“One of our sisters was chosen to be part of the spirituality commission that is preparing the program for the Holy Father’s reception with the spiritual animation of parishes and of the faithful,” said to ZENIT, Mother Mara Clara Caramagno, Provincial Superior in Egypt of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, expressing their joy at the news of Pope Francis’ trip to Cairo on April 28-29. These sisters constitute a portrait of a community that, since the 19th century, has been at the service of the Egyptian population.
In the Middle East, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are present in Israel (two communities), in Jordan (two), in Lebanon (one), Syria (Damas), Palestine, Iraq (Baghdad, where two Houses were burnt, and Nineveh-KaraKosh).
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ZENIT: How did the community receive the news of Pope Francis’ coming? How are you thinking of preparing yourselves?
Mother Maria Clara: The news of Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt enthused us and we are preparing to receive him first of all with prayer, so that this visit is received as a gift of the Lord, is beneficial to improve the present situation and is a visible example of brotherhood for Christians and Muslims. Concretely, we are preparing the pupils of our schools and their relatives to this event, which will bring peace… One of our sisters was chosen to be part of the spirituality commission that is preparing the program for the reception of the Holy Father with the spiritual animation of parishes and of the faithful in general.
ZENIT: : How many communities of your congregation are working in Egypt and for what service?
Mother Maria Clara: At present, our congregation has 15 communities in Egypt, stationed in Lower and Upper Egypt by the banks of the Mediterranean with three Houses in Alexandria to famous Luxor (near ancient Thebes). In all, we are 83 sisters working primarily in 15 schools, including kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools, with a global school population of 11,543 pupils. A real army of souls to look after, which the Lord has entrusted to us, more than half made up of Muslims: however, since the beginning we have always worked with persons of different religions and nationalities. In addition, we have five welfare centers for the care of the poor, who are always increasing because they cannot afford hospital expenses or private doctors. At Luxor, we have an orphanage with 18 girls. We work with young people and children in many parishes, be it for catechesis or other activities. We help numerous poor everywhere, especially when they are sick and we also visit them in their dwellings. We take part in the universal Church’s initiatives as well as those of the local Coptic-Catholic Church.
ZENIT: One of your schools, which was burnt in the summer of 2013, has been rebuilt.
Mother Maria Clara: One of our schools in Upper Egypt, the one of Beni Suef, was burnt by fanatics, but the heads of the army had it rebuilt by military men knowing that we receive, without any discrimination, pupils of different religions and, thanks be to God, the school has already been reopened for two years. What is more, now all want the middle school to open because they very much appreciate the formation given to children. In fact, one of our main objectives is to educate future citizens to mutual respect each other’s religion. Expenses are not few and we trust in Providence who never abandons one who trusts in God.
ZENIT: Do you need help for the House that collapsed?
Mother Maria Clara: Unfortunately, after having restored the part of the house that collapsed due to the construction of a new large building, built in fact next to us, at present we are obliged to engage in enormous works of restoration in another part of our unsafe dwelling, due to a break in the old pipes, which has damaged the sisters’ rooms. The great humidity present in the basement has ruined the floor and walls of the chapel and there are also works underway there. Hence, we are really in need of a benefactor and we will be very grateful if he can give us a hand.
ZENIT: When and how did your community, founded in Italy, arrive in Egypt and for what mission?
Mother Maria Clara: Our Founder, Blessed Mother Maria Caterina Troiani, arrived in Egypt on September 14, 1859, invited by the Apostolic Vicar, Monsignor P. Guasco, who needed sisters for the instruction of Christian girls and for the religious formation of their relatives. Before reaching Egypt, while the ship was stationed in Malta, the six pioneer sisters heard the news of the sudden death of the bishop who was waiting for them, and it was only the faith and courage of Sister Maria Caterina who convinced her fellow Sisters to continue the trip and, with the Lord’s help, begin work in fact in this district of Clot Bey, in Cairo, in this blessed house in which we, by grace, now find ourselves, to continue the work of the origins, for the glory of God and the good of brethren. In Egypt, Mother Caterina opened schools and welfare centers in several areas; she founded orphanages for the “rescue of children,” and helped so many poor sparing no sacrifices. Encouraged by her passion for the salvation of souls, she opened a good seven houses, ever trusting in Providence and in her beloved Saint Joseph, she also founded missions outside of Egypt: at Jerusalem, in Malta, and in Italy. Today, thanks to the indomitable courage of this woman who left us in legacy her missionary charism, the institute is present in four continents (Africa, Asia, Europe and America) and in 15 nations (Africa: Egypt, Morocco, Guinea Bissau, Eritrea; Asia: China, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; Europe: Italy and Malta; America: Brazil and the United States).
ZENIT: Would you like to add something?
Mother Maria Clara: I wish to express my joy of being in this mission and I ask the Lord to help me and my fellow Sisters to be everywhere “missionaries of mercy,” with a life of evangelical witness. When a life speaks, everyone understands.