Egypt: an outburst of life amidst huge poverty stretches. Burdened by an extremely weak currency, lagging tourism – especially after the Islamist terror attacks against the Copt Orthodox communities over the past year – grappling with a set of rigorous economic reforms that had devastating consequences on people’s lives. In this Country where over 85% of the overall population are Muslim, lives a small Catholic community (250thousand faithful, Ed.’s note). “We don’t have many parishes. We have neither churches nor large numbers of faithful.
We are few, but full of faith”,
said Msgr. Jan Tomas Limchua, Secretary at the Nunciature in Cairo. He promptly added: “As we seek the face the Lord we find it in acts of charity.”
A small Church in a sea of charity: it’s the face of the Catholic Church in Egypt. Present in all areas of society: standing by women’s emancipation; supporting children through education and literacy programs; assisting the sick, especially the poor, with outpatient treatment and clinics. A small world populated by men and women religious, volunteers and social workers. Men and women that the Italian Church is determined not to abandon, with support to projects (as many as 14 until now in the period 2013-2018), financed with taxpayers’ voluntary eight-per-thousand donations totalling 2.5 million Euros. The numbers represent the smiling faces of children, young people working in operating rooms, a radiology ward, handcrafts workshops… but most of all, the gratitude of a part of humanity. A delegation of 12 journalists from the Italian Federation of Italian Weeklies (FISC), led by Father Leonardo Di Mauro, in charge of the Service for Charity interventions in favour of Third World Countries shared their firsthand account.
“The presence of the Italian Church in Egypt and throughout the Middle East is a historical presence addressed to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike, and it that makes us feel proud as a Country”, the Italian Ambassador in Egypt, Giampaolo Cantini, told SIR. He added: “Support is given to everyone with no exception. Social services offered to citizenry, especially in the field of education and healthcare, are necessary especially today, given the severe social impact of radical economic reforms adopted in Egypt. Today are facing the urgent need to adapt these social services to the real needs of the Egyptian population.” He pointed out:
“Without basic healthcare and education services there can be no economic, political and social development.”
The Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus Hospital is situated in the heart of Schubra, one of the most populated and poor neighbourhoods in Egypt’s capital city, where lives a significant Catholic community. It enjoys the support of the Discalced Carmelites community (10 priests and 3 nuns), with a staff of 120 people including doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. An outpatient clinic is open every day until 10.30 pm, serving up to 22 thousand patients a month. The facility features various healthcare services, from ophthalmology to paediatrics to obstetrics, with three operation rooms. The Italian Bishops’ Conference – CEI – has donated a radiology ward and in 2014 it financed the renovation of the third floor and the building of a entirely new floor. It’s the “first Catholic hospital in Egypt”, said the doctor in charge of the Osama Ishak structure with pride. “Our goal is to offer medical treatment to everyone with no distinction between Muslims and Christians, especially to the poorest social brackets, those who can’t afford being treated in other health structures.” Thus the Christian hospital serves as a school of humanity open to everyone because “we are all sisters and brothers, sons and daughters of the One and Only God.” “St. Theresa of the Child Jesus used to say that
everything is great when it’s motivated by love”
pointed out Fr Patricio Sciadini.
Thus what we do is great inasmuch as the small things we do are great if they are motivated by love.”
From the heart of Schubra to the poorest villages in Upper Egypt, where AUEED, the association for education and development in Upper Egypt, founded by Jesuit Father Henry Ayrout, one of the first NGOs, has been actively working since 1940. With the support of CEI, this NGO has promoted a formal education program in 35 schools located in the Governorships of Minya, Assiut, Qena, Luxor and Sohag, which reached out to 12 500 pupils, thanks to the commitment of 950 teachers and 1900 volunteers.
Young girls and adolescents represent 44% of all pupils. “It’s a remarkable effort”, said Dina Raouf Khalil, Vice-Director for External Relations and Fundraising to FISC journalists at the AUEED Centre in Cairo on Wednesday evening. In fact these rural areas of Egypt register high rates of school dropouts. Children are sent to work and not to school by their parents, who in most cases are illiterate. The estimated rate of illiteracy of women is of 65% in rural areas and 30% in urban centres.”
AUEED has implemented ‘informal education’ programs for these people in cooperation with 220 professionals, all of them women. School lessons and education activities focus on the promotion of human rights (notably of women and children), right to health, the eradication of poverty, and discrimination. Last year over 765 recipients benefited from the program, 96% of whom were women, divided into 23 study groups across 28 villages.
“We work to teach women to read and write, to be aware of their rights, to minister to the needs of their families and of children in particular, by promoting school attendance. Women are the true engines of Egyptian society”, Raouf Khalil concluded.