On October 13, 1992, I, Sr. Juliana, got off the plane Cairo just two days after the great earthquake. Cairo was in a state of emergency and everybody was cleaning up since it had been one of the worst that ever happened in Egypt.
For me, this was the beginning of a new life. What was the goal? In the name of our Congregation, Sr. Darlene and I discerned from September 1992 until the spring of 1994 asking, “How can we create a new community in rural Upper Egypt in the diocese of El Minia and for what reason? We realized that we must mix with the people, especially the poor whether Muslim or Christian, in order to be disturbed and challenged by their lives, by their faith in daily tribulations. We also wanted to be present among the Christians of Egypt with a special emphasis on training young people in catechism, bible, and spirituality. We decided we would come to “look as if it were for the first time” and to ask, “Can we risk a new endeavour so that God can make something new in and through us?”
Before we could begin, my first mission was to learn Arabic. My study of the language began the very next day after my arrival in Egypt. For the next 18 months, this meant cramming vocabulary, practising writing, listening and speaking words and short sentences.
On Sunday, Sept. 3, 1994, we arrived to our new home in the village Berba, (300 km south of Cairo) in the diocese of Minia. Many things had to be done. We built a large playground with a garden for the children, and established a day clinic and a program for undernourished children. A house and a centre for mentally retarded children was built with financial help from the European embassies in Cairo. In many activities in the Coptic Catholic parish and in the village, we used our skills, our education, and our love for the Word of God day after day to be a witness of respect and love for all people.
Sr. Darlene worked to pass on her knowledge of Talmud Torah to a group of Coptic Catholic priests. This is a method of studying and living the Torah that had always been considered as prayer by the Jewish sages.
Nostalgic feelings and a little anxiety are with me as I move on my way into my new mission which is to be responsible for the formation of the future members of our Congregation. This will happen in our new international novitiate which is going to be opened in Jerusalem 2014.
With this picture and with the question “And where then, may I sleep?” I say goodbye to our house in El Berba which has been my home for 19 years, and to all its inhabitants including the house cat Pascalina who makes sure that there are not too many mice and who warns us of snakes. Her favourite sleeping place is my bed, especially in summer. So this view makes me ask: “And where then, may I sleep?”
With all this nostalgia, I look back on a wonderful time of my life which was given to me in my 19 years in the village El Berba. I am full of gratitude for the people in my home country who supported me financially and spiritually, many of whom became my friends. I am grateful when I see the children enjoying the playground. I am grateful for Wilson’s male support as well as the support of many others. One of the greatest moments of gratitude is the yearly invitation to visit a five star hotel in Hurghada with all the mentally handicapped children.
Egyptians as I knew them over all these years, were helpful, friendly, open, full of vitality, and trusting in what is good. I am especially grateful to the villagers of Berba who have accepted me so that I through them and they through me were able to live hope and love. I shall never forget you!
Also I will never forget my Sion Sisters of Egypt who during this time in Egypt lived with my ups and downs of kindness, sorrow, difficulties and hope for the Charism of Sion being lived and shared in Egypt among its people and church.
Sr. Juliana NDS