Everywhere in the world, everyone is praying for God’s mercy to save humanity from the scourge of coronavirus COVID-19. People hold their breaths as they follow up on the latest virus strikes across continents, countries and peoples, the numbers of new infections and the escalating death rates.
We wholeheartedly hope for indications that the pandemic may be retracting, and for a breakthrough in the search for some vaccine or effective treatment for the virus.
In Egypt, we live in constant worry how the virus would affect us. So far, the figures of COVID-19 infections and deaths have not reached alarming levels, but no one can tell what the coming days and weeks hold in store for us. This hinges on the cautionary measures implemented by our State institutions, ministries, and relevant authorities; also on the response and commitment of the public. All State apparatuses are on high alert to confront the coronavirus challenge, and the public should assume the same level of serious responsibility to abate the spread of the virus. Obviously, however, some segments of the public have no sense of the peril we are facing, and have not responded to calls for social distancing and staying at home, but are actually resisting them. In so doing, they subtract from the official efforts to defeat the virus, instead of adding to them. Which makes me wonder: are the relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases in Egypt a curse rather than a blessing? Do they lead the public to underrate the risk of a full-blown epidemic?
The Egyptian proverb goes, “the worst misfortune is that which is laughable”. A joke that has widely circulated on social media says: “For the first time, the government is in the role of the parent, and the people the spoilt brat who needs a pair of slippers hurled at him, a good scold, and strict orders to stay at home.” I can only ask the Lord to have mercy on our Egypt, and grant us the wisdom to walk the right path until we are saved from this pandemic.
Among the measures taken to ban gatherings has been the closure of educational, entertainment, social, sports and cultural activities. Government offices, business, banks, and legal services have reduced their attendant workforce who now work from home, or even closed.
The need for reducing gatherings in places of worship gave rise to a lot of controversy, until the religious leaderships—Muslim and Christian—took the decision to close churches and mosques. The Coptic Church also banned visits to monasteries or convents.
A longtime friend of Watani, Ms Inas Barsoum who is used to sending me daily inspirational and spiritual messages, sent me a message of faith and wisdom written by Father Louqa Sidaros.
Fr Louqa started his message by addressing the faithful congregation of the Church, pointing out that the serious pandemic currently attacking the whole world requires of us to examine our innermost selves and go back to God with faithful, repentant hearts as the people of Nineveh once did. People are now so busy reading and sharing the latest on this crisis, he wrote, that they get carried away with the news. “This,” he insisted, “makes us lose the focus we need in order to pray and change the world around us. The world today is engulfed by fear and horror, but the children of God, ‘Even though they walk through the valley of death, shall fear no evil’.” Fr Louqa reminded that Christ our Lord overcame death and broke its thorn. “Fear does not go with faith; stay firm in your faith so you can overcome fear,” he wrote.
Fr Louqa also stressed that, as Christians, we should abide by the regulations put in place by the government, and submit to State authority as the Bible teaches us. To those used to attending church regularly, Fr Louqa said: “Of course one feels especially sad at missing Mass or any church service but, during these exceptional times, we should think and live in a spiritual way. Let us use the following as guidelines:
“During times of persecution throughout history, churches were closed for years on end.
“In the early days of Christianity, there were neither churches nor regular meetings; Christians used to meet in homes and caves, and nothing stopped them from praying.
“I now tell you, that every one of our houses where a family is united has become a little church. Dedicate time to pray together, old and young. Allocate some of your time for reading the Bible, and practise Christian love. God has bestowed on us the blessing of His Flesh and Blood, and we were blessed by thankfully receiving Holy Communion hundreds of times. Let us ask ourselves how often we enjoyed that, and how many fruits we bore through our union with Christ. Was it sometimes just a habit? Was fasting too sometimes no more than a change of food?
“Let this period granted to us by God be for our own good, to renew our repentance, and review our adoration. Let the time we spend with our children be a blessing that would serve to grow the bonds of love within the family. Christ our Lord is not limited by time or space. Whenever two or three gather in His name, He will be there in their midst. Experience this blessing by praying all the time. Our Almighty God can lift His wrath, bestow His Divine peace on every soul, and accept the prayers His children raise to Him.”
I would like to extend my respect and appreciation to Fr Louqa Sidaros for his message of faith and wisdom, a message that profoundly moved me. May God use this message for the good of our country, people and Church.
25 March 2020