For Fr Rafic, the emergency triggered by the pandemic "is bringing Christians and Muslims closer”. Family members call each other; young people bring medicines and help to their elders. The government has taken steps to counter the pandemic. Churches (and mosques) have been closed. The Internet and social media are the venue for maintaining social ties and following religious services.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – The coronavirus outbreak in Egypt "is bringing Christians and Muslims closer together,” more "united against this virus. Neighbours are looking out for each other; family members are getting in touch to see how others are doing,” said Fr Rafic Greiche, head of the media committee of the Council of Churches of Egypt.
The pandemic is making people rediscover the value of closeness and solidarity. “Young Christians and Muslims are delivering medicine to the elderly, and visiting the homes of needy families to bring help,” Fr Rafic noted.
As Holy Week is set to start in Egypt on 13 April, seven days after the Latin Church, people of various confessions “are boosting social ties and establishing new connections,” he explained.
The renewed unity includes Muslims, with the violence of the past put aside. This is essential to counter a virus that has so far infected 1,699 people with 118 deaths and 305 healed.
“The Egyptian government is facing the crisis with great resolution. Two days after the announcement of the pandemic, the Health Minister went to China to study the methods used to fight it. We are in the fifth week of a curfew. The military has set up field hospitals and the number of infections is currently limited.”
When the first cases were reported, Egyptian authorities imposed a curfew as well as ordered all places of worship closed.
With Ramadan approaching, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer, public gatherings, even religious ones, are prohibited. Measures of social distancing and the ban on outdoor activities will remain in force.
Up to 90 per cent of large infrastructural projects have been suspended, as many construction workers caught the virus.
By and large, people respect the ban. “There are three groups: educated people who are frightened by the coronavirus but respect the restrictions; the poorest who know nothing about it but tend to follow instructions starting with personal hygiene and frequent hand washing; and finally, workers and the middle class who try as far as possible to use the Internet and smart-working.”
In Egypt, “we pray and celebrate Mass every day, even if the churches are closed,” Fr Rafic said. We stream the celebrations online and have a considerable following since it is a long-established practice.”
“For two years we have been broadcasting the Mass on social media for migrants in Canada, the United States, Japan and Australia. Young people and students in European and North American universities also follow us.”
Churches may be empty, but at a spiritual level, “my eyes continue to see people sitting in their places, as usual. Some worshippers come, alone, and ask to pray.”
Muslim places of worship are also closed, but five times a day the muezzins call the faithful to pray from minarets. TV channels broadcast the ritual to enable people to pray at home.
People can choose from six televisions close to the Coptic Orthodox Church to follow Easter services. There is also a multi-denominational channel, the Lebanese Christian broadcaster Nursat, and another channel that broadcasts papal functions. At present, it is unclear whether the Egyptian state TV will broadcast the Easter mass.
“Every day some faithful come to church, pray and light a candle; they ask to confess and receive communion,” said Fr Rafic. “For many, not being able to come to church is a source of sadness, but to make them feel our closeness, every day, I call 10 to 15 families; I pray with them, and I invite them to follow celebrations on social media.”