7 December 2022

Muslim community partnerships a key focus for first Primate of Alexandria

Archbishop Samy Shehata was recently made Primate of Alexandria, a region which encompasses multiple African nations. Image: Kirralee Nicolle.

Kirralee Nicolle

24 October 2022

The first primate of a new African province says he hopes to see improvements in issues of poverty and unrest in the region.

The comments came during a visit to Melbourne by the Most Reverend Samy Shehata, Archbishop of Alexandria on the invite of Local Leaders International, an organisation which seeks to partner with churches across the world to provide support and dialogue between cultures.

“Our vision for the province is a living church for a better society,” he said. “We are a church, and yet we see our mission and vision is to help the society to improve and to have more harmony.”

“We’d love to see more harmony and peace.”

Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby gave the primatial cross to Dr Shehata in a ceremony at Lambeth Conference earlier in the year.

The Province of Alexandria is the 41st Province in the Anglican Communion. It was formed in June 2020 and includes the nations of Egypt, Tunisia, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria and Djibouti.

Dr Shehata said a large focus for province leaders was on social and development work, as well as seeking to foster partnerships between the Muslim and Christian demographics. He said the Anglican church in Egypt had established a ministry partnership centre for Christians and Muslims to share knowledge and hear from scholars in both religions. Dr Shehata also said the Anglican church had a very good relationship with the Catholic, Protestant and Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt.

He said challenges faced by churches in the province included extreme poverty, such as in Gambella in Ethiopia, where there were about 150 Anglican churches. Dr Shehata said many in this region struggled to find clean drinking water and food.

Read more: ‘Only good’ can come from relationship building at Lambeth: Bishop

“This is a really different challenge from the challenges you have in North Africa,” he said.

Dr Shehata said he had been unable to visit Anglican churches in Libya for several years due to ongoing unrest. He said other countries in the Horn of Africa were also facing ongoing political instability, and this caused challenges for the church.

Dr Shehata said economic shifts caused by both COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine had increased pressure on those experiencing poverty in the province. He also said many had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

“What you were spending a year ago will get you half of what you can get now,” he said. “So, it’s very difficult for many families. As a church, you try to help as much as you can, but what can you do when so many people actually have no income?”

Dr Shehata said the Anglican church in Egypt was grateful to be experiencing more stability over the past few years following the Arab Spring.

“As Christians living in Egypt, we don’t like the word minority,” he said. “Christians were in Egypt from the Fifth Century. We know that Muslims will always be there and Christians will always be there, [and] we have the same history and the same destiny. So, in a sense, we don’t like to be called [a] minority. But we don’t want to feel that we can be divided on religious [grounds].”

Dr Shehata said he believed God was doing wonderful work in the province.

“There are always new things to do [and] new congregations, and we’ve been blessed by being able to minister in different places [and] in different cultures in the province,” he said.

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