Because of the high standards and quality maintained by the priests and religious, Egyptians, whatever their religious background, vie for slots at Catholic schools and readily seek treatment at Catholic hospitals and other Catholic facilities. But the Bishop argues that whatever the ministry, it remains a person-to-person endeavor.
Being Apostolic Vicar is a personal work. Funding agencies want to see nice buildings, a big clinic. I dont have these, he explains. I have families and thousands of children. I see each problem individually. Every case is different from the other.
As if by example, the Bishop holds up a picture of Qassem Nashed Fouad, a 12-year-old Coptic Orthodox boy living in a small village outside Alexandria. Qassem is physically handicapped as a result of receiving badly administered vaccines as a toddler. Through Bishop Egidio the boy received a wheelchair, but now the Bishop must help this family find another place to live: Qassems apartment building has no elevator, and his mother can no longer carry her growing son up three flights of stairs to their home.
Unfortunately, having a handicap is a great stigma in the Middle East. Qassems Muslim neighbors believe his father must have committed a horrible sin for Gods judgment to fall on his son in this way.
Bishop Egidio tries to help Qassems family and others like them to live better lives. But he shakes his head when he thinks of the more than five million people in Egypt who suffer from some physical or mental handicap as a result of marriage between near relatives, childhood illness or poorly administered medicines. The difficulty, he says, is further compounded when there is more than one handicapped family member.
Unfortunately, many cases like this exist, he adds. In addition, handicapped family members are often hidden from public view due to the familys sense of shame.
The Catholic Institute for the Handicapped in the Shoubra district of Cairo opened 10 years ago when the mothers of these children recognized their common bond; they joined together and started a school at the church for their physically and mentally handicapped children. The Sisters of Charity of Bescançon and the Brothers of the Christian Schools at St. Marks College work with these children.
Bishop Egidio says the sisters often start new ministries among Egypts handicapped; there are also two schools for the blind in the Abou Keir section of Alexandria and in Shoubra. Most participating in the programs are Christians, but Muslims are welcome.
Despite the numerous handicapped receiving aid, the largest group under the bishops care are the 17,000 Latin Catholic members of the Sudanese refugee community living in Egypt. In years past, Sudanese university students often traveled to Egypt to pursue higher studies and found assistance through government stipends. Today, most Sudanese seek refuge in Egypt to escape the devastation wrought by 15 years of civil war and persecution of Christians by a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
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Tags: Egypt Poor/Poverty Muslim Coptic Orthodox Church Sudan