Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Church and state join hands

The government and priests at the Wadi Al-Rayan Monastery have reached agreement on a new road bordering monastery land, reports Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Ibshaway prosecutor-general has extended the detention on remand of monk Boulos Al-Al-Rayani pending questioning on charges including encroaching on state land at the Wadi Al-Rayan Monastery, the possession and use of unlicensed firearms, and the setting on fire of a bulldozer owned by the construction firm Arab Contractors.

However, at the same time the government and the priests at the St Macarius of Alexandria Monastery, known as the Wadi Al-Rayan Monastery, have also reached an agreement to allow the passage of a road through monastery land.

MP Emad Gad, a member of the committee mediating between the government and priests at the monastery, met with representatives of the priests. The meeting ended with a quasi-final agreement to end the crisis at the monastery after the overwhelming majority of the priests accepted the government’s offer.

The agreement provides for the construction of a road with an allocation of 3,500 feddans on the right of the road for the monastery. The remaining 13,000 feddans will be a national nature reserve, and another 1,000 feddans on the other side of the road will be given to the priests.

Most of the priests welcomed the government offer, and they and the state are scheduled to sign the agreed-upon provisions in the coming days.

During the meeting with Gad, lasting more than six hours, the priests asked for the release of Al-Al-Rayani but were told the matter was in the hands of the prosecuting authorities. Gad said that he and several Coptic young people were following up on the implementation of the agreement and that the dispute should be settled soon.

Ayman Al-Wahi, deputy director of the Wadi Al-Rayan nature reserve, said that the survey at the monastery had been interrupted and the technical expert in charge had left the site after the priests had annexed a third spring to the monastery’s land that would change the course of the Fayoum Oasis Road.

Presidential advisor Ibrahim Mehleb and Coptic bishop Armiya agreed three weeks ago to attach 3,500 feddans to the monastery to create a 1,000 feddan farm, attach one spring to the monastery, and leave the two other springs within the Wadi Al-Rayan protectorate.

Adli Ayoub, CEO of the Ayoub Company that is carrying out part of the work, said there was no truth in reports that the springs had been placed outside the walls of the monastery deliberately. The course of the walls had been determined by a team of engineers, and they would be built as soon as possible, he said.

The Coptic Church has cautioned young Coptic men and women against monastic retreats in places like Wadi Al-Rayan and warned Copts not to offer material or in-kind gifts to such sites. The Church’s Holy Synod issued a statement condemning the conduct of the residents of Wadi Al-Rayan and denied that the church had recognised the extension of a monastery on the site.

The statement decried what it called “the deplorable actions” of a minority of residents, while recognising that the majority had sought a peaceful life that could perhaps qualify them in future to be recognised by the church.

Speaking of the agreement on the road, Coptic Church spokesperson Father Boulos Halim said it should lead to an improved understanding with Pope Tawadros II.

“Their response to the latest negotiations sponsored by several representatives has led to a thaw with the patriarch,” Halim said. “This has come after more than a year of conflict with the state and the church over the priests’ refusal to allow the passage of the road.”

He added that the church’s recognition of the monastery had not yet been resolved, though meetings had been held with members of the monastery affairs committee of the Holy Synod.

 He said the church appreciated the support given to state development projects and speculated that the issue would likely be addressed in the Synod’s coming meetings.

Pope Tawadros II, the patriarch of the See of St Mark, has also asked the Alexandria Administrative Court for a copy of the ruling that prohibits the demolition of churches or their conversion into non-worship facilities.

Deacon Luqa Asaad Awad, a canon lawyer in Rosetta, said that the judiciary had restored the rights of houses of worship after the Coptic Church in Rosetta had faced attacks for nearly three years.

He added that this was the first time for a court ruling to treat Muslim and Christian houses of worship in the same way.

Lawyer Shaker Wadie Helmi, legal counsel for Pope Tawadros, said that the ruling was a victory for freedom of belief as enshrined in the constitution and thus was a victory for all Egyptians.

He added that the court ruling was the first of its type in the history of the Copts in Egypt, following violations against churches in previous periods.

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