08/17/2021 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – The Egyptian government launched an initiative in January 2021 to restore the Holy Family Trail and revitalize the tourism sector, appealing to domestic and international Christians. Tourists can follow Jesus along the Holy Family Trail, which includes several locations that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus believed to have visited while fleeing King Herod’s soldiers. One of those restoration stops was the Virgin Mary Monastery in Assiut governorate.
The monastery is believed to have been built over 1,500 years ago and was carved into a cave and mountainside. Coptic Orthodox priests reopened the monastery on August 1 to discover that the floor of the chapel had been covered with tiles, covering the original rock floors. The discovery brought heavy criticism of the restoration process as the changes made to the floor “has taken the chapel totally out of the context of its history and place. It should have preserved its ancient features, not throw away its historical identity,” one Egyptologist commented to Al-Monitor. Other modernized changes were made including air-conditioning and chapel seating in order to accommodate those visiting the church every year.
The Virgin Mary Monastery is one of 25 sites along the Holy Family Trail. Other sites include churches, towns, and water wells. Other restoration issues have been reported at other historical sites being renovated for tourism as well, including some several years back.
A 6th-century Christian town was also discovered in northern Egypt on Lake Mariout, with some hoping that the site ruins will become another tourist attraction for Christians seeking to learn more about their faith’s history. The town appears well-planned with uniform building layouts and public areas.
Domestically, Egypt also approved 76 more church registrations in July. Churches in Egypt must be registered, though Christians can technically continue their worship while the registration is pending. In 2017 Egypt began issuing licenses more freely, though the process has taken a long time. With this latest round, there are 1,958 licensed churches out of 3,730. The nod to domestic Christians and their legal rights is a good step, but perhaps insufficient.
Egypt is motivated to complete the restoration work on these Christian sites in order to boost the country’s tourism sector. While neither are undesirable efforts, the motivation is insincere to Christian heritage, as seen by the several issues in the restoration process. The government boasts of its Christian heritage to appeal to tourists while domestic Christians lack full rights and face persecution for their faith.
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