Egypt  18 Jun. 2015


The Catholic church in Egypt runs a home for girls in trouble – Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the church as it helps the young women find their way back to life

By Oliver Maksan

The home is the only one of its kind in Upper Egypt. It is located in a somewhat remote village. To protect the home, the name of the village will not be mentioned here. Even the residents of the Christian village do not know exactly what is going on in the home. For this is a very sensitive issue. For a number of years now, the home has provided refuge for Christians girls with big problems, young women who are at risk of being cast out by their families and society. Catholic nuns run the facility. “The girls and young women who come to us have big problems,” the nun who is head of the home said. We will call her Mariam. “This is why the priests in their hometowns send them to us. Some have taken drugs or had an affair with a man. Some have even spent some time in prison. Their families have rejected them primarily because they fear for their reputation. It is our job to offer them a new outlook and to steer their young lives back on the right track.” Christian love, Sister Mariam explained, is the key to the hearts of the girls. “It is important that the girls feel comfortable here and trust us. This is why, on the one hand, we do our work very discreetly. On the other, we try to get them to feel at home here.” Twelve girls ages 15 and up are currently full-time residents of the home, while thirteen girls are only here during the day. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful. “I am so grateful that I can be here. The nuns are our friends,” a very young girl, a recent arrival at the home, said. “I am being prepared for life here. Moreover, the nuns are helping us understand God.”

How long help is provided varies; it may be for several months, but can sometimes even be for years. “We work on various levels,” Sister Mariam explained. “On the one hand, the girls learn an occupation such as hairdresser or seamstress. This ensures that the time they are with us is well spent. It also gives them a certain degree of independence later. On the other hand, we try to deepen their relationship with God. In our opinion, this is critical for the girls to regain control over their lives. Most of them held only superficial religious beliefs before. This is why we have made prayer and Mass a fixed part of the daily routine.” The social environment of the girls is also involved in the process. “After all, a deeper problem within the family is usually hidden behind the girls’ behaviour. We therefore not only work with psychologists, but also have the parents play a key role. We tell them: your daughter may not have felt loved enough and this is why she went looking for a relationship with a man or fell under the influence of drugs.” Sister Mariam explained that in many cases a reconciliation with the family is possible, especially when the family sees a change in the behaviour of their daughters. But not always. “In one case the family no longer wanted to take in the girl. And so she had to go to Cairo.”

The most important prerequisite for reconciliation with the family is that the cases of premarital intercourse, for example, have not become generally known. Should this be the case, then neither the girls nor the families have a choice. “When it becomes known that a girl has had intercourse before marriage, she is dishonoured. And then her family will no longer be able to keep her. In many cases this has resulted in honour killings, even in Christian families. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence in rural areas.”

Things become especially difficult when religious boundaries have been crossed. “This is actually the main problem. It often happens,” Sister Mariam said. “When a Christian girl sleeps with a Muslim and even becomes pregnant by him, it ends up becoming a major conflict with a religious dimension.” The nun explained that interfaith marriages are frowned upon in Egypt. “This is not accepted socially. And if it does happen, then the woman must convert.” Added to this are the cases of blackmail. “Every year there are cases when a young Muslim sleeps with a Christian girl and records it on his mobile phone. He then uses it to blackmail the girl. The usual threat is that she either convert to Islam or he will release the video.” A priest, we will call him Kyrillos here, provides spiritual support at the home. He knows of a whole series of such cases. “Over the last ten years in our province alone, there were seventy such cases in which a Christian girl was being blackmailed into converting. And these are only the ones we are aware of. The number of unrecorded cases is probably a lot higher.”

Priest Kyrillos thanks the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need for its support of the home. “We are saving the lives of young people here. I thank the benefactors for their generosity, also in the name of our girls. Prayers are critical. Please pray for our young women!”

Oliver Maksan

Egypt, Sohag-CPT diocese 22.08.2006Rehearsal for 1st communion