My colleagues and I have reported many tragic stories from Egypt these last few months. But there are also renewing and instructive tales.
One concerns an old friend, Coptic Bishop Thomas, of Qusiya, an elfin man whose grace, charm, and humor can conceal a very extensive education, a formidable intellect, and a deep piety — all descriptions that he would reject, or, more likely, greet with an utterly bemused smile.
His diocese is in central Egypt — historically, proportionately, the site of most violence against Christians — and he lives under constant threat. He also maintains a retreat and training center, Anaphora, near the desert road between Cairo and Alexandria. Many wonderful things have happened there, and this year there was yet one more.
In February, when Mubarak was still desperately trying to hold on to power, his regime released prisoners from most prisons around the country to create unrest and chaos. Shortly after, Salafis raided the prisons to release their confreres, and others. There is a major prison not far from Anaphora, and released convicts in their uniforms started trudging back the long and dusty road toward Cairo. The neighboring buildings and people closed their doors in fear, but at Anaphora the prisoners were welcomed and given food. After spending a little time to rest, and have very needed showers, the prisoners wanted to try to get back home, but also to shed their damning clothing. Well, at Anaphora, they do have surplus clothes. As part of their skills training, young people make gowns and simple outfits for monks, and so these were given to the prisoners.
Dozens of prisoners then continued their long walk to Cairo, fed, rested, clean, and dressed as monks.
— Paul Marshall is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author, with Nina Shea, of the just released Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedoms Worldwide (Oxford University Press, 2011).