Thanks for sending this account of the re-opening of Notre Dame d'Afrique. Interesting that BBC should think this newsworthy. Of course, it is not a cathedral, never was as far as I know, just a basilica. The Denis Gonzalez who is mentioned is actually one of the priests of the diocese.
I'm attaching my Christmas letter. I wonder if you could send the appendix around to Pelicans.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
Safarat al-Vatikan Christmas, 2010
Sharia 5 Mohamed Mazhar
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”
The entrance antiphon for the liturgy of today, the Third Sunday of Advent, expresses well my wish to all who receive this letter: that you may always experience the Joy and Peace of the Lord, the Lord who comes, but who is always mysteriously present with us in both good times and bad.
Looking over the year that has gone by, many events could be picked out. Let me mention just a few: the earthquake in Haiti and the following epidemic of cholera; the clouds of ash scattered by Eyjafjallajokull; the celebrations of 50 years of the independence of many African countries; the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa during which, for the first time, an African was elected Superior General; the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK and the Beatification of Cardinal Newman; the continued attacks on Christians in Iraq; the Synod for the Middle East. As regards Egypt, one would have to mention the murder of six Christians and one Muslim on Coptic Christmas Day; conflicts over the building of churches; the legislative elections; the inclusion of Patriarch Antonios Naguib within the College of Cardinals.
Personally the year has been marked by sickness, two deaths and a jubilee. On New Year’s Day I more or less collapsed with bronchopneumonia, but with the care of the Italian Hospital and rest, I was able, despite a short relapse at Easter, to return to full strength. The last day of 2009 had seen the unexpected death of Mgr Youssef Sarraf, the bishop of the Chaldeans. The Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Delly, came to officiate at the funeral which I was not able to attend. We are still waiting for his successor to be chosen.
As many know, my sister Christine had been diagnosed with lung cancer during the summer, and her condition worsened after Christmas. I was able to visit her in hospital at the beginning of March, together with Bernadette who came over from Australia. Christine was called by the Lord on 22 March, and I returned to Reddish, Stockport, for her funeral for which she had given quite precise instructions. “No black, or not all black”, she had written, so we celebrated in white, entrusting her to the Risen Lord. There was a good gathering of family and friends.
In July I returned to the UK. There were Confirmations in the parish of Innerleithen, in the Scottish Borders, at the invitation of my fellow Missionary of Africa, Fr George Smith, who had come out for a short stay in Cairo in January. Then we both attended the Reunion of British confreres in Chigwell, Essex, where jubilees were celebrated: 60 years of Oath of commitment to the Society of Missionaries of Africa for my namesake, Fr Patrick Fitzgerald, and 50 years for Fr Chris Wildsmith, Fr John (Ben) Henze and myself. It was a good occasion to thank the Lord for his continued presence in a missionary life which has followed an unexpected trajectory.
The first week of November I was in Tunisia. The bishop there, Mgr Maroun Lahham, had invited me to preach the retreat for the priests of the diocese, and I offered them some reflections on “The Beautiful Names of God: Their Meaning for a Christian”. The following week was spent in Rome for visits to Superiors, but it also provided an opportunity to meet up with friends.
This year has seen a change of Counsellor at the Nunciature here. Mgr Santiago de Wit Guzman left just after Easter and took up his appointment in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, where for a long period he has been Chargé d’Affaires. I have been joined by Mgr Santo Gangemi, from Sicily, whose artistic gifts have already produced improvements to the chapel and the house in general. We share the life and work of the Nunciature: attending various meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Arab League; going to numerous receptions; presence at different celebrations, for instance the Centenary of the Greek-Melkite church of St Cyril, in Heliopolis, the Centenary of the Basilica in Heliopolis, and the Golden Jubilee of the Legion of Mary in the parish of St Anthony in Faggalah. On the last Wednesday of each month we have a special Mass at the Nunciature for diplomats and friends. One evening we invited His Beatitude Cardinal Antonios Naguib to share with diplomats and friends the results of the recent Synod for the Middle East. From time to time we have welcomed groups of pilgrims, and we have even celebrated a baptism in our chapel. In all this we are helped first by the community of the Sisters of the Rosary of Jerusalem who were encouraged this year by a short visit from their Superior General, and then by our faithful staff.
For relaxation I am still singing with the Cairo Choral Society. In May we performed Dvorak’s Mass in D, and we have just given three performances of Handel’s Messiah. It seems appropriate to finish with the words of the well-known chorus (based on Isaiah):
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
A Jubilee Celebration in 2011
3 February 2011 will be the Golden Jubilee of my ordination as a priest in the Society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).
I intend to celebrate this Jubilee here in Cairo, at the church of St Joseph (Banque Misr), in the evening of 2 February.
There will also be a celebration at St Mary’s, the Mount, Walsall, on Saturday 23 July, at 12 noon, followed by lunch. Please let me know ahead of time if you intend to be present.