In a recent interview conducted by Father Daoud Lamei, His Holiness Pope Shenouda clarified points in the Statement which he issued on behalf of the Holy Synod and commented on aspects of the Egyptian Revolution.
What was meant by a civil nation ?
A civil nation is defined as a non-religious and non-military nation.
You spoke of the valiant Egyptian army ?
Praising the army in the statement recalls a long history. While still a university student, I volunteered in the army and graduated from the school of Infantry in 1947.
Are you optimistic about the future?
I am not tending to talk about optimism but rather about hope in God. We are asked not to loose hope. This is an integral part of our relation to God. Our life, as well as the life of countries, abides not in the hands of people, but in the hands of God. There is no doubt, the authorities want good for the country whether on the internal level (unity, security and prosperity) or on the external level (events in surrounding Arab Countries, possible reactions of Israel…etc.). In these days, our priority should not be to put forward demands and exert pressure on the regime but to support the leadership to pass through this difficult phase and arrive to a safe haven.
Some people suggested that the church was a main beneficiary from the old regime, not knowing what we have been suffering from.
In a TV interview with Amr Adeeb, some 6 months ago, I mentioned that the problems of the Copts can be summarized in one word ‘marginalization’. Copts are marginalized from high official positions, syndicates, legislative councils, university staff…etc. Another main element has been the frequent violent attacks targeting Copts. We remember the El Kosheh assassinations (21 dead and no sentence has been made against anyone by the court), Abu Korkas (9 people assassinated inside the church and no one has received death penalty – according to the law), Dayrout (14 killed including children), the Alexandria church this year (30 killed, 90 injured), Omraneya Church (where we were unjustly blamed for the events) but we thank the Lord for having people released before the Feast of Nativity early in January.
On the other hand, I cannot deny that we had good relations with President Mubarak as a person. That’s why I see it a personal obligation of loyalty not to mention bad points but rather to remember the good ones. The problems we suffered were mainly due to those surrounding him. Now after the revolution, they have been apprehended and are being prosecuted.
At the start of the revolution didn’t you allow Coptic youth to join the demonstrations?
I had an interview at El-Horra TV Channel where I mentioned that our youth are generally peaceful and are not attracted to demonstrations. Also at the start of the revolution, things were not clear. It later proved to be a free and non-violent movement. Many Copts joined it in fact and many were martyred and wounded, some newspapers published names of 12 of those Coptic martyrs and the church did not object to their participation. On the other hand, we ask the Lord to give their families patience and we pay our deepest condolences to them. If I know their addresses, I would send personal condolences to each of them.
What are your views on educational reform in Egypt ?
I always ask myself a question: should education be only for earning, or should it help people to find a job? May be it is both. What is the point of educating people to become unemployed. I remember a funny story of a woman seeing her child studying and asking him to leave education and play soccer where he would find a better future.
I would personally encourage having quality vocational training starting at preparatory schools (7-9 grades) to have a higher professional vocational training at the secondary level. The university may also have an advanced degree on vocational fields. In fact, foreign investors in Egypt seek highly trained vocational workers. Not finding them they have to import them from other countries at higher cost. I recall some twenty years ago, the electricity generator at the monastery had a problem; one of our sons was a senior engineer. I asked him if he could fix it. He said, I apologize I am only engineer on paper but I have no real experience. We need people who have both theoretical and practical knowledge. Sometimes we import sophisticated medical equipment, and find no expertise to use it properly or fix it. This kind of training is very important and missing much in Egypt. This does not mean eliminating general education but having both.
On political parties, do you encourage Copts to work in politics?
The Muslim Brotherhood recently created the Wassat, Hakk and Adala & Gamaa parties. Are the youth of 25 January intending to create parties ? I have no idea. Would some tolerant people install non-religious parties? Of course those are in addition to the old classical parties. For us we cannot and it would not be to our benefit to install a purely Christian party. It would be described as radical and would have very few members. I encourage Copts to join their Moslem brothers in a party they would judge as tolerant and achieving their hopes. One should properly study the aims, agenda and members opf each party. In this respect we have to admit that we need to raise people’s political awareness.
Constitution amendments and Article 2:
I met with a member of the current committee and he said they would only amend the 5 articles previously decided and would not touch on article 2. The head of the committee publicly supported article 2, the Grand Sheikh of Azhar said it is an indispensable article, both the Salafists and the Muslim Brothers went in demonstrations to support that matter and they said that addressing this article may cause sectarian strife. I believe that at the current stage, it is difficult to oppose this article, especially for Christians. As a compromise I suggest the following, if it is essential to keep it, we may add a sentence “as for non-muslims, the commandments of their religion shall apply in personal statute and clergy matters”.
The church and being socially active in building the country:
The church may participate in social building and help the country not by vandalism and demonstrations. A couple of days ago I was visited by the Minister of Interior and I suggested that we rebuild and refurbish the neigbourhood police station at our expense. Likewise, HG Bishop Morcos of Shoubra El Khema is rebuilding and refurbishing two police stations there.
Copts were always criticized for being politically passive in their participation. On the other hand the head of the church is often criticized for interfering in politics.
There is a difference between being active politically and working in politics. For example in all elections I went to do my duty as a citizen by voting. As for Copts being politically passive, I must remark that most parties were not welcoming Copts among them and they were never allowed to go up the political scale except for a few well-known names. I encourage parties to give the chance to Copts and have trust. The behaviour of parties had a negative impact on both Muslims and Christians and this reflected in the extremely low participation in elections.
What is the fine line between being politically active and interfering in politics?
For example concerning Palestine, I gave my opinion and said that I would not go to Palestine except with the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar and this was highly praised by all authorities (except some few Copts) as a national act despite the fact that it was pure politics. The question is: should I be active only in matters that are supported by the government and show restraint in matters they reject? The church is giving its opinion in politics without working in politics. Yet for Copts, they are free to work in politics as they wish and they have to select the successful and right politics.
Should there be a revolution in the church to change things?
Unlike world politics that change from time to time, whether calmly or violently, the church uses a divine system that is described in the scriptures and detailed in the church canons. Copying the government system for the church is not acceptable by logic, religion and church canons.
As for the clerical council investigations for clergy, it was asked lately why they are not made public. In fact, those investigations are usually concerning financial, ethical or theological matters. We make the judgment public but do not give details of the investigations. The details are written in special memos and are signed and approved by the priest who is being judged. If anyone needs me to review his case, I may well request his file and review it.
President Mubarak had many problems because of those surrounding him? Can this happen with your Holiness?
Those surrounding President Mubarak were employees, but those around me are my sons and disciples. For example, Bishop Ermia, I knew him over many years, I consecrated him monk, then priest, then bishop and appointed him to the secretariat. Bishop Joannes is the same way. Another point is that those around Mubarak, may have found excuses for their mistakes: for example, they would support his son Gamal for the presidency so they would fabricate elections and possibly oppress people and so on…etc. Such an element is completely missing in the church. I would not recommend anyone to succeed me.
Spiritual lessons from the past 20 days of the revolution
Do not judge before the time. We do not know anything concerning the future. The Lord said: Do not care for tomorrow, tomorrow cares for itself. The future is in the hands of God not ours. There are many political actors: the Higher Council of Armed Forces, the government, the youth of 25-Jan, the individual demonstrations, financial problems, some Coptic fathers who want to rule the church…etc. We leave it all in the hands of God, knowing for sure that the church is in the hands of God not people.
We trust that everything will go well, not because of our own prayers: It is true that God gives us what we ask for and beyond what we ask for, yet He also gives abundantly without us asking. Maybe Joseph had his ultimate hope to leave prison and return back home with his father and brothers. He never thought of ruling Egypt or having pharaoh’s seal under his authority. God gives without us asking and beyond it. He just wants us to be pure of heart and as He said ‘Return to me and I shall return to you’. Every morning, while praying the Agpeya I meditate the words ‘grant us O Lord to please you’. It is indeed a grant from the Lord not an effort of us.
[Translated by Shenouda Mamdouh]