned, on the eve of January 7 2018, when Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas. “We love you, and we wish you good holidays”, were the first words of Al Sisi addressed to the faithful gathered in the cathedral for the Holy Mass broadcast also by State Television.

 

For now only 40% of the cathedral has been built. Upon completion the structure will include the residence of the Coptic Pope, meeting halls for pastoral care, a parking lot. The Cathedral, built on a complex of 15 hectares, will have a capacity to accommodate 8,000 worshippers, with a 65mt. steeple and a 40mt-wide dome

In the past days a delegation of Aid to the Church in Need – Italy (ACS), led by its director, Alessandro Monteduro, visited the construction site with a group of journalists and the bishop of the diocese of Carpi Msgr. Francesco Cavina. The delegation was received by the group of engineers – Christians and Muslims – working on the project, whose execution has been entrusted to Orascom, the major construction company in the Middle East, the only “capable of carrying out such a majestic project”

 

 

 

 

 

“We work very hard to complete the project.  We are also using precast concrete to speed up the construction and meet the deadline” said Antonios Mounir, young Christian engineer in charge of planning.

“A challenging commitment carried in close synergy with Pope Tawadros. In fact the project must comply with all liturgical-architectural regulations envisaged for buildings in this category.”

 

Mounir works together with Muslim engineers. They carry out their job with a combination of skilfulness and creativity, constituting the pillars of this monumental construction. Army chief  Khaled Elfey, Muslim, tasked with reducing the amount of bureaucracy, said the latter “could slowdown the work of many companies coordinated by Orascom. The President wants the works to proceed speedily and that all obstacles be removed”, he said. The Army also ensures the security of the construction site that is constantly monitored.  The risk of attacks is always high and for the Nativity Cathedral were adopted the same security measures enforced in all Christian places of worship in Egypt. Since the massacres and the terror attacks on churches, the army has been in the frontline of defence operations, where many military were left dead. They are equally present in the reconstruction of the devastated sites. “Church-rebuilding takes place very quickly” said Tadros Adel, another Christian engineer working on the construction of the new cathedral.

“It happened in the church of the Immaculate Conception in Suez that returned to be accessible in less than a year, in St. Peter’s cathedral in Cairo, devastated by an attack on December 11 2016 and reopened after three weeks to celebrate Christmas. The attack was a shock to both Muslims and Christians. Many construction workers from across the Country left their job to dedicate themselves full time to re-opening the Church.”

While construction works are ongoing, the faithful have already started pouring in the Cathedral. In fact, Christmas Mass will not remain an isolated event. In turn, every Friday (a holiday), Coptic parishes arrive here with their priests to celebrate Mass and to pray. For Coptic Christians there are no ‘Cathedrals in the desert’, whose sad here is of a strong red colour, as that of the martyrs of this ancient Church.

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