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Shaping a New Future in Egypt View Comments
By Meghan and Jonathan Millea

A Muslim girl chants slogans and holds up a Quran and a cross during a rally to demonstrate unity between Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square in Cairo, March 11, 2011. The rally took place after sectarian clashes had left 13 people dead.
I hope they have a future,” says Sister Joanna with a smile. Standing inside the small chapel of a Catholic school near Cairo, the petite Egyptian nun gazes outward, thinking. The four walls of Immaculate Heart School offer a refuge from Egypt’s revolutionary chaos, providing a safe place where young women have an opportunity to learn and grow. Eventually, equipped only with their education and faith, Sister Joanna’s students will leave, rushing back into the fog of an uncertain tomorrow. She adds, “What they see now is all black.” (For reasons of safety, this article uses pseudonyms for the school, students, and staff.)

This flourishing city of 18 million has grown tense and, at times, unwelcoming in the violent wake of the Arab Spring. Horrific stories of virginity tests, violent protests, unrestrained mob attacks, brutal religious killings, and kidnappings abound in daily conversation.

“It is rough for the revolution, for those who made the revolution,” Sister Joanna continues. “You can feel others want to destroy this revolution for the young. Young people want many, many things. They want to live their future. You can see their hands are empty. They need to grab something; they can’t grab anything with the situation they have now. Many, many of them have lost their way.”

Egypt’s future remains in doubt. Power struggles abound as the military vies for control, an elected parliament is dissolved, and a formal constitution needs to be written. A small ray of hope emerged in June 2012 with Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Muhammad Morsi. However, Morsi’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood makes many Egyptians nervous, especially Christians. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has had strained relationships with Christians.

While institutionalized discrimination toward Christians existed throughout Hosni Mubarak’s administration (1981–2011), particularly in terms of hiring and land-use practices, prospects for unity between Christians and the Muslim majority have since deteriorated. Open conflict and bloodshed have replaced security.

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Meghan Millea, a journalist for the Times-Reporter in Dover-New Philadelphia, Ohio, traveled to Egypt after her Middle Eastern studies at Kent State University. Jonathan Millea is an airport development consultant and technical writer.

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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