To hear the Coptic Catholic priest tell it, building a church in Cairo requires far more than bricks and mortar. He listed the other requirements: the patience of Job, the wiles of a fox and the quiet determination to pole-vault Egypt’s discriminatory regulations.
“Not easy,” said the priest, Youhanna Saad, with a wry smile as he bounced his 5-year-old daughter on his knee. “The regulations were not fair. It made us cheat.”
For the past decade, his small Coptic Catholic congregation in a gritty north Cairo suburb has been trying to build a new church in the teeth of official resistance — a common tale in Egypt, where the law panders to old prejudices. But Father Saad, a former schoolteacher, is almost there.
The deafening rattle of an electric saw often fills the church, which is hidden down a lane and sandwiched between two apartment buildings. Weekly Masses have already started, using plastic office chairs in place of wooden pews in a still-undecorated hall.
But Father Saad still lacks a vital element — government permission — which leaves his church with the legal status of a religious speakeasy. It is a problem that he says he hopes to resolve with the visit of Pope Francis to Egypt, which starts on Friday.