Problems on hold
Last Sunday Watani published a special issue in tribute to the great Metropolitan of Assiut Anba Mikhail who had departed from our world a week earlier. During his lifetime, Anba Mikhail earned several titles spontaneously bestowed upon him by a congregation that fully realised his worth: the angel of the Church of Assiut, the elder of the See of St Mark, the faithful pastor, and the staunch defender of truth. Now that Anba Mikhail is no longer with us, giving him his due is a task we owe him. The coming days are bound to witness the disclosure of stories so far unknown about the bishop, his achievements, stances, and imprints on the Church and in the hearts of his congregation. I believe it is premature to attempt a biography but in time his numerous devotees—many among whom are well-versed scholars—will surely record his blessed life journey. It is no coincidence or oversight that this article on the Metropolitan comes under “Problems on hold”. The details of the relationship between Watani and Anba Mikhail whom I highly venerate and love on the personal level has locked up in my heart, placed on hold, since he did not wish for it to be made public. For the past 15 years I was honour-bound to respect his wish, but now that he has left our world I am released of my pledge.
Anba Mikhail was a close ally to Watani. He saw in the paper a beacon which brought to light the grievances Copts sustained, the marginalisation and persecution they suffered on account of their faith, and which defended their rights and called for justice. He was always keen on enquiring about the paper and its family of journalists and employees, forever concerned with Watani’s stability, fortitude, and capacity to carry out its mission. Anba Mikhail supported Watani through the advertisements published in August every year for the annual celebrations of the Holy Virgin’s Fast and Feast in Assiut’s Western Mountain, also known as Deir Drunka. This part the reader already knows. But there are two other incidents of support which Anba Mikhail insisted on keeping secret. In 2008 we celebrated Watani’s golden jubilee and honoured the paper’s veteran figures and current journalistic and administrative staff, as well as the public figures and Church leaders who had staunchly supported it throughout its 50 years in the press field. Back then I sent Anba Mikhail an invitation to the celebration and told him we would be recognising his support of Watani. His reply was gentle but firm; he warmly congratulated Watani and applauded its mission, but at the same time declined to attend or accept any honour, and demanded that no details should be disclosed of his support. I had to submit to his wish, but could not refrain from ambiguously acknowledging him as I addressed the assembly which was graced by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. I said “It is impossible for me not to mention a great clerical figure who has generously supported Watani all through, but I am honour-bound not to mention his name or the details of his staunch support.” Anba Mikhail was always keen to help Watani raise its circulation. For years he took the initiative of weekly purchasing a large number of copies and distributing them to all around. He always explained that what he did was not only meant as financial support, but out of keenness for the paper to reach the largest possible readership. The other instance which I remember with deep affection and gratitude occurred in autumn 1999. One of our veteran journalists, the late Mossaad Sadeq who enjoyed a very close relationship with Anba Mikhail, came to my office and placed an envelope on my desk. He told me he had just come from Assiut and that Anba Mikhail was sending his warm regards and a donation to Watani. I was free to use it as I saw fit, Mr Sadeq said, but it was Anba Mikhail’s wish that the matter should remain secret. I felt very grateful then, and amazed at the timing of the generous donation because back then we were in dire need for financing a project to computerise our editing and page production work, to replace the traditional ‘manual’ method which we then used and which was already being phased out by the journalism industry. We needed to make the shift to modern technology; Anba Mikhail’s generous donation made this possible and practically catapulted Watani into the electronic age. As I said before, I had to respect Anba Mikhail’s pledge for secrecy. But now that he has left our world, it is time for grateful disclosure.
7 December 2014