09/05/2014, 00.00
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Dar Al Mahabha, Mother Teresa's legacy to the Egyptian people

by Nirmala Carvalho
The first house of the Missionaries of Charity in Egypt bears this name. Fr Bimal Kerketta SJ, an Indian priest who runs a school in Minya, speaks about the difficulties the sisters face, their relations with Muslims, and vocations among Egyptian women.

Minya (AsiaNews) - The first house of the Missionaries of Charity in Egypt opened in Cairo. It is called Dar Al Mahabha or "Monastery of love". That was in 1986, and Mother Teresa - whose liturgical memory falls today - was present at the inauguration, a gift from a Chaldean church. The small space immediately began serving local residents, but soon needed more room to accommodate the people who need the missionaries' assistance.

Today the congregation has three homes across the country as well as Egyptian vocations. AsiaNews interviewed Fr Bimal Kerketta, SJ, an Indian priest who heads a Jesuit-run school in Minya. He personally knows the local Missionaries of Charity.

How do the Missionaries of Charity live in these dangerous times?

In 2009, the sisters needed more room, but had to pay a large sum to get a piece of land, not to mention that it was in an Islamist area. I personally I went there one evening with the superior to bless the place. We did not wear our vestments to avoid putting ourselves in danger.

At first, even an Orthodox family who lives next door was not ready to accept them, and threw their trash on the property. Islamists even placed a loudspeaker in front of the gate, broadcasting the imam's sermons at full blast.

Now, after a long wait and so many difficulties, the facility is complete and fully functional. And after the revolution, things improved considerably, and continue to get better and better.

Once, an Islamist sheikh brought an elderly Muslim man to the home. The sisters welcomed him.  When the sheikh saw how they took care of the old man, he was amazed. Now he defends them.

The Missionaries of Charity operate in various Mideast countries, including Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey. In these countries, getting a visa or renewing existing ones is a great problem.

In Egypt, the Sisters operate homes in Shoubra (Cairo), Alexandria and Assiut (Upper Egypt), carrying on Mother Teresa's legacy.

I have tried to visit all three to take care of their pastoral needs, because for them it is not easy to find a priest who speaks English.

How do they help victims of violence?

It is a hard job. Each patient is carefully inspected before being admitted.
">No one is allowed in without informing the police.

Do the Sisters of Mother Teresa bear witness to their faith in such places?

Of course, they wear the sari and live according to their charism. They have no direct links with the Jesuits, but we try to help whenever we can.

In the past, some priests did celebrate Mass for them on a regular basis in the early morning, which is not easy for a priest in Egypt. According to Coptic rite, Mass is offered only on Fridays and Sundays, public holidays or religious holidays.

For a young Egyptian woman, the life of a Missionary of Charity is very difficult. Yet there have been some local vocations. Some eight Egyptian sisters are currently serving in the Middle East. I met all of them in person.

It is inconceivable for them to go home even once every ten years, or call their family once a month; yet they persevere.

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