by Douglas May
When I returned to Egypt in the beginning of 1999, I decided to live and work where my previous experience told me I could be most effective in supporting the local church and promoting some of my own goals for returning to the Middle East. The Coptic Catholic Seminary has been the sole location for the formation and education of Egypt's future Coptic Catholic priests for a century. Even though I could go into a village and work with a local pastor in one location, I would always be restricted by my language skills, my being "western" and my being under the local pastor. I could maybe effect some small change by my presence but it would be only in that one village. Being at the national seminary, I am actively involved in the education and formation of almost 50+ seminarians over an eight-year period.
My previous experience has shown that I do have an influence on the lives of both the staff and the students. What I say and do is observed and absorbed through their cultural and ritual filters and then they take what they consider of value into 50 plus villages. My presence at the seminary also gives me greater credibility with Catholic bishops and priests of Egypt. This affords me the possibility of easily going into a parish or diocese without encountering the anxiety and mistrust that I used to encounter during my early years in Egypt. Even though it is a great work for a "Maryknoller" to engage in interdenominational and inter-religious dialogue, promote justice and peace, or visit the sick and imprisoned, the effort often dies when he leaves or dies. For a "Maryknoller" to educate and form the Catholic religious leaders of the future to engage themselves in these endeavors guarantees that what I can encourage now will continue and spread long after I'm gone.
With all its frustrations, I love Egypt and the Catholic Church here. Egyptian Catholics, not Doug May, must encounter Islam and Coptic Orthodoxy and seek to create a better working/living relationship. These same people must carry on the work for justice and peace and the apostolate of visiting the sick and imprisoned. Their priests must also be less clerical and more in tune with the young in order to do this. I believe that I can best facilitate these things in some small way via my living and working with the seminarians. I am their mentor, their big brother and their friend. I am the go-between for the staff and students and I like this role even though one can get caught in a cross-fire. I like feeling that I have made a difference in the lives of the young men who enter and the mature priests who leave the seminary.
History is a very old thing in Egypt but it is still being written. I like feeling that I can maybe change a word or a punctuation mark with my presence in the seminary. Only education and formation can give me that kind of feeling and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Father Doug is looking for financial help with the following projects:
Father Doug is seeking funds to improve the educational facilities at the Coptic Catholic Seminary.
Our Lady Queen of Peace Home for Mentally Handicapped is seeking funds to cover running costs and final construction expenses.