H.B. Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, is back from Cairo, where, as usual, he spent the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany. Asked about the current state of affairs in Egypt just one year after the start of the Tahrir Square uprising, the Patriarch remarked that the situation seems calm, with “enough security to allow more or less normal life to go on, though there is still a sense of unease.”
“Life goes on in our schools, institutions, parish centres, but we have to realise and accept that a new wave of departures is hitting our Egyptian Melkite Greek Catholic community. We really deplore the departure of some twenty families, according to the testimony of our parish priests, as this is a significant number for a community already reduced to barely five thousand people,” added Gregorios III, before explaining, “This wave of departure is also hitting Coptic Catholic and Orthodox communities, and it would seem that there have been Muslims leaving too. But it is impossible to be sure and difficult to know how many. They have numbers on their side, so leavers don’t create such a void as among Christian communities.”
“We are living God’s today from one day to the next. We are keeping our little flock, loving and serving it through our pastoral care, our schools and each one of our institutions. Pastoral care, together with our schools, is most important, as it is the foundation of our Church’s life,” the Patriarch asserted, when questioned about the future of the Church in Egypt, for which he “could make no forecast, as the sense of uncertainty is so great, and repeated, “We are living God’s today.”
The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch’s annual visit to his Alexandrian see is always filled with meetings, pastoral visits and talks with the heads of other Churches and with Muslim or political authorities. This year, given the prevalent state of affairs in the area, Gregorios III’s visits and trips were less tightly packed than in previous years. He went to Alexandria and Tanta, but had to cut out the traditional visit to Mansurah, for example.
Gregorios III took part in the Coptic Christmas celebrations and greeted Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Shenouda and Coptic Catholic Patriarch, Cardinal Antonios (Naguib). He took part both in the annual meeting of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy in Egypt, chaired by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch and in the setting up of an ecumenical Christian assembly for Egypt, to promote better co-operation and visibility of Egypt’s Churches. The first meeting of this new Council should take place on 21 February.
Two other meetings marked this stay: one with the Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb and the other with the Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Al-Arabi.
Grégorios III hailed the publication by Al-Azhar of three papers on Egypt’s future, especially the one of 8 January, 2012, which declares that Egypt is a Christian and Muslim country, in which “freedom of belief, opinion and expression, and liberty of academic research and creation are guaranteed,” as the paper puts it. The Patriarch was happy to note that his repeated calls to listen people who took to the streets, and understand their slogans and appeals had been correctly understood in the Al Azhar statements. On the other hand, he hoped that now that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists were in power and the new Parliament has started legislating, they will take a more moderate line.
In his talks with Nabil Al-Arabi, the Patriarch repeated his request for a regional Muslim-Christian summit, with the aim of creating an institution, a permanent secretariat, which, in the guise of a standing council, would work in tandem and close collaboration with the Arab League. The idea and concept were welcomed by the Secretary General of the Arab League and Nabil al-Arabi promised to think about it.