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Diocese of Egypt (Anglican) Middle East Published Articles

CARAVAN: Art as a Path to Grassroots Peace

Sheikh Abdel Aziz of the Azhar and Bishop Mouneer of the Anglican Church, observing the CARAVAN artwork.
Sheikh Abdel Aziz of the Azhar and Bishop Mouneer of the Anglican Church, observing the CARAVAN artwork.

So much is wrong with the Arab world today, it can obscure all that is right. At the heart of both are interfaith relations, and the CARAVAN art exhibition showcases the good while addressing the bad. International in scope, its contributions stretch across continents, touching the famous and simple alike.

“We know much more about the West than the West knows about us,” said award-winning Egyptian actor Khaled el-Nabawi at the Cairo opening on March 4. “But art is sincere and can help us build bridges.”

The event was held at the upscale Westown Hub residential complex, and Nabawi is one of the famous, a group often associated with the arts scene. Prior to Cairo, CARAVAN presented at the acclaimed Eglise Saint-Germain-Des-Pres in Paris, and will travel next to St. Martins-in-the-Field, at the famous Trafalgar Square in London.

But it is the simple who are most affected by strife between the religions. And the arts often bypass them.

CARAVAN began in Cairo in 2009, seeking to promote interreligious peace and build cultural understanding. Nabawi’s words were well-chosen, for this year’s exhibition is entitled The Bridge. 47 premiere and emerging artists, all with connections to the Middle East, designed works specifically to highlight the unity of the peoples of the region – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Arab, and Persian.

“There is no true conflict between religions in their essence,” said Sheikh Abdel Aziz el-Naggar of the Azhar, also appearing at the opening. “It comes from those who use religion for their domestic or international interests.”

Perhaps this is a message readily received by arts aficionados in Europe and upper-class Egypt. But what about the common man, manipulated by forces touching his faith?

“We as a church believe in dialogue,” said Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of the Episcopal Church in Egypt, prior to introducing his Ahzar colleague. “But especially after 9-11, there have been many efforts between men of religion that have not impacted reality as these conflicts continue.”

Something more is needed, and Anis praised CARAVAN specifically.

“We have to be creative so that dialogue reaches the people,” he said. “Paul-Gordon has done this through art, to help build harmony between cultures, and to bring people together.”

Paul-Gordon Chandler is the founder of CARAVAN. An American, he grew up as a minority Christian in mostly Muslim Senegal. He was deeply influenced by the local arts scene, but also disturbed by the tensions between the two faiths.

There has to be a better way, he thought, but it was not until his years as an Episcopal priest in Cairo’s St. John’s Church that a vision began to form. So while he now tours the world highlighting the religious unity represented in Middle East artists, he desires to see something greater take hold.

“In the Middle East the public visibility of things is very important, it gives credibility to endorse at the grassroots,” he said. “It is part of acclimatizing the environment toward positive religious relations.”

High-profile public events make possible the changes at street level. 40 percent of proceeds from art sales will benefit Educate Me, an educational initiative supporting the children of an underprivileged neighborhood in Giza. Last year, $48,000 was given to projects in Egypt and Morocco.

Spin-off projects for CARAVAN are in development in Jordan and Tunisia, and a Maltese-themed initiative will soon tour every nation of the Mediterranean. Middle Eastern art emerges from the region and is taken to the West, but it also returns to spread the message at home.

And lest one think the message of interfaith harmony for the West is only given to like-minded elites, Chandler is also taking The Bridge to rural settings in the United States where misunderstanding of the Arab world is prevalent.

“Art provides a context to address the issues indirectly,” said Chandler. “Art doesn’t stop conflict, but that is not its function. It can’t change events but it can change people.”

And this, for Nabawi, is the hope for CARAVAN and other artistic endeavors in the region. “I am convinced that humanity will prevail,” he said.

“Art is the only thing that can solve what politics breaks.”

This article was originally published at the Anglican diocese website.

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Diocese of Egypt (Anglican) Middle East Published Articles

Bishop Mouneer on the Beheading of Egyptian Copts in Libya

Copts Killed in LibyaDear Friends,

It is with great sadness I write you today about the heinous murder of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hand of the so-called Islamic State branch in Libya. These men from the Upper Egyptian city of Samalout are no different from thousands of other Muslim and Christian Egyptians in Libya, seeking employment to support their families back home.

Except that these 21 were specifically chosen for their Christian faith. The video of their beheading expressed the Islamic State’s intention to increasingly target the Copts of Egypt.

This morning the Egyptian government launched airstrikes on Islamic State positions. It has declared a week of mourning, banned further travel to Libya, and will work to facilitate the return of all Egyptian citizens. The foreign minister has been dispatched to the United Nations to discuss the necessary international response.

The Anglican Church in Egypt and the world expresses its deep condolences to the families of these men, and also to his Holiness Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Please join me in praying for peace in Libya, Egypt, and the entire Middle East. Please pray the international community will act in wisdom, correctly and efficiently, and support Egypt in its war on terror. Please pray the churches of Egypt will comfort their sons and daughters, encouraging them to resist fear and hatred. And please pray for the perpetrators of this terrible crime, that God would be merciful to them and change their hearts.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Such cheer may seem impossible, but it is God’s promise. Please pray for us, that we may live lives worthy of his name, and hold to the testimony exhibited by the brave Egyptians in Libya.

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis
Archbishop of Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt
with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
Primate of the Episcopal / Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

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Diocese of Egypt (Anglican) Middle East Published Articles

Tragedy Strikes Sudanese Church in Heliopolis

Members and friends of the St. Michael’s Church congregation gather to pray.
Members and friends of the St. Michael’s Church congregation gather to pray.

One child is dead and eight women are hospitalized following the Sunday explosion of three gas bottles, sparking a fire in the Kilo 4.5 neighborhood of Nasr City in Cairo. The group of ladies were preparing a meal for a meeting at the St. Gabriel Center, a Sudanese social center and ministry of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Heliopolis.

Youssef Attiya, a nine-month-old infant, succumbed to smoke inhalation and died this morning. His mother Mona Ismail remains in critical condition in the Galaa Hospital of Nasr City.

Ikhlas Ali is also in critical condition, suffering burns over 90 percent of her body. She is two months pregnant and the wife of Rev. Hassan Jemes, associate pastor of St. Michael’s in charge of the Sudanese congregation. Hospital staff at the Nile Emergency Center in Nasr City said she has little chance to survive, according to Rev. Jos Strengholt, dean of East Cairo Anglican churches and priest-in-charge at St. Michael’s.

Another child, nine-year-old Sonita Musa, suffered a bad head wound but was discharged this morning. Her mother Aziza Ibrahim remains hospitalized but is in stable condition. According to Shawgi Kori, director of St. Gabriel’s Center, Ibrahim helped around eight other women and children escape the fire, pushing several through a window, before being injured herself.

The meal was to be in commemoration of a child relative of one of the church members who recently died in Sudan. The explosion blasted pots of boiling oil to the ceiling, which then sprayed onto several women. The church community is now organizing rounds of visitation to care for the injured and the needs of their families.

The St. Gabriel’s Center serves the large Sudanese refugee population of Nasr City without discrimination. It runs a clinic, a vocational training program, English lessons, and provides a social outlet especially for women and youth in the neighborhood. One of the injured women is a Muslim.

“These are women associated with our church,” said Rev. Strengholt, stating only two have medical insurance. “We are committed to helping them whatever we need to do.”

Prayers are requested for the injured at this time. For more and updated information please contact Rev. Strengholt through the church website.

This article was first published at the Anglican diocese website.

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Diocese of Egypt (Anglican) Middle East Published Articles

Pope Tawadros Opens Art Exhibition at Anglican Cathedral

Tawadros and Fadel

In a historic visit, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church inaugurated ‘The Way of Salvation: Exhibition of Christian Art,’ organized by the Anglican Church of Egypt as part of the celebrations of 75th anniversary of All Saints Cathedral. Eleven artists submitted 28 works of painting, sculpture, and relief to express the Christian message of salvation culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

‘I truly appreciate the role played by art in spiritual meditation and inspiration of acts of good will,’ wrote Tawadros in the official program. ‘For this reason the church through the ages has encouraged all fields of art as an important tool to illustrate the stories of the Bible and the life of the saints.’

In his opening remarks, Bishop Mouneer Hanna of the Anglican Church honored the Orthodox as the ‘mother church’ of Egypt, and expressed his appreciation for the pope’s visit.

‘The pope believes in the unity of the churches, which Jesus prayed for,’ he said. ‘With his presence he emphasizes the spiritual work and the love between the churches.’

Since his consecration as pope in November 2012, Tawadros has sought to lessen tensions between Egyptian Christian denominations and publicly esteem their common faith. This was his first visit to the Anglican cathedral, and in March 2013 he attended the inauguration of Bishop Ibrahim Isaac as the new Coptic Catholic patriarch.

Rarely in history has the Coptic Orthodox pope visited other churches in Egypt, confirmed Fr. Bishouy Helmy, secretary-general of the Egypt Council of Churches.

‘This visit carries the values of an open mind and faith in ecumenical work with other churches,’ he said. ‘It also expresses appreciation and honor for the arts.’

Pope Tawadros spent over an hour in the exhibition, studying each piece and communicating with the artists.

‘Selecting the ten participating artists was done through a lot of prayer,’ wrote Dr. Farid Fadel, the exhibition’s curator and eleventh participant. Care was taken to ensure each artist would submit works that expressed the message of salvation, he said, as some artists belong to schools which desecrate holy subjects.

‘What you see today is the collective outcome of their labor of love.’

All Saint’s Cathedral in Zamalek will display the exhibition until 8 May 2014, 10:30am to 8pm

 

This article was originally published at the Anglican website. The opening photo is credited to the diocese.

 

These were my favorite pieces from the show:

'The Fall of Adam and Eve', by Salah Botros
‘The Fall of Adam and Eve’, by Salah Botros
'Sinai, Holy Land', by Gamal Lamie
‘Sinai, Holy Land’, by Gamal Lamie
'Born to be Crucified', by Wagdy Habashy
‘Born to be Crucified’, by Wagdy Habashy
'Cross of Shame', by Nathan Doss
‘Cross of Shame’, by Nathan Doss
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Anglican Bishop Mouneer on the Break-Up of pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Bishop Mouneer Anis
Bishop Mouneer Anis

As violence continues in Cairo and cities throughout Egypt today, the Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis has issued a statement urging people to pray. Here is his description of events:

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.

Orthodox Church in Suhag

Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home.  It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads.  The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport.  The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave.  Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police.  The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary.  The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites.  One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites.  There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army.  There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.

A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt.  The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest.   They also threatened to use violence.  There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties.  The real numbers will be known later on.

Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.

May the Lord bless you!

+Mouneer

In my quick reading of events, it seems clear that live gunfire is being exchanged on both sides. Either infiltrators were very quick to penetrate the protests and fire on police, or the lie is given that these demonstrations were completely peaceful. Reports the past few weeks indicated the protest organizers were keen to check the IDs and pat down everyone who entered the sit-in. Many, probably the great majority, of those present were unarmed. But apparently, reports which indicated weapons were present were also true.

As Bishop Mouneer stated, churches across the country are also being targeted. Interesting to note is this report:

The al-Gamaa al-Islamiya ultra-conservative movement called on supporters of toppled president Morsi to take to the streets to condemn what it termed “coup crimes.”

The statement by the hardline Islamist group – a close ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – also urged its loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings.”

So at this point they read these attacks as actions of the pro-Morsi crowds, rather than a black flag of the security forces, which they warned about weeks earlier. The speculation would be if this is their public face covering over their own private rage and instruction. Anti-Christian rhetoric has been employed by several Islamist figures ever since the original protest movement against Morsi in December 2012 when he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power (later rescinded, but protecting of actions taken during that time).

But in this current climate, it is difficult to make sense of the situation. Patience is needed, for there will soon be a flood of propaganda.

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The Episcopal Church of Egypt Requests an International Declaration against the Defamation of Religions

Bishop Mouneer Anis

15 September 2012

Dear Secretary Ban Ki-Moon,

In view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammad, and in view of the fact in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.

This suggested declaration should not, in any way, be seen as contradictory to the freedom of expression that is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it should encourage all people (including controllers of media) to be responsible and restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world, especially in today’s climate whereby those opinions and expressions may be rapidly and widely spread through many media.

We are suggesting such a declaration in order to avoid the possibility of further violence in the future – violence that may easily lead to wars between nations and conflicts between people from different cultural or philosophical backgrounds or followers of different faiths. It may be suggested that some of the violent responses experienced in the last few years are out of proportion to the original, offensive and insulting acts. However, it is a fact that people in different parts of the world react differently, especially when it comes to matters of faith. Hence, there is a need to take this suggested declaration under serious consideration.

Finally, as people living here in the Middle East, we see that the way ahead for peaceful coexistence and religious harmony is through mutual respect and love. Such, Sir, is the motivation behind suggesting this declaration.

May God bless you!

Please click here to access the original pdf of the letter, distributed publicly with Egyptian Anglican Church newsletter.

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Orient and Occident Magazine

Orient and Occident Magazine is a publication of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. I have been working with the church on the project for a little under a year, and am proud to announce the first issue is now complete and online.

O&O is scheduled to be an online, quarterly, bilingual magazine. Its goal is to serve primarily Arab Christians of the region in providing articles that consider the intersection of the values of faith and the issues of society.

Many Christians have a strong sense of spirituality; many others are active in political life or defense of their community. Orient and Occident seeks to bring these worlds together – what practical difference should Christian values make for the good of all?

Love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, justice. By no means are these Christian values alone. Orient and Occident also welcomes Muslim and non-religious writers to contribute – and seeks their readership – so that these values might increasingly find expression in the public lives of the region’s people.

Of course, there will be disagreement over how these values should be expressed. Orient and Occident will strive to welcome all opinions. It aims to take no editorial stand, except to insist on a perspective shaped by the values of faith.

The articles of the summer edition include:

  • It All Began Here (the Anglican Church and the Middle East)
  • Tunisian Christians and the Arab Spring (how they contributed, that they exist)
  • My Story with the Thug (necessary introspection of a societal crisis)
  • Political Choices and the Confusion of Believers (facing a presidential vote)
  • Religious Pluralism in Egypt in the Near Future (on Protestantism and Islamism)
  • The Truth No One Talks About (sectarian tension and its roots)
  • Two Cities (Augustine’s vision and Egyptian reality)
  • Caravan Reflections (contemplating a recent art exhibition)
  • Poisons We Love (on the dangers of sugar)
  • The Killer of Dreams (short story on parental expectations)
  • Two Faced (on political and religious hypocrisy)

In addition to articles, Orient and Occident features Christian bloggers from the Arab world. As these post new material to their site, O&O will automatically feature it in chronological order. Currently there are 17 bloggers featured, but we hope this number will grow as our magazine becomes better known.

Please click here to visit Orient and Occident, the English version. We hope you will enjoy it; please share widely to help this idea become better known.

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Religious Dialogue and Civil Society

Representatives of the major Egyptian religious communities

Under the slogan, ‘We live together, think together, work together’, The Egyptian Evangelical Synod of the Nile opened the Religious Dialogue and Civil Society Conference September 20-22, sponsored by the Konrad Adenuer Foundation. The conference featured an impressive array of participants among Egyptian religious and civil society leaders.

Opening remarks were moderated by Dr. Imad Abul Ghazi, the Egyptian Minister of Culture. He introduced each of the many religious representatives to follow.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is the Papal Ambassador to Egypt. He described the living together of Muslims and Christians in Egypt to be natural, but fragile. He lauded the efforts of the Azhar to create a ‘Family House’ in which religious leaders meet to discuss issues affecting Egypt and their communities. He urged, however, this effort to seep down to the grassroots – its imitation represented in each local community. He also described the necessity for religious communities to have a share in civil society to raise concerns against government policies. For this to be effective, he declared, religion must maintain some distance from the state.

Dr. Safwat al-Baiady is the President of the Egyptian Protestant Council of Churches. Following on the imitation of God who dialogues with man, he urged dialogue between men to transcend baser stages to the more effective. From Shared Monologue to Skillful Discussion to Reflective dialogue to, finally, Creative Dialogue, he declared that partners must enter dialogue as freemen, not slaves to their constituencies. The goal of this effort is not to defend yourself or to convince the other, but to reach common ground on the basis of friendship and love. This requires, he believed, not only self-confidence, but also confidence in the other.

Rev. Albert Ruiess is the President of the Synod of the Nile. He noted that the valuable process of reform often results in the emergence of different groups. This was noticeable in the Protestant Reformation, as it is noticeable in Egypt today. What is necessary is to find the elixir that can make Egypt one again. The Bible, he declares, teaches that humanity is one body with many different parts, and that the elixir needed to unify them is love.

Dr. Mahmoud Azab is the Azhar Advisor for Dialogue and Deputy to the Grand Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib. He stated that as the Azhar views Islam as a religion of mercy, so it also sees Christianity as a religion of love. He noted the historic cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, seen in their opposition to the British occupation, and more recently in the January 25 Revolution. He praised the efforts of the Azhar to guide discussion of the future Egyptian state between liberals and Islamists, declaring the Azhar document demanding Egypt to be a civil state was recognized by almost all parties. He also commended the ‘Family House’ initiative, in which Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Anglican leaders join with the Azhar to promote dialogue, discuss interreligious issues, and confront extremist religious discourse, whether in churches, mosques, or on satellite television channels.

Bishop Mouneer of the Anglican Church

Dr. Mouneer Hanna is the Anglican Bishop for Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. He provided examples of the commitment of Anglicans in Egypt to serve their communities, as well as of Anglicans worldwide and locally to engage in Muslim-Christian dialogue. He praised especially the agreement between the Azhar and the Archbishop of Canterbury, crafted after September 11, 2001, to conduct yearly sessions to better know one another. Finally, he urged application in Egypt of wisdom he learned from political leaders during a recent trip to China: I don’t care the color of the cat, as long as it catches the mouse. So in Egypt, religious affiliation should be unimportant in the civil state, as long as citizens contribute to the good of the nation.

The conference was held at the Movenpick Hotel in Media Production City, near 6 October City on the western outskirts of Cairo. Panel sessions included other well known Egyptian figures from the churches of Egypt, civil society, and the Muslim Brotherhood.