Last Sunday I preached at my “local Church”. The Roman Catholic Basilica is actually less than five minutes’ walk from my home. Each year, for the past 22 years I have preached at that Basilica on the occasion of the annual Bible Society Sunday. I usually preach at both their Arabic and French service but today there was a visiting Bishop and I only spoke at the French service though I attended both.
Worshipping at the Basilica is a very wonderful experience. That enormous building was built in 1905 by the founder of the modern city of Heliopolis, Baron Empain, (he is buried in a crypt under the altar). As a young child I would often ride my bicycle by that Church and was amazed by its architecture. In my wildest dreams it would never have occurred to me – as a young teenager destined to be the heir of my grandfather’s industrial empire – that I would one day be preaching at the Basilica. In my autograph book, my grandfather wrote the following: “we called you Ramez and look forward to see what you will represent” (“Ramez” in Arabic means symbol of or representative). It would never have occurred to my grandfather nor to my parents that I would someday be involved in representing the Bible to the churches in Egypt. This is clearly my identity today and is what I am most known for.
As I walked home from the Basilica I realized that I take too much for granted the great privilege it is to speak and preach at so many different churches in Egypt. I am probably the only non-Catholic who has ever preached at one of their services and certainly feel welcomed and loved each time I do so. To God be the Praise!
Pope dragging me through crowds!
A few days before the new Patriarch of the Coptic Church was consecrated, a group of us from the Bible Society visited Pope Tawadros in his monastery. It was a long drive out into the desert and we drove fast to be in time for our 11 am appointment. We soon realized that everyone in Egypt had decided to also visit the new Pope and as we waited hour after hour for our appointment (all the time being promised that we would be next), I began to realize that we will probably never meet with him. So finally at about 3:30 pm I decided that we should leave and wanted simply to shake his hands and say goodbye. He was outside in the courtyard greeting hundreds of people who wanted his attention. I went up to him and gave him the special Gospel of Mark which we had produced for the occasion of his consecration and told him that all I wanted was to deliver it to him and that there no need for us to take his time on this very busy day. When he saw me, however, he said “absolutely not, you are not leaving before we sit together!” He then dragged me by the arm, pushed me through the crowd and made his way out with me trying to keep up with this big man’s rapid pace (he is very tall). He took me to the floor above his waiting room which was full of Bishops and other Christian leaders waiting to see him. The other Bible Society staff followed us and we were able to meet alone with him for a few minutes as we showed him the Gospel for which he had written a beautiful introduction and congratulated him on his new appointment. He was most gracious and we were careful not to take any extra time but simply asked him to pray for us and then left (of course after having been photographed with him.) That day the subway in Cairo was on strike and it took us five hours to get home. So I calculated that I spent eleven hours to meet Pope Tawadros for ten minutes!
As I began pondering whether it had been worth the effort, I realized that the staff who had come with me believed it was extremely worthwhile and were delighted to have had the privilege of spending ten minutes with his Holiness the new Pope.
It’s a good reminder to those who calculate time only chronologically that -by applying different criteria – some minutes are worth more than several hours!