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Christians in the Muslim World

The new evangelisation seen from Egypt

Interview with H.E. Msgr. Kyrillos William Samaan, Bishop of Assiut for the Catholic Copts Church in Egypt  By Meriem Senous

What is your impression of the Synod you are taking part in?


One of the central points shared by everybody is that before speaking of evangelisation, we must be evangelised ourselves. This means that the evangelisers in turn need to be evangelised. We have therefore appealed to conversion, humility, penitence and prayer to be able to evangelise. Various themes concerning evangelisation and those to whom it is directed were dealt with. The emphasis was placed rather on the value of a renewed evangelisation: it is the style that has to be renewed, the means and the methods. Evangelisation has Jesus Christ as a person that is alive as its only subject.


How is renewed evangelisation translated in practice?


We have to find the enthusiasm of the first evangelisation once again. The enthusiasm of the Pentecost. The fire of the Pentecost must make our hearts burn, to open us up with courage and joy, and the enthusiasm of the first evangelisation must return.




What do you expect from this Synod, in particular as an oriental bishop?


We expect a great deal. We expect an awakening and an examination of our conscience, in order to conceive of a new style to carry out the ministry. We also spoke at length of the relations with our Muslim brothers and the way in which to evangelise them. It can be done not only at a theoretical level. In my paper I mentioned more than once the activities that are proposed in the church and there are numerous non-Christians taking part in them and who attend out schools, our surgeries and the work of development and human promotion. Christ can be made visible by our actions, our love, our openness, our respect for the others who rediscover our dignity. Many people respect these social activities that the Catholic Church is running. There have even been people who have asked us: ‘You do things that go beyond your dimensions’. There are few of us Catholics but the Church is present and active in the schools, surgeries and charitable works which are open to everyone without distinction and even many Muslims take part in and greatly respect what we do. We want to build bridges with our Muslim brothers. For us the important thing is to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in our world. Some extremists say to us: ‘Go away? You can easily get a visa for Europe, America, go away and leave the country!’. We reply: ‘This is our country and we must stay because we have a mission to carry out, we are the salt of the earth, we are the light and the future of the world. We are the witnesses of Christ, the artisans of peace and reconciliation and the sowers of the civilisation of love’.



How will the Copt community experience this Year of faith?


Before leaving for the Synod, the Pastoral Council – composed of all the representatives of the dioceses of Copt Catholic Egypt and all the other Catholic Churches in Egypt, laical representatives, priests and representatives of priests and nuns – organised a three-day meeting for reflection, above all for the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in the Middle East. We will dedicate the Year of faith to the Holy Scriptures as source of faith, concentrating particularly on the distribution of the Bible and its reading in families. A short passage every day. For the young people we will organise seminars on the Bible to introduce them to adult faith. I always say that we must make the step from the faith inherited from our parents to personal faith. In this way the young will believe because they are convinced. No longer a faith inherited through tradition but an experienced faith.




How do you see the recent events of the Copt children accused of blasphemy and the violent protests against the anti-Islam films?


We published a declaration condemning this film in so much that it goes against the Gospel, which teaches us to love and respect all men, and against the Second Vatican Council, the fiftieth anniversary of which we celebrate this year, which encourages the respect of our Muslim brothers.


With regard to the case of the two children, there are people that exaggerate: what can such small children understand about blasphemy? Fortunately though there are human rights organisations which protested and were able to act in favour of the two children.



Some fear that Egypt may become another Pakistan, where the


Christians will be discriminated against and persecuted. What is your opinion on this?


No, I do not believe so. It is true that there are extremists, but the majority of the Muslims is moderate according to the teaching of al-Azhar. There are protests in Tahrir Square against the Islamization of the country. One of the slogans says: ‘Egypt is not a farm’, where anyone can enter and do what they want. Egypt belongs to all the Egyptians. There are also protests against the constitution which does not represent all the Egyptians and in favour of the establishment of a civil state. It is above all through the dialogue of life and understanding that we can win the hearts of our Muslim brothers. Even the extremists hearts. We have also had common initiatives: for example once we organised a prayer vigil together, with Christian and Muslim representatives, and everyone left with tears in their eyes. The meeting was held in our cathedral and there were young Muslims who sang Christian and Muslim chants like the one of St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Make me an instrument of your peace’, and each religious confession said their prayers. Even some young Muslims came of their own accord to pray and they truly spoke from the bottom of their hearts. After this experience, I thought that it would be opportune to spread this initiative as we need to have this experience everywhere, on a small scale in all parishes in order to foster a climate of understanding.


Just a few days from the first anniversary of the Maspero incidents, does the Copt community believe that a fresh outbreak of the acts of intolerance is possible and that there might be another Maspero case?


I do not think that there will be another Maspero case, but until today those responsible for these crimes have not been found. The Copt community continues to ask itself who committed that crime. It is not known, it is a secret. Let us hope that justice is done. The Copts feel like second class citizens, their rights are not recognised and this hurts them. We strongly hope that the future will be better. At least after the 25 January revolution we have the freedom and courage to speak. Before that the Copts did not speak, said nothing because they did not dare to, while now they speak, ask and everyone hears us. One day or another we will obtain justice.




The election of the Copt pope has not yet taken place and the deadline has expired…


On 29 October the 2,400 electors will start to vote. Even the representatives of the Diaspora will equally have to vote. The winner will be decided on 4 November and on 18 November the inaugural ceremony will take place.



Are there any favourites?


There is talk of Anba Raphael, the bishop of Wast al-Kahira, Wast-al-Medina, in the city centre, a very pious and humble man. There is also talk of a monk, Raphael, who was the secretary of Cyril VI. Whoever it is, we hope that they will be able to defend the Christians.



As far as concerns the drafting of the new constitution, there have been no references to Shari’a until now…


The tendency is to keep the text of the previous constitution. They even want to add a footnote according to which the non-Muslims should refer to their own legislation.




How do you see the future of Egypt?


We pray a lot for Egypt, so that it might become a civil and democratic state. We try to speak to the people who are thinking of emigrating telling them that the country needs them. We have a mission to carry out. We must not flee in the face of hardship. But there are serous economic problems as well as political problems that force people to emigrate.

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