The Coptic church, partner in our aid work in Egypt
A faithful reader and supporter from the USA just wrote to us, and we take her letter as an opportunity to give some insight of the circumstances, that we face in the work of the Hatune Foundation.
Susan Jones is asking: “I enjoy reading the news from the Hatune Foundation. I have a question to ask. I was reading about Sister Hatune’s trip to Egypt. The people are so very poor and in need. The newly built church building in the pictures is very large and must have cost a lot of money to build. Why does the Catholic Church continue to build very large and expensive buildings (as they always have) when so many need food and clothing and shelter? I don’t understand.”
First, a clarification about the photos: the third photo in the report shows Hatune in front of a newly built Coptic church, at the outskirts of Cairo, and an afterwards new built mosque right beside it. This happens regularly now in Egypt, and it handicaps the life of Christians there. As Hatune reports:
“there is an Egyptian law, that states, that all buildings within 100 meters of a mosque become its property. This legislation is regularly invoked to harass Christians, and for example, they are not allowed to renovate their churches.”
The fifth photo shows Hatune in front of one the great Coptic monasteries, St. Mary Alsyrian. It is from the 7th century, lies in Wadi Natrun, an area, where monks founded several monasteries and were the first to turn the desert into fertile oases. To this day, the monks live from what they produce. The current 200 monks of St. Mary Alsyrian are spiritually and socially highly revered. The building was expanded and renovated over the centuries.
Egypt has one of the oldest Christian communities of the world. The evangelist Marc has presumably missioned here in the year 50 A.D. already. Christianity was the dominating religion before the Islamic expansion in the 7th century.
Support by the new government of Egypt
To the question by itself, generally speaking, the church buildings are big, but not pompous. There are always more parishioners than the buildings can accommodate. For the Coptic church, these buildings are essential to their survival. They are social centers, to meet, exchange and support. The same applies to the monasteries, they are places of pilgrimage, people go there, to get encouragement from the monks in their troubles.
The new government of Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi is supporting the building and renovating of churches and monasteries financially, also as a sign of goodwill towards the West. At the same time, there are still many laws, like the one mentioned above, that hamper the lives of Christians in Egypt quite much. The new government is more modern and tolerant in many issues, than the very traditionalistic Muslim majority of the country wishes.
Into this area on conflict, virtually caught between all stools, the Coptic Church is operating. It maneuvers as an oppressed minority for 1400 years. And into this, now the activity of the Hatune Foundation is heading. In Egypt, all our activities are under the umbrella of the Coptic church, without it, nothing would be possible – Egypt is still one of the most fundamental police states in the world. To go against the political and religious conditions would make the help for the poor unfeasible.
The good outweighs some human shortcomings
Sister Hatune focuses on those, who get no or the least help. In case of the 70.000 Christians of Mokattam, this means: they are very much in need, and we help them as much as we can. The only other help they receive at all, comes from the Coptic church. Could the church do more for these poor people? Sister Hatune says: “maybe, but it is always part of a respectful partnership, not to evaluate their financial policy. Almost everywhere, the church has the tendency to be rich, but the good deeds those people do, and in such difficult conditions, outshines all human failings.”
Even worse than in Egypt, Christian communities in the Middle East are threatened by violence, displacement and extinction. In the cradle of Christendom, in Syria, Southeast-Turkey and Iraq, they are the victims of war. Often selectively targeted by the majority Muslim population, not only by the Islamic State (IS).
In those countries, our foundation succeeds in bringing the aid to the needy through a network of partner associations. Together with them, it often is a risky maneuvering between rivaling political, ethnical and religious groups. The power struggles in this war are inscrutable in this war, and only to decode through trustworthy, personal contacts and on the ground experience.
Personal experience is most valuable
As a good example may serve an encounter, that Hatune had in one of her trips to Iraq, when she intended to bring a big load of aid to the people in the Sinjar mountains. Hatune reports:
“It is the Kurdish Peshmerga – the national military force – that controls the area. We were not even allowed to deliver the emergency relief there without their permission! A local politician from Shingal, who also works as an administrator for the Peshmerga, gave us permission to enter the area very reluctantly.
“Don’t support these people!” he said right to my face, but never explained why. The Yazidis don’t have any agreements with the local authorities. They have no confidence in any of the groups who are forming the Peshmerga. Peshmerga on the other hand believe, that anyone who helps Yazidis and Christians is an enemy to their chief Barzani and the Turkish President Erdogan.”
The politician gave his permission also, because the German government is supporting the Peshmerga officially. But crucial was, like often before, the dauntlessness and perseverance of Sister Hatune, to bring the aid to its destination.
By answering the question of Susan Jones so extensively, we hope to bring some insight into the work of the Hatune Foundation. The poorest of the poor are often forgotten by the world community, they do not have any campaign-adept lobbying groups at their side. Wanting to help them, like we do, has to take own, twisted, uncomfortable routes. Sometimes even enter dangerous new territories.
Dear friends, please help us with a donation to keep these routes viable. Please go to http://hatunefoundation.com/international/
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