In Egypt, nuns' work of mercy rebuilds troubled lives
"Every year there are cases when a young Muslim sleeps with a Christian girl and records it on his mobile phone. He then threatens to release the video unless the girl converts."
By Oliver Maksan
NEW YORK—When Egyptian young Christian women get into serious trouble, society is
harshly unforgiving. But in Upper Egypt, a group of Catholic nuns operates a
home that provides a safe environment and tools to make a new start.
“The girls and young women who come to us have
big problems,” the nun who heads the home—whose name and location cannot be
revealed for security reasons—told international Catholic charity Aid to the
Church in Need.
(not her real name) explained that her charges have been rejected by their
families anxious to protect their reputation. “Some have taken drugs or had an
affair with a man. Some have even spent some time in prison. It is our job to
steer their young lives back on the right track.”
ages 15 and up are currently full-time residents of the home, while 13 girls
attend programs during the day. How long help is provided varies; it may be for
several months, but it can sometimes even stretch out for years.
explained: “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.
“We also 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.”
The nuns also
help the girls understand their social and family background better. “A problem
within the family is usually hidden behind the girls’ behavior. We not only
work with psychologists, but also have the parents get involved. We tell them,
for example: ‘your daughter may not have felt loved enough and this is why she
went looking for a relationship or started using drugs,’” Sister Mariam said.
prerequisite for reconciliation with the family is that the cases of premarital
intercourse, for example, have not become generally known. “When it becomes
public that a girl has had intercourse before marriage, she is dishonoured. And
then her family will no longer be able to keep her at home. In many cases this even
results in honor killings—even within Christian families. This is not a rare
occurrence in rural areas,” the nun said.
worse, Sister Mariam said, “when a Christian girl sleeps with a Muslim and even
gets pregnant; it ends up becoming a major conflict with a religious
dimension.” The nun explained that interfaith marriages “are not accepted
socially. The woman must convert.”
Then there are
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 threatens to
release the video unless the girl converts,” said Sister Mariam.
A local priest
said: “Over the last ten years, in our province alone, there were 70 cases in
which a Christian girl was being blackmailed into converting. And these are
just the ones we know about. The number of unrecorded cases is probably a lot
ACN photo: young Egyptian Christian women at Mass