Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The Coptic view of youth

Anba Moussa, the Coptic Church’s bishop for youth affairs, in an interview with Michael Adel, says that Egypt’s Copts should not visit Jerusalem

The Coptic view of youth
The Coptic view of youth
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Coptic Church’s bishop for youth affairs, Anba Moussa, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, explained the Church’s policies towards young people and its view regarding Egyptian Copts who want to visit Jerusalem.

The matter of Egypt’s Copts visiting Jerusalem seems to crop up every year. What is your comment?
Pope Tawadros II is enforcing the same policy as that of the late Shenoudah III with regard to visits by Copts to Jerusalem, which is that Egyptian Christians must not visit Jerusalem except in the company of their Muslim brothers after Jerusalem is liberated from the Israelis.

But some people go to Jerusalem in defiance of the ban. Is this a sign that the Copts are pressuring the pope to remove the ban?
The Church’s position on Jerusalem remains unchanged. Anyone who visits Bethlehem or Jerusalem during the feasts will be subject to penalties, including a ban on taking communion.

Is it true that Copts are emigrating to Israel?
I don’t think so. Not because it is difficult to do so, but because the Copts are opposed to such emigration. We tell the Church congregation that anyone who travels to Israel to settle and get married there is betraying Egypt and the Arab cause because Israel is usurping Palestinian rights.

Is it Israel’s aim to put the Copts in an awkward position?
Israel is interested in spying on both the state and the Church. It can spy on any country through its intelligence services.

Why would Israel spy on the Church?
The point is that it spies on the whole world.

What is your position on young people who have rebelled against the authority of the Church?
They are a latent energy that must be engaged in dialogue, activated and used. We must benefit from their leadership skills.

Even when they rebel against the Church?
I don’t see any rebellion, and we do expect to be criticised. We know how the young people feel, and we approach them in a spirit of love and care. We speak to them often in conferences and seminars.

Would you care to share your feelings with regard to the “Epic of Eternity,” the event the Church organised as part of the memorial for the Libyan martyrs?
I was shocked at the brutality of the beheadings and the cruelty of those who have no respect for human life. I am also proud of the victims who didn’t give up their religion despite the sufferings and insults. The martyrs of the Islamic State massacre in Libya, those 20 Egyptian Copts, have moved on from the rank of believers to that of saints and then again to that of martyrs.

Some people claim that the Church has its own militia groups.
This is silly. It is a ridiculous and stupid lie. The Copts refrain from violence, and if they did not their acts would be considered as non-Christian and disapproved of by the Church.

You’re saying that there are no guns in the churches?
(Laughing) There are no tanks either! This is all so ridiculous. There are no guns. If there had been they would have been used to defend the churches against the gunmen who attacked them. Or they would have been used against the thugs who attacked the Cathedral in Cairo. Everyone knows that. But some people want to tarnish the image of the Church and start sedition.

You have said more than once that the Egyptian Copts are under the protection of God and the Muslims. Would you care to elaborate?
I still believe this is true. The Copts are definitely protected by God, and He will not abandon us. We also live under the protection of moderate Muslims who are a majority in Egypt. I know this because when sectarian incidents happen enlightened Muslims also signal their dismay.

Are Church leaders telling young people what they should do and what they should not do?
That would be demeaning to the young people and also to us. The young people who belong to the Church are totally free to take any political action they believe in.

Some bishops take an authoritarian attitude towards young people.
This is unacceptable. There is no point in trying to control the hearts and minds of young people, as if by remote control. But when we are asked for advice we must offer it.

Can I ask you whether you think the Copts are cowards?
This is a totally wrong way of seeing things. The Copts are meek and peaceful, as they should be. But they are also lions in defending what is right. The Copts defend their religion and Church and abide by the law. They use love, not guns. If you really want to win, you have to love your enemy.

Whenever a sectarian incident happens, some expatriate Copts demand foreign intervention. How do you feel about that?
We are against foreigners interfering in internal affairs in Egypt. International protection is always a matter of political interests. America went into Libya along with NATO because it has an interest in oil. What is happening in Syria is not much different. People interfere in other countries not because of principles, but because of their interests. As for us, we do not want to be protected by anyone, except God and our Muslim compatriots.

Do you talk about this in church?
What we say in church is that the cordial relations we have with our Muslim compatriots are out best protection, along with the protection of God.

Some people are calling for state supervision of Church funding. How do you react to that?
Government supervision of Church funding is unacceptable. This is not money that comes from the government or taxpayers but charity and donations from the congregation. Church donations are governed by well-known rules that apply to every parish.

The Church always voices its support for Al-Azhar. Could you say something about relations between the Church and Al-Azhar?
It is a relationship of amity, cooperation and engagement in national issues. Anba Armia represents the Church at Al-Azhar, and Mahmoud Azab, advisor to the grand imam, represents Al-Azhar in the Church. We communicate continually and appreciate Al-Azhar for its moderation and patriotism.

There have been attempts to diminish the role of Al-Azhar in the region.
Al-Azhar is capable of defending itself. This venerable institution commands the respect of everyone in the Middle East and the Islamic world. There are pressures on Al-Azhar to approve of certain political ideas and to follow the regime’s line. But Al-Azhar is stronger than these pressures.

The Church is involved in eliminating illiteracy in Egypt and has recently signed a protocol of cooperation with the Supreme Council for Universities. Can you say more about this effort?
The Church started its literacy campaign under Pope Shenoudah III, and both Anba Samuel, bishop of public services, and Anba Athanasius, bishop of Beni Suweif, were involved. A team of facilitators from the Church, led by Father Damian before he joined the monk order, worked in the villages of Upper Egypt, not just to fight illiteracy but also to promote development, culture, harmony, health and job opportunities.

Could you say something about your work as bishop for youth and sport? You recently organised a youth tournament, for example.
It was not really a tournament, but rather a way of generating activities to keep young people healthy in body and spirit. Our aim is to promote the spiritual wellbeing and intellectual integrity of the young. Their psychological and physical health is essential for their success in society, as is their ability to engage in such activities with their peers. That is why we are interested in sports, as a way of forming a healthy personality.

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