|An image of the Holy Family along the Nile|
Matthew 2.13-18 tells the story of Mary, Joseph and their child, Jesus, who become political refugees from a tyrannical ruler named Herod, who announces a plan to kill all boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem under the age of two. Matthew tells us the family escapes into Egypt where they stay until the death of Herod.
This Bible story is not one that is well-known to many Americans, but for Egyptians, regardless of faith, this story of the refuge that the Holy Family sought and found in their land, is a profound story that shapes their understanding of what it means to provide hospitality and care to guests. For centuries, monasteries, convents, and churches have claimed to be built in places where the Holy Family rested along their journey. At a Metro station just a few stops north of the seminary, you can visit a church built over a crypt where the Holy Family is said to have stayed. (I like to call these sites part of the "Jesus Slept Here" tour!)
This year marks the start of a year celebrating the sites that welcomed the Holy Family throughout their journey. On Sunday evening (June 17) at the seminary we welcomed bishops (Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, and Roman Catholic), the pope's ambassador to Egypt, the Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church, numerous priests, and some 50 Italian tourists who have traveled to Egypt to journey to the traditional stops along the Holy Family's journey.
We prayed together and then we ate together. In true Egyptian fashion every comfort and need of the guests was considered. When your country has provided shelter and care to Jesus, the Savior of the world, you carry a special awareness of the hidden nature of Christ, who is in all people.
Each time I come to Egypt, I see new examples of what it means to be received by God's love. In part it means to see the other not as a problem to be solved, or a danger to be averted, but as a hidden Christ to be welcomed. My own faith has been deepened by considering how I embody the welcome that I receive whenever I come to this land, the first to welcome Jesus.