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Voices From the Pandemic: A Bishop in Egypt Leads his Flock

Bishop Thomas Adly Zaky leads the Coptic Catholic Diocese of Giza in Egypt.

From the first moments of this outbreak, the head of Egypt’s Customs Authority confirmed that the customs outlets are committed to implementing all the precautionary measures and precautions approved by the World Health Organization, to ensure the protection of the country from the coronavirus. All the workers have to put gloves and masks during their work. All the people have to maintain social distancing precautions during the prayers in the churches and mosques.

On 13 March, the Coptic Catholic Church issued a statement on church activities and gatherings.

The text of the statement said: “The whole world is going through difficult times, due to the outbreak of coronavirus in a number of countries, the injury of many people and the increasing number of deaths.”

The statement went on: “Therefore, everyone is required to be careful and to preserve the directives that help prevent the spread of the disease. This is the responsibility of all of us. From this standpoint, the Fathers of the Patriarchal Synod see the recommendation of all our churches not to hold ceremonies, excursions, Paschal revivals and dense gatherings. This matter stems from the reality of the Church’s responsibility to protect the lives of all. The Synod Fathers believe that these times are a greater opportunity for families, to strengthen family ties and meditate together on the word of God and pray for the peace of our beloved homeland, Egypt, and the world at large.”

On 20 March, the Catholic Synod, the supreme body of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, announced the cessation of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy and all group prayers in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The Coptic Catholic Church said in a statement that the churches will remain open for individual prayers only, in order to preserve public health. We will pray that God may remove this epidemic from us. The Synod stressed that funerals should be limited to the family of the deceased only, and that all the parishioners remain in their homes, each according to his circumstances and condition. The statement added: “We pray for the doctors, the nursing personnel and all the volunteers, that God reward them for their hardship and protect them from all evil.”

“Our faith helps us to understand that we can find, by the grace of God, good things in this evil, even if there are a lot of questions which we cannot answer.”

Bishop Thomas Adly Zaky

Because of the social distancing precautions, we had also to stop all the community meetings and weddings. All of that was to avoid spreading the infection.

In the face of the health emergency triggered by the pandemic, the Church has activated all its dimensions, material and spiritual, without forgetting the poorest and most vulnerable, in a great race of solidarity and care. In fact, COVID-19 affected many poor people and many seasonal workers. The Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt offered to the state two million Egyptian pounds to help all the affected persons.

While our diocesan employees could not work, our diocese had to pay all the salaries for two months. Not only that, but we had to refund all the kindergarten fees for the second semester of this year. In addition, our diocese has many poor families who have nothing.

Our diocese is also paying special attention to those in prison, where restrictions have heightened the difficulties. We also have to consider the needs of those who leave after serving their time and find themselves without alternatives.

Our faith helps us to understand that we can find, by the grace of God, good things in this evil, even if there are a lot of questions which we cannot answer. We are trying to explain that our human nature always confronts many diseases and bad conditions; but, through our faith and our reasoning, we can face all of that.

I think that COVID-19 is a disease that perhaps in a particular way asks you once again to trust. Trust in the Lord is never a foregone conclusion. Faith is a choice that introduces you on a journey and supports you in going through hard work and trials. In this sense, it allows you to go through the crisis, not to avoid it, to flee it.

For me, I really would like to say that the principle of charity is the testimony that we Christians can give in this difficult time. That is: to show how the strength of the bonds between us — the ability to forgive, to go beyond conflicts, to offer mutual care — is the path on which to walk as a church and also as a civil society. It means overcoming a very self-centered vision, in which everyone thinks about solving things on their own.

Regaining the strength of bonds is basically what Jesus asks of the Christian community: love one another as I love you.  

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