Egypt: Faith, wonders, and surprises

Egypt: Faith, wonders, and surprises

We were not exactly expecting to be invited to Egypt this soon (Nov 6-16). Our assignment is Rome and the Vatican and the Regional Mission Center for CFC Europe. Egypt is part of Africa. But there it was, the invitation of Bro. Solphie and Sis. Precy Confiado, also known as His Excellency, Ambassador Sulpicio and Madame Priscilla Confiado. Ambassador Confiado is the new Philippine Ambassador to Egypt.

It was one of the most fulfilling CFC mission and country visit we’ve made, thanks to our hosts, and God’s surprises along the way.

The next evening after we arrived, we called on the office of the Papal Nuncio. We were met by the young Deputy Chief of Mission, Msgr. Jan Limchua, from Talisay, Cebu, Philippines. He is renovating the Nunciature, a beautiful structure by the banks of the River Nile. As we enjoyed the view of the Nile, the sides of the river now lined up with tall commercial buildings, I kiddingly asked him if is this was the part of the Nile where the baby Moses was made to float to end up near the Pharaoh’s palace? Probably taken aback by the question, he good-naturedly answered that he didn’t know. Whatever was the answer, at that moment, it fully dawned on me that we were treading on land filled with history, including our faith’s history. I looked at the Nile again and wondered what it was like during the time of Moses.

Our CFC Egypt Mission House is across the street from our Philippine Embassy. Talk about good location. It has a spacious sala, a dining area, kitchen, and three bedrooms for visiting missionaries. A CFC community from another country is helping Egypt for the first year’s rent, after which Egypt will be in a position to provide for itself. We honor Egypt’s CFC leadership on this initiative and the two CFC communities for helping one another. Warms the heart. We had our evening meal with the brethren, and we proceeded with the workshop to prepare for the rest of the ongoing Christian Life Program (CLP).

The CLP sessions were held the next day, Friday (their equivalent of Sundays), after mass at the Holy Family Church and brunch in the church’s grounds. My wife Babylou and I gave the talks. The CLP drew in 40 participants. The next week, I gave yet another CLP talk.

God’s surprise was the holding of the Ateneo Leadership and Social Enterprise (ALSE) sessions, specifically the Financial Literacy modules, around the same time of our visit. Though unplanned, We were drawn into the loop of the professors and the ALSE Cairo Secretariat by Ambassador Solphie and Madame Precy. It was a series of sumptuous dinner celebration and evaluation sessions three nights in a row where we struck friendships with Prof Vince Rapisura and Edwin Salonga, and Cairo residents Mikael and Ria Jacob, Raman and Loida Sehgal, Sherif and Helly Soliman. The group turned up to be like-minded people in many ways, and somehow hit it off as new friends. I would have wished that my college batch mate, Edgar Valenzuela, a prime mover of ALSE, was also around. He was in Cairo a few weeks earlier.

Babylou and I were honored when we were invited by Raman and Loida to visit Hytech Seed International, a farm devoted to producing high quality corn seeds, of which Raman is the Managing Director. The farm is located in one of the fertile deltas of the Nile River. Hytech Seeds is part of the Sehgal Foundation established by Suri (Raman’s uncle) and Edda Sehgal, with a mission “to strengthen community-led development initiatives to achieve positive social, economic and environmental change across rural India in the areas of food security, water security, and social justice”. What a noble mission which is reaping success. Raman took his MBA at the Ateneo de Manila University.

We had a glimpse of the connection between Egypt and Christianity. We recall from the bible that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill all newborn babies in Israel. We were blessed to visit the place where the Holy Family lived, including the well where they drew their water from. It is now part of a church. We said a prayer on this holy ground, where the Holy Family took temporary refuge. We also visited Alexandria, north of Cairo, on the shores of the Mediterranean, where St Mark, the gospel writer, established one of the earliest Christian churches. St Mark’s Cathedral is now the seat of the head of the Egyptian Coptic Church. On a personal note, we also visited the Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria. St Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of Dumaguete City, our home city, which as of this writing, is celebrating its fiesta (November 25).

We are so thankful to the Confiados for hosting us, and for organizing the tours that allowed us to visit the must-see places in Egypt. We stared in awe and actually climbed some of the stones that made up the Pyramids, we saw at close range the Sphinx, we experienced and took in the ambience of Islamic Cairo and drank tea and tried falafel in El Fishaway, the oldest cafe of Cairo, and as some kind of finale, took the Nile Cruise, with dinner and belly dancing to boot. We thank our CFC brethren who accompanied us in these tours, Mil, JC and Crizelle.

Still, there is so much more to explore of Egypt. But this would have to wait another time, another mission, another visit.