10 July 2013
Women from the village of Manhari weave religious articles in a program supported by the local eparchy. (photo: Sean Sprague)
While much of Egypt is in turmoil, faith somehow endures. Several years ago, writer-photographer Sean Sprague visited a Coptic Christian village in Upper Egypt for a closer look:
“People here,” [Father Matta] asserted as we strolled through the muddy lanes of Manhari, “don’t experience Islamic extremist aggression, but they do feel economically repressed.
“Many families cannot support themselves, although there are some wealthy Coptic families.”
Father Matta’s family, however, is not one of the wealthy ones. Typically, Eastern Catholic married priests in the Middle East must also hold down jobs outside the parish to support the family, thereby reducing the parish burden. The priest’s wife, in addition to rearing a family, must also work.
Father Matta led me on a tour of Manhari’s four-story Catholic Social Services Center. Here, working parents leave their children in a well-run kindergarten. School dropouts improve their reading and writing skills while young women learn to weave tapestries. The center offers additional vocational training in its tailoring workshop. Mothers and their children receive medical care in a mother-child clinic and the center conducts courses in health and hygiene.
“The villagers survive by raising livestock — cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats — and by growing clover for fodder,” Father Matta said. “Fuul, or fava beans, and wheat provide the Egyptian staple diet. They grow in fields around the village,” he added.
…A few miles from Manhari at an Orthodox church, which once served a monastic community, we met a priest revered by all Copts — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant — Father Yacoub, an old man with a long white beard. Father Matta greeted him with elaborate embraces and kisses. Father Yacoub sat in virtual silence while we drank tea and spoke with his young colleague, Father Bola. His eyes gleamed with obvious pleasure at our visit.
“Relations between Orthodox and Catholic Copts in Manhari are warm,” Father Bola said, taking a sip of his sweetened tea.
“Caritas serves the entire community. Intermarriage is common. So it doesn’t really make much difference which church you are from. We are all from the same cloth.”
Read more on Upper Egypt’s Copts from the July 2002 issue of the magazine.
Tags: Egypt Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Copts Coptic Catholic Church