CAIRO, Egypt, FEB. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Egypt’s 250,000 Coptic-Catholics are enjoying a flowering of vocations, despite divisions among Christians and pressure from Muslim fundamentalists.
Cardinal Stephanos II Ghattas, patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic-Catholics, spoke about that trend in an interview in the latest issue of the Italian monthly magazine Mondo e Missione.
“We have very many feminine vocations, in addition to 200 diocesan priests, not counting religious, who number 150 in the whole of Egypt,” he said.
Of the more than 74 million inhabitants of Egypt, 94% are Muslims; most of the rest are Coptic-Orthodox.
The Coptic Church (known as Orthodox), separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
In 1741, a Coptic bishop in Jerusalem converted to Catholicism and was appointed, by Pope Benedict XIV, as apostolic vicar of the small Coptic community (about 2,000) who entered the Catholic Church. In 1895, Pope Leo XIII re-established the Coptic-Catholic Patriarchate.
Regarding relations with Islam, the patriarch explained that in daily life “we have relations in the realm of prayer and fasting, in social works, and in schools. In our 170 educational institutions, the greater part of the students are Muslims. This allows us to establish relations of congeniality and collaboration.”
More problematic are relations with “a fundamentalist Muslim current that wishes to condition social and political life even more strongly,” Cardinal Ghattas explained.
Christian communities have problems in building and restoring churches. The law calls for a presidential decree, as well as many formalities. Even when permission is given, the local administrations put up many obstacles.
“One of the reasons for this behavior is the intent to affirm at all times the identity of the Muslim nation and of the Egyptian state,” the cardinal said.
“We experience strong environmental pressure that leads Catholics to the diaspora and induces some of our faithful to become Muslims, especially because of financial issues. If one wants to have a house, a job, Muslims are given preference,” Cardinal Ghattas continued.
Regarding relations with Christian Orthodox, led by Pope Shenouda III, the cardinal seemed confident.
“The people live, believe and hope together,” he said. “They feel part of the same Church, founded by the holy martyr Mark between A.D. 40-60 in Alexandria, which was then a center of culture and civilization, a rich and cosmopolitan city.”
“If we are able to cultivate and preserve the faith, if we give witness of the beauty of a life lived in rectitude in the light of the Gospel, … God will never abandon his Church,” the cardinal said.
Over 100 Coptic parishes run primary or secondary schools. The Church also administers a hospital in Assiut and some medical day-care centers and clinics, as well as many orphanages.