Building a new church in New Beni Suef

Sent On: 
Thu, 2018-11-15
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Church of St. Kārās, New Beni Suef (photo: Cornelis Hulsman)


Father Barsoum [Barṣūm] has been the priest of the three year old Saint Karas [Kārās] Church in Beni Suef [Banī Suwayf] since it was established, and currently serves around 900 families. The church has received a license to build, and the priest is extremely positive about the support received from Egyptian authorities to complete all formalities.

Bishop Gabriel [Jibrāʾīl], the bishop of Banī Suwayf, has excellent relations with authorities, the priest says.


Yet, the position of the priest is not easy. He is the only priest in his church, while in other churches there are often more priests to serve a congregations of comparable size. It is also not easy because the members of his church are mostly workers and government employees. Two hundred of them are so poor that they need financial support, but other members of the church are hardly able to take care of their poorer brothers and sisters. These are day laborers, old and sick people without a support network, from a family that is capable of helping them. Day laborers are paid 50 EgP (2,5 Euro) per day, if they have work. But many have insufficient work. Day laborers, who often are illiterate and never were able to receive an adequate education, work in the fields and in factories.


Half of the people of the Banī Suwayf governorate depend on the income of agriculture, and the other half depends on income from government jobs, including educational institutions. The industries in Banī Suwayf employ only a few people, the priest observes.


Banī Suwayf, in the past decades, has been expanding into the east bank of the Nile. This began happening after the government built Banī Suwayf’s first bridge over the Nile, and linked this to the Eastern desert road leading to Cairo or south to Minya. Businesses, schools and universities moved into this area, as did people wanting to live close to these various institutions.


  Saint​ Kārās


The construction of the Saint Kārās Church started several years ago, in an area where the Dutch organization World Servants, had helped the church build a number of social projects.[1] Two World Servants delegates, Arie de Boer and Koen Vliegenthart, wanted to see the progress made on these projects since their last visit in 2016, and since they were in the area anyway, also visited this church. In October 2015 the church of St. Kārās was almost completed, but there was not yet an active church community as there is now. In October 2015, very few Christians were living in the area but today most of the 900 families (around 5000 people) the church serves live in this area. This approach is very typical for the Coptic Orthodox Church, going into new areas and building a church in the hopes that Christians will then come to live in that area because with a church they know that there will also be services, both spiritual as well as social, for the community.

Father Barṣūm is from the town of Abu Qurqas [Abū Qurqāṣ], governorate of Minya. He first served as a servant in the church and was so overwhelmed by the spiritual and social needs of the people that he became a priest. Some priests in other dioceses go to big cities, such as Minya and Cairo, where they visit families and businesses and ask for support for their parish church. Bishop Jibrāʾīl of Banī Suwayf, however, does not want priests to do this. They should be entirely focused on the spiritual ministry in their church. The other difference, father Barṣūm says, is that these other priests are usually older and therefore have a network of connections that he, as young priest, does not have. The policy of the Bishop also makes sense, since he is the only priest in a newly established church. In our meeting there was also Mdm Isis, a strongly devoted woman who also works with the poor. Father Barṣūm needs to work with devoted church servants such as this woman.

The church workers keep good records of who is poor and needs assistance. Donations are made through a booklet with numbered pages on which one can fill in the name of the donor and the sum that had been provided. One copy goes to the donor and a copy remains with the priest. Once all pages in this booklet have been used the priest needs to give this to the bishop so that he has an exact record of the donations received in a particular church.


Within this setting, the church of Saint Kārās tries to help the poor as much as possible, albeit within their means, often providing the 200 poor families with 50 EgP per month. With each feast they receive a bag with food with a value of around 50 EgP.  The church also helps the poor with medicine, second hand clothing, and school bags for the children. Several students from nearby universities serve in father Barṣūm’s church. “They are great”, Mdm Isis explains, “but one should not expect them to help with fundraising.” All in all, a very informative and encouraging visit.



Cairo, November 15, 2018


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor in chief Arab-West Report


[1] Cornelis Hulsman, Davide Amelia and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Mūsā, “World Servants Projects in Egypt 1990-2015,” Arab-West Report, December 31, 2015,