Somber celebration of the 50th anniversary of Egyptian cathedral

The 200 icons inside the church are a major attractions for tourists and history students. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Somber celebration of the 50th anniversary of Egyptian cathedral

  • The windows will tell stories of the martyrs of Alexandria, Tanta and other regions

CAIRO: Egypt celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Abbasia, Cairo, with a mass prayer headed by Pope Tawadros II.
However, the mood was somber because Egypt’s Copts are still grieving over the attack on them in Upper Egypt on Nov. 2, in which seven people died and more than 20 others were injured.
“Fifty years ago was a historic and proud day in this cathedral and in Egypt as we celebrated the opening of this cathedral in the presence of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Pope Cyril VI (the 116th Pope in the history of the Church) and Emperor Haile Selassie,” said the pope in a sermon. “The emperor of Ethiopia opened this cathedral in 1968 and named it St. Mark after the foundation stone was laid in 1965. It was the largest cathedral in the Middle East.
“Today, we share with the bishops, priests, ladies and children of Sunday schools, a day of joy and celebration.
“Four years ago, we started the architectural development and renovation of the cathedral. Hundreds of engineers, technicians, workers and a large number of companies participated and did a great job. It would have been great to have a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the cathedral and to honor the renovation workers, but the circumstances have not allowed it. However, I thank them.”
The pope pointed out that in the church there are about 200 icons (a painting that tells a story), adding that “the icons in the spiritual sense are windows on the sky, each inviting us to heaven.
“The windows will tell stories of the martyrs of Alexandria, Tanta and other regions. There will be an icon to let the community know of his Holiness Pope Kyrolos VI and there will be many others. We will issue a detailed book on all icons.”
The event was broadcast by many media outlets. Director Rida Shawqi said in an exclusive interview with Arab News that Egyptian television used all the facilities and capabilities to convey the celebration of the inauguration of the Cathedral of St. Mark, including 18 cameras which were inside the cathedral as well as drones and the national TV cameras.
According to scholar of Coptic studies Majid Kamel, the architects of the cathedral were engineers Awad Kamel, former dean of the faculty of fine arts at Cairo University, and Salim Kamel Fahmi. They were awarded the job after winning a drawing and design competition that was announced by the patriarchate, and chosen by the committee as the best project among 35 architectural offices. The project was completed in three years. He added that “construction works involved 700 technical workers, 300 builders and 1,000 construction workers. Construction costs amounted to about 350,000 Egyptian pounds ($19,490) — a lot in 1968. Owing to the high cost, the Egyptian Patriarchate launched a fundraising campaign to complete the works. President Abdel Nasser donated 150,000 Egyptian pounds from the national fund to help completion.
A small booklet distributed to attendees of the event explained that the cathedral building is 144 meters long, about 61 meters wide, and has one dome and two lamps, which is in the Egyptian architectural style. It also said that this was the headquarters of the Pope of Alexandria from its inception until now, following the old headquarters in the Church of Alexandria in Azbekiya (central Cairo).
The patriarchal church, adjacent to the cathedral, was attacked on Dec. 11, 2016, killing 29 people and wounding 31. In addition to severe damage to the Church of the Patriarchs, some of the buildings surrounding the cathedral were also damaged. Daesh claimed responsibility for the incident.


Jordan’s PM appeals for more aid as most Syrian refugees set to stay

Updated 20 February 2019
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Jordan’s PM appeals for more aid as most Syrian refugees set to stay

  • Jordan PM says most refugees not returning yet
  • Amman says funding crucial to keep economy afloat

AMMAN: Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz appealed on Wednesday to major donors to continue multi-billion dollar funding for Syrian refugees in the kingdom, saying most of those who had fled the eight-year conflict had no intention of returning any time soon.
Razzaz told representatives of major Western donors, UN agencies and NGOs that relatively few refugees had gone back since Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s army last summer regained control of southern Syria, where most had fled from.
“The number of refugees that so far returned voluntarily is low and most have no intention of going back any time soon,” Razzaz told a meeting to launch a UN-funded government plan that earmarks $2.4 billion in funding needs for 2019.
Officials say only around 10,000 refugees out of a total estimated at 1.3 million had left since the two countries opened the vital Nassib-Jaber border crossing last October.
Razzaz echoed the UN view that unstable conditions inside Syria, where large-scale destruction, fear of retribution and military conscription has made many reluctant to return.
“We are now entering a new phase of the Syrian crisis, however the impact is still ongoing. The conditions for their return are not present,” Razzaz added.
The prime minister warned against donor fatigue in a protracted crisis where the needs of refugees and vulnerable Jordanians were largely unchanged.
Maintaining funding that covers education, health and crucial services for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and local communities was crucial to ease rising pressures on the debt-burdened economy, he added.
“Aid helped Jordan in staying resilient in a difficult regional setting,” Razzaz said, adding the refugee burden had strained meagre resources such as water and electricity, with a donor shortfall covered from state finances.
Jordan is struggling to rein in record public debt of $40 billion, equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product, under a tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity plan.
Major donors say more than $6 billion had been extended to Jordan since 2015, which economists credit for rejuvenating once sleepy northern border towns, while refugee entrepreneurship brought a pool of cheap labor and new skills, triggering a property boom and higher productivity.
The kingdom received around $1.6 billion last year alone.
“The level of funding to Jordan that still remains is exceptional in global comparison,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Anders Pedersen, adding needs had evolved from the humanitarian aid required early in the conflict to development projects that benefit the economy.