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Imbued with its complexity, working in an Islamic nation brings with it a uniqueness that the witness of Christ needs to be an indispensable part of one’s life. Since my arrival in September 2019, Egypt, as a country has been home to thousands, if not millions of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees. At the time, I had the opportunity to work with the Eritrean community, especially in a school set up particularly for them and also in their Small Christian Communities. In addition, I was honoured to witness the foundation of a Youth Chaplaincy that brings together all the foreign youth from all over Africa who are studying in Egypt. My new assignment, beginning in April this year, will put me in contact with the Sudanese refugee reality, one that I have looked forward to.

The Eritrean Refugee Ministry
Ranging from a different language (Tigrinya – majorly) and a different rite of mass and culture, being a part of this community demanded a missionary spirit. In my case, the difficulty came in at the time as I needed to concentrate on learning Arabic, let alone the newness of the Egyptian reality. What marked my stay with this community is the hospitality that is constantly accorded with an openness to share life’s struggles and joys. A number of times, we prayed together both at the Parish Church and at the homes during the home visits. We held discussions, especially on religious and family issues and shared in the light moments; the celebrations of very important moments like graduations and weddings.

The main challenge was to encourage the communities to live each day in gratitude and satisfaction, since much as they had the necessary needs for daily living, they hoped to be relocated to Europe by UNICEF as seekers of asylum due to war. This always created a certain restlessness and if the relocation took long (up to 15 years and over) it led to hopelessness. It was always a daunting task to bring back that Christian hope, which gives meaning to life, otherwise living loses its true meaning.

That aside, I was dearly impressed at how organized these communities were, especially when it came to their sacramental lives. They made it a point to receive regular confessions so as to worthily go for communion. They had weekly meetings in their Small Christian Communities (SCC) that were mainly founded on sharing the Word of God and how this Word lived in their concrete lives. Such an enriching reality! These SCCs were in three categories, that is: Men, Women and the Youth. One challenge was that of the young adults who felt a bit out of place both among the youth and the married men or women, which necessitated the formation of a fourth Community that brought these young adults, both men and women together. It saw the maturation of these young adults into mature family men and women. It was a pleasant experience.

As for the school, I taught English Language from grade six onwards but being part of the administration, it was beautiful to be present in different classes and see how the children react and learn. Furthermore, there were seminars for the teachers. These ranged from the psychology of teaching and learning, curriculum adaptation, to the reality of the community, participation of parents in the education of their children, moving from dreams of the children to the reality at hand and how they can reconcile these two to make a meaningful career. These were very enriching and greatly improved the ways of teaching and learning.

The Youth Chaplaincy
In the year 2021, the province of Egypt-Sudan conceived the idea of helping the African youth studying in Egypt, especially in Cairo. The idea was to give them a ‘safe-haven’ where they could feel at home to grow spiritually, psychologically and of course, be properly integrated as human beings. I was privileged to be a part of this initiative that now brings together more than a hundred youth for weekly moments of prayer. This could be masses, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the way of the cross during Lent and moments of confessions and one-on-one talks. The Chaplaincy also organizes monthly moments like birthday celebrations, cultural days and topics for discussion among other things. We have seen our youth transition from timid and reserved individuals to integrated persons ready to take on tasks, organize programs, and take charge of their activities.

The Chaplaincy has been able to put together a simple choir that has animated a number of the Comboni celebrations in the province of Egypt – Sudan (Renewal of Vows, Christmas, Easter, Feast of St. Daniel Comboni), etc. This simple venture has seen the growth and development of musical talents. Our very own have learned to play musical instruments and sing in a way they never imagined was possible. They have learned about the liturgy and the seasons there in and have been able to appreciate relating with God as an important part of their life.

The main challenge for us, putting aside the financial constraints, is the accompaniment of the non-Catholics. As for the Christians, it is easier due to similarities of the holy book used, however, for the Muslims, it does not come that easily, yet we have had the youth living and celebrating together as one family, regardless of these religious differences.

These experiences are a realization of the words of Paul that crucified with Christ, we also live with him. It is rather not us living, but Christ living in us, no wonder we are able to bond with one another this easily! We live this life, limited by our human nature, but live in faith since Christ has loved us. (Galatians 2: 19-20).

Fr. Alule Deogratius MCCJ

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