The Long Road of Change for Egypt (Part 2)

Luxor’s Bishop Zakaria on Hope for Christians

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

By Emil Ameen

LUXOR, Egypt, JULY 24, 2011 ( The 2010 Mideast synod of bishops was considered a success for many reasons, says the Catholic Coptic bishop of Luxor.

Bishop Youhannes Zakaria, 61, told ZENIT that the gathering was not only «the first time that all the Middle East’s Catholic bishops have met with the Holy Father in Rome» to discuss the situation of the Church in the region, but that it also put the «news, history, and affairs of the Middle Eastern Churches and the problems of their Christian faithful» on the world stage.

The bishop said this in a three-part interview on the current situation in Egypt after the Jan. 25 revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime.

In Part 2, Bishop Zakaria discusses forced conversions to Islam, the fruits of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, and relations between Muslims and Christians.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Friday. Part 3 will appear Monday.

ZENIT: In recent years, we have noticed unprecedented cases of forced conversions to Islam. In your opinion, is it a methodical plan, especially considering that the targeted age group is only one, just young girls?

Bishop Zakaria: I don’t think that they are random incidents, but I feel that some people are planning and financing such incidents, and taking advantage of the emotional, familial, and financial problems from which some Coptic girls suffer. They facilitate their escape from their families, and then invite them to convert to Islam.

Every Coptic family should take care of its daughters and sons, and the Church in this delicate period has to intensify its activity in deepening faith among its children, look after them and work for their own good.

ZENIT: In fact, most of the Copts dream of emigrating and leaving Egypt to ward off the future harm, from their perspective … how does the Catholic Church in Egypt consider this issue?

Bishop Zakaria: Not only the Copts dream of emigration and traveling abroad, there are also their Muslim brothers and youth from most of the third world countries who share this dream. The reason of this emigration is not only an escape from a bitter reality in their countries, on the political, economic and security levels, but a search for an opportunity of a better future for their lives and children.

The Catholic Church in Egypt does not encourage its faithful to emigrate, in order to preserve the Christian presence in our Egyptian land and in the Middle East. But the Church must have plans for youth, plans that offer job and housing opportunities and aim at providing their stability and securing their own future and their children’s future.

ZENIT: Many people have considered that the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East is a hope for Christians of the Middle East, but in reality, it offered only theoretical recommendations. What is the benefit of such a synod?

Bishop Zakaria: The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East is considered as a singular event in Eastern Church’s history. In fact, it is the first time that all the Middle East’s Catholic bishops have met with the Holy Father in Rome to consider the aspirations and problems of the Church and Christians in the Middle East.

This synod was preceded by intensive studies and preparatory discussions that took place in most of the Catholic archdioceses, institutes, centers, and monastic orders in the Middle East. Many personalities and committees specialized in the Middle Eastern Churches’ affairs from the Catholic Church took part in these preparations.

During this synod, the audio-visual media all over the world focused on the news, history, and affairs of the Middle Eastern Churches and the problems of their Christian faithful. This is considered as a success of the synod, which discussed and focused on the situation of the Eastern Churches and the Christians’ situation and problems.

This synod led to the publication of some important documents and recommendations. The churches and archdioceses studied these documents and sought the implementation of these recommendations. Our Egyptian church printed a book that contains studies and discussions about these recommendations, and currently, there is a study of this book in every Egyptian archdiocese.

Currently, we are waiting for the apostolic exhortation related to the Middle Eastern Churches, that the Holy Father Benedict XVI will publish soon, and that will include the final publication of the Synod’s recommendations, to work and serve according to these recommendations and implement them in the Church’s mission.

ZENIT: What does the Catholic Church in Egypt offer laymen who want to deepen their role in the Egyptian factional and political life, so that Copts are not accused of languor?

Bishop Zakaria: In the past, the Egyptian Catholic Church might have offered a little in this field, due to the conditions that impeded the work. Now, there are a lot of forums and meetings taking place in all the archdioceses, monastic orders, institutes and schools to educate lay people and encourage them to join the political and factional action.

In this regard, there is a concrete and serious work done by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Egyptian Catholic patriarchs and bishops’ conference.

ZENIT: Why are Copts divided in the issue of the international protection? Some of them want it despite the fact that they are not calling publicly for it, and others ask for it publicly. What does the Egyptian Catholic Church think of this?

Bishop Zakaria: Undoubtedly, the Copts who are indigenous who live in their Egyptian country suffer from problems, difficulties accumulated over centuries, and feel that their rights are ignored, no one cares about them, and most of their requests are not granted. Therefore, some believe that the request for the international protection will eliminate their problems and difficulties. But I believe that the international protection that is understood as the Copts’ reliance on the foreign powers is not the right way to solve the Copts’ problems. I also see that the right way in this regard is the calm and constructive dialogue among the same nation’s citizens.

ZENIT: What about your relations in South Egypt with the moderate Muslims and heads of liberal movements? Do the latter have an equivalent influence to that of the Salafis and the Muslim brotherhood?

Bishop Zakaria: In my priestly and episcopal service, my relation with my Muslim brothers has always been good.

I remember when I was a pastor in the city of Alfikriyah in Minya province; I established a nursing home for children and most of these children were from Muslim families. I never discriminated between a Muslim and a Christian child. Until now, I still have a personal relationship with some responsible for these children.

There is a feeling of cordiality and mutual respect between us, and when I visit my family in Abu Qarqas, many of them come to visit me. It’s also a great pleasure to meet my sons and daughters who were in this nursing home, who grew up and are now holding senior positions. And some of them who go to Luxor for work come especially to visit me. With them, I remember those beautiful days that we spent together.

In my pastoral visits to the churches and parishes in Luxor’s archdiocese, all Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic parishioners come to welcome me, and when I visit the parishioners’ houses, priority is given to the visit of my Muslim brothers’ homes.

In fact, I can say that relations between Muslims and Christians who live and work side by side in the village and some cities in Upper Egypt are cordial relationships. And many people who sow seeds of sedition and division come from outside the village or the city, bear fanatic ideas, and work on spreading grudge, hatred among people of the same village whose ancestors lived for many centuries and
hundreds of years in love and peace, without any discrimination between Muslims and Christians.

[Part 3: Islam-Vatican Relations]

— — —

Part 1:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation