While the Coptic Orthodox Church has just announced the closure of all churches, chapels, monasteries and cathedrals in Egypt during Easter, 17 million Coptic Christians are turning to the Virgin Mary to implore her grace and her intercession against the proliferation of the Covid-19 and its terrible consequences.
Such intercession has not been chosen randomly: who better than the Mother of God to speak to her Son; who better than the Blessed Virgin Mary to come aid the Egyptians, she who has already done so much for them in the past and even today.
Indeed. 52 years ago, the Virgin Mary appears several times in the district of Zeitoun in Cairo!
On the night of April 2 to 3, 1968, a Muslim garage owner goes out for a cigarette. He crouches down against the entrance of his garage, takes his lighter, lights his cigarette of the brand "Cleopatra" and... drops it immediately!
A woman, all dressed in white, bright and radiant, stands on the roof of the small Coptic Orthodox church in the neighborhood that stand on the opposite side of his garage. She is on the edge of the void!
The mechanic runs towards the church to warn the caretaker and try to reason this woman who must be thinking of jumping and committing suicide.
But that's not the case...
He stares closer, rubs his eyes: a golden halo and scarlet light overlooks this woman, she does not walk but flies slightly over the roof of the church.
The Muslim mechanic falls to his knees: he has just recognized "Maryam".
The mother of Jesus, "Issa" among Muslims... He prays and opens his hands to heaven and already some people run up and recognize an apparition: "Ya Maryam! "exclaimed the first Christians who saw the apparition.
The Virgin Mary is there, present, radiant and luminous, in this poor and working-class district of Cairo.
For three years, the apparitions followed one another at random intervals: a few hours, minutes spaced by days, weeks or months. They will be recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the great Sunni Mosque and religious institution of Al Azhar.
Millions of people, Egyptians and foreigners alike, will gather in front of the church and in the adjacent streets to try to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary.
Among them, a German and an Australian who later became, respectively, one of the first Coptic Orthodox bishops with foreign origins and the other a hermit monk in the Red Sea desert.
He was 18 years old in April 1968 at the time of the apparitions. Studying at the University in Alexandria, he decides to skip classes to come back to Zeitoun, his birth and childhood neighbourhood, to see and pray the Virgin Mary.
He did not see her in the first days, but as his hope grow and prayers became more and more reasoned, the miracle happened. I let him speak:
"My little brother, 11 years old, had written me a letter to tell me about the apparitions of the Virgin. So I had asked a priest in Alexandria for advice and with his blessing (the Doctor slightly laughs) I skipped my medical school classes for a week to see the Mother of God too (...) I stayed for a week in front of the church, I fasted and prayed a lot.
It is important to know that prayers and songs composed during those years of apparitions are today official songs and prayers used in our Church!
As I began my penultimate day of truancy, waiting and watching for the slightest sign, a bright light appeared above a dome of the church... I cried and smiled at the same time. I was so happy!
It was marvelous: a resplendent white light with a sort of golden crown was on the roof of the church, in a few moments I could distinguish the loving and beautiful face of Our Lady, the same face as that of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes seen by Bernadette Soubirous!
I was happy, I prayed a lot that night.
Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics were there too and prayed, sang, cried and many on that day d their faith.”
That was 52 years ago. Still this testimony of faith is more relevant than ever in this time of pandemic and pain.
A Mother, a woman protects and gives life. Our Lady may watch over us, our loved ones and the whole world. May Blessed Mary, Our Lady of the 7 Sorrows, pray for us and smooth our pain. O Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray offer to the Most Holy Trinity the Wounds and Sorrows of the Sacred Humanity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, your Son; fulfill our sinful lives with their joys, worries and sorrows.
Jérôme Cochet, head of mission in Egypt.