06/06/2018, 21.04
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Egyptian Christians can be missionaries at home and stop the exodus of the faithful

by Dario Salvi

Neematallah Issa, who looks at the example of "many priests" who came from the West to bear witness to Christ, issues the call. The presence of Christians is an element of balance in the middle of radicalism. Schools are a place of growth and education for life together. The crisis of vocation means the need for new missionaries.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Bearing witness to Christ in a Muslim majority nation "is difficult. Even just talking about our faith can be a problem,” said Neematallah Issa, a 55-year-old Egyptian from Cairo. “For this reason, many people have thought about emigrating.” Yet, "thanks to the example of many priests who left their country to come to Egypt to evangelise with their life and works, I realised that I too am called to the mission at home".

Issa is married father of eight children "five of whom are already in heaven", he notes with serene resignation. With his wife, he is a leader in the local neocatechumenal movement, a member of the parish choir as well as an ordained sub-deacon.

AsiaNews caught up with him in Milan (Italy) at the conference ‘Marhaba - God is love’ meeting promoted by the Ambrosiana San Marco Foundation, which brought together about 50 priests, students and lay people of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Lebanon, inspired by the Neocatechumenal Way founded by Kiko Arguello.

"In the past,” he noted, “I wanted to go to Canada, where I have an uncle and where I worked for some time. However, seeing the missionaries coming from Europe or America, who left ease and comforts to live in a poor parish or poor neighbourhood in Cairo, I felt a sense of amazement. And I began to ask myself many questions about the wish to emigrate."

Faced with a massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa, the testimony given by Issa’s family of Issa and of many others who remained in their own land "has born fruit," he explained. “Many young people have begun to look at these examples."

"We have to stay in Egypt even if we have the possibility, like me, to leave. I was sure that I could play a role for this nation and for my community and I want to continue doing so."

The value of the Christian presence starts in schools, an essential factor of growth for the whole country. For Issa, "It is not just a place of study but is also a space in which to learn to live together. This is also why our presence in the Middle East is important. We are a balancing factor to be opposed to radicalism. Proof of this is that I have many Muslim friends and we live in harmony."

In addition to the exodus, the Churches of the East must also face a decline in vocations. "In the Greek Catholic Church in Cairo, there have not been any new priests for at least five or six years. Patriarchs and bishops are asking for more and more missionary priests because they struggle to keep places of worship open."

Bombs against churches and targeted attacks on communities "have also left their mark" but "faith remains stronger than fear".

"Several Muslims, even among journalists wonder how can Christians forgive and talk about love, even in the face of those who attack their families? But when you have an idea, a purpose, a mission, everything is different – even terrorism, economic and social difficulties are not scary."

Neematallah Issa does not want to conceal the problems of Egyptian society, which "lost a little of that tolerance that distinguished it". Nonetheless, he remains "optimistic" about the future, noting "positive" signs in the direction of "living together in peace".

"For that to happen,” he notes, “we need an adequate and balanced education for all, i.e. free from radical ideas. For Christians the task is to struggle to overcome this precarious condition in their own land."

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