The region of Minya in Upper Egypt, some 250km south of Cairo, straddles the Nile in an area where the river flows at its most majestic. The verdant banks spread wide and green, boasting such serene beauty that the capital of the province has gained the nickname “Bride of Upper Egypt”—Egyptians use ‘bride’ to denote a resplendent beauty. But Minya has also made a name for herself on quite a different note; in the last two decades or so the province gained notoriety for being the uncontested area in Egypt where Copts suffer discrimination and abuse. Add to this the recent gruesome beheading of 20 of Minya’s Copts at the hands of IS in Libya, and it becomes perfectly plausible why Minya’s nickname was recently changed by her Copts into “Bride of Christ”.
Duty of the Church
In a gesture of reaching out to the families of the 20 Copts beheaded by IS last month, Pope Tawadros II decided to pay a visit to Minya and say Holy Mass in Samalout, the parish to which their villages belong.
The three-day visit began last Sunday afternoon. When the Pope arrived at Samalout and was received by Anba Pavnotius, Bishop of Samalout. Security authorities had heightened security in town in preparation for the Pope’s visit.
The Pope began his visit by meeting with the clergy and bishops of the seven parishes in Minya province: Anba Aghathon of Maghagha and Adawa; Anba Athanasius of Beni-Mazar and Bahnasa; Anba Georgius of Mattai; Anba Pavnotius of Samalout; Anba Macarius of Minya and Abu-Qurqas; Anba Demetrius of Mallawi, Ansena and Ashmounein; and Anba Aghapius of Deir Muwass and Dalga.
Pope Tawadros then headed to the Good Shepherd Hospital in Samalout, a hospital built and run by Samalout bishopric. He visited the patients and prayed for them, and met the doctors, staff, technicians and hospital workers. He expressed high appreciation of the hospital services which are offered at affordable prices, and commended the Bishop for his efforts. “May you always establish such successful projects,” he said.
Next, the Pope visited a tumours centre run by the bishopric; as well as the bishopric’s educational compound, the al-Ahd al-Gadeed (The New Testament Compound), which includes some top-level schools; and a social club established by the bishopric. He said it was the duty of the Church to run establishments like hospitals and schools to serve the community indiscriminately.
He also visited the church of the Saviour of the World and consecrated the altar of the church of the Four Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John noting that it was the first church in their names in Egypt.
Monday morning Pope Tawadros presided over Holy Mass in honour of the 20 Copts beheaded in Libya. The families of the martyrs occupied the first pews. During his sermon the Pope said they had offered through their death a testimony of faith, and confirmed that the age of martyrdom was ongoing; it was no thing of the past. “We should tell their story to our children,” he said, “to teach them steadfastness in faith.”
The Pope thanked President Sisi, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, and Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali for their condolences and care for the martyrs’ families. He also repeated his thanks to Pope Francis and all world figures who had offered condolences and prayers.
After Holy Mass the Pope sat with the 20 families for an informal talk as they were handed the official death certificates of their sons.
Joy in Mallawi
From Samalout in the north of Minya, the Pope Tawadros headed to Mallawi in the south. Again, security was tightened to ensure safe passage for the Pope. But the Copts of Mallawi defied the difficulty posed by the heightened security measures and went out in full force to welcome him. They lined the streets from the Desert Highway into town to Mallawi bishopric, waving Egyptian flags to cheers of “Our Pope, we love you” and joyful ululations by the women. Visibly moved, the Pope thanked them with: “Your love is as warm and strong as Upper Egypt herself.”
At the convent of al-Batoul in Mallawi the Pope met with the nuns, listened to them and discussed the problems of the local service. He sat with the many children who had gathered there to see him, giving them Bibles, books, and souvenirs as gifts.
At the church of St Mark at Mallawi Bishopric, Anba Demetrius of Mallawi delivered a welcome speech for Pope Tawadros in both Coptic and Arabic. Anba Demetrius is a distinguished scholar of the Coptic and Demotic languages, and among the few who converse fluently in Coptic. The Pope presided over Holy Mass at St Mark’s, then paid a visit to the desert monastery of Abu-Fana in the vicinity of Mallawi. His Holiness decided to extend his visit to Minya one day. He presided over Holy Mass where he consecrated a new church for Abu-Fana the Hermit, coinciding with the celebration of 1600 years on the establishment of the monastery.
Before heading back to Cairo the Pope thanked the security officials in Minya “from the highest ranking official to the youngest policeman” for their efforts to secure his trip. “Forgive me,” he said as he handed them token gifts, “I have given you much trouble.”
4 March 2015