First Published: 2009-12-27

 
Virgin Mary sighting provides hope for Egypt Christians
 

Mysterious light over Warrak church attracts thousands of Copts aiming for blessing, salvation.

 

Middle East Online

By Mona Salem - CAIRO

Glimpse of hope

Every night in the run-up to Christmas thousands of Egypt's Coptic Christians have been gathering in a Cairo suburb eager for a glimpse of a vision that has given hope to their marginalised community.

It is three hours past midnight in Al-Warrak, a poor working class neighbourhood of the Egyptian capital, and a 10,000-strong crowd is silently staring at the sky.

Then the appearance of a mysterious light over the church tower jolts the gathering into a frenzy of cries and ululations. It is the apparition of the Virgin Mary, they say.

Thousands have been coming nightly since the first sighting of the Virgin Mary on December 10, in the hope of being blessed by her light.

The prospect of benediction is a much needed morale boost for the Christian minority which complains of systematic discrimination and marginalisation in the Muslim majority Arab country.

Tea vendors and sweet sellers snake through the crowd where thousands of families have gathered with young children and babies.

"The first person to spot the sighting of the Virgin Mary was a Muslim neighour. He took a video and pictures and distributed them to everyone," said Father Fishay, a priest at the Warrak church, describing how he first heard of the apparition.

Hassan, the Muslim neighbour, was sitting at his local coffee shop when at around 8:30 pm, he saw a strong light coming from the church.

Others on the street began to notice the light and saw a bird circling above the church. At around 2 am, a vision of the Virgin Mary in her white and blue robes appeared, Fishay said.

But Muslim residents of the area insist it is a hoax, with someone creating the image with laser beams.

News of the apparition quickly spread in the area, prompting hundreds to rush out of their homes armed with mobile phones to capture the momentous event.

"It's her, with her blue and white clothes, there is no doubt about it. It cannot be an illusion," said an excited Rami, 36, in response to sceptics.

"The church closes its doors in the evening, we were not there when the image appeared the first time, so we decided to come back the second night and we saw the bird circling the church then the light," Fishay said in his measured manner.

Kawkab Munir Shehata, 39, is convinced. The mother of two says the Virgin Mary even performed surgery on her, giving her back the sight she had lost in her left eye.

"It was about 3:40 am when she started performing the surgery on my left eye. I felt immense pain which lasted about quarter of an hour. Then I was ecstatic to find out that I could see clearly," said Kawkab.

"You see, my left eye is even better than my right one now," she said.

Nabil, 32, his wife Mariam, 28, and their three children came from Shubra al-Kheima, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) away on the other side of town, to receive the Virgin's blessings.

"Her appearance means she approves of us and if she blesses us, we will stay till morning," Mariam said.

Her husband said the sighting proves that Christianity is still alive. He is angry over the recent publication of an article in a periodical of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, questioning the foundations of Christianity.

"The apparition of the Virgin Mary means that Christianity is real and the Bible is real," he said.

Raafat, 38, goes to Warrak every night but has to leave early to make it to his pre-dawn job. His wife Mariam however stays up with their four children.

"Schools are closed due to swine flu, there's no reason not to stay up late and wait for the Virgin Mary," she said.

Egypt's Christians make up around 10 percent of the 80 million population but complain they are kept out of jobs in the army, judiciary and universities.

The apparition of the Virgin provides comfort for many of the Coptic faithful as they prepare to celebrate Christmas on January 7 in accordance with the ancient Julian calendar used by many Eastern Churches.

"It is not possible to know the reason for the Virgin's appearance, but it could be to push people towards faith, and help put an end to their problems," Fishay said.

"Maybe her appearance is to bring people closer together, maybe it will bring about the end of the state of tension between Muslims and Christians and an end to extremism," he said.

"Maybe it'll bring back forgiveness like there once used to be in Egypt."

 

Iran back to high enrichment 'in 5 days' if US quits nuclear deal

UN urges Iraq to do more for IS sex abuse victims

Taliban warns Afghanistan will become 'graveyard' for US

Two North Korean shipments to Syrian chemical weapons program intercepted

Algerian ‘bikini rebellion’ may be hype but harassment isn’t

Erdogan vows to prevent Kurdish ‘terror corridor’ in Syria

Iraqi troops recapture first two districts from IS bastion

UN says thousands fleeing Tel Afar amid anti-IS offensive

Second round of Kurdish referendum talks could happen next week

Dozens killed in coalition strikes as US-backed forces advance in Raqa

German foreign minister says Erdogan backers threatened his wife

Turkey arrests former national goalkeeper for ‘coup links’

Iran in negotiations to unblock Twitter

Yemeni FM says Iran 'part of the problem' in Yemen

On the trail of Spain's attackers

Mattis in Baghdad to support Iraqi forces

Erdogan critic stunned Turkey's 'long arm' reached Spain

Spanish police shoot dead man who could be Barcelona attacker

Iraqi forces close in on last IS bastion in country’s north

Kuwait arrests 13 fugitives in Iran-linked terror case

Qatar blocks planes from transporting pilgrims

Erdogan says joint op with Iran against Kurds ‘on the agenda’

Barcelona attack fugitive ‘dangerous, possibly armed’ warn police

Lebanese president ratifies public sector wage rise, tax hike

Young Syrian refugees want end of war and ISIS

Lebanon army advances against IS in border battle

Spanish police say driver of Barcelona rampage van identified

Toxic politics in Italy, Libya further complicate migration problem

Russia destroys large column of IS fighters in Syria

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans