In March of this year, the Collège de la Sainte Famille in Cairo celebrated the 140th anniversary of its founding in 1879. These celebrations brought together people of all ages tied to the school, past and present. Festivities kicked off during the second week of March with an awards ceremony recognizing the valuable contributions of all the teachers, staff and Jesuits who have worked at the College de la Sainte Famille over the years, especially those who have since moved to other jobs or retired. This all felt like a big family reunion, and I felt welcomed by all as though I had been at the school for years, even though it is still my first year in Egypt, where I am currently doing my regency. The annual “Kermesse” took place on the 22nd of March. This year it again took place at one of our two primary schools, the Petit College du Heliopolis, and was livened by the theme of our celebrations. Food, stalls, crafts, games and a music festival showcasing the talents of our students all contributed to this wonderful occasion for students, staff, families and friends. It was also a good occasion for me to get to know students and their families outside the strictly scholastic context. On the 23rd March, Jesuits, staff, ex-alumni and numerous special guests, including the Egyptian Minister of Education Dr. Tarek Galal Shawki, the Papal Nuncio to Egypt Mgr. Bruno Musaro, the French Ambassador M. Stéphane Romatet, the Hungarian Ambassador Dr. Péter Kveck, the Polish Ambassador Dr. Michał Łabenda and the Indian Consul Mr. S. R. Sanil, were treated to an evening where we had a chance to reflect together on the history of the school, watching videos and photos recording the school’s past, listening to testimonies of students past and present, and reflecting on possibilities for the future. A lot seems to have changed over the years! Also present at this event were the Assistant of Father General Fr. Victor Assouad SJ, the Provincial, Fr. Dany Younes SJ, and the Secretary for Education (Secondary and Pre-Secondary) of the Society, Fr. José Alberto Mesa, SJ.    Celebrations concluded with a Thanksgiving Mass on Sunday 24th March. All those present were given a small card with the image of St. Ignatius and the Suscipe at the end of the Mass as a reminder of the roots of the school’s spirit and the spirit we desire going forward. It was also a reminder for me, approaching the end of my first year of regency, to continue trusting in God and his plans for me in this great country filled with wonderful people!
On the 7th May 2019, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch, His Beatitude Ibrahim Ishak met with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, at the Jesuit Retreat House on the outskirts of the city of Alexandria, in Egypt. Together they celebrated “Day of Brotherly Love”. The idea of this celebration began in 2013 with an invitation launched by Pope Tawadros II on the 10th of the same year, during his visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican. His desire was that the 10th May be the day of friendship and love between the two Churches, given that on the 10th May 1973 Pope Shenouda III, Pope Tawadros’s predecessor, had visited the Vatican and met Pope Paul VI. This was the first meeting between the heads of the two Churches, the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Pope Tawadros’s visit was his first to a foreign country, just a few months after Pope Francis had been elected, and for the both it was their first meeting with the head of another Church. In 2015, two young men, one Orthodox and one Catholic came up with the idea of calling an unofficial meeting of friendship between the two Churches, using the occasion of an exhibition of Coptic and Egyptian icons as an excuse. Pope Tawadros gladly accepted and this first meeting took place in the small Jesuit Church attached to the Jesuit residence and cultural centre in Alexandria. In 2016, Pope Tawadros invited the Coptic Catholic Patriarch and members of the Catholic Church to the Monastery of Anba Bishoi in Wadi Natroun, one of the old monasteries in the Egyptian desert. In 2017 Pope Francis visited Egypt. The plan was that the visit coincide with the date of the 10th May, but Pope Tawadros had to traveal at that dateand so the meeting took place around the end of April. There was a beautiful meeting at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, with an ecumenical prayer attended by other Orthodox and Catholic Patriarchs, among them the Byzantine Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos of Constantinople. The next meeting of the two Popes, in 2018, was in Bari, Italy, on the occasion of the ecumenical prayer of the Oriental Churches for peace. This year’s meeting renewed the style of 2015. Once more it was the Coptic Catholic Patriarch who invited Pope Tawadros and members of the Coptic Orthodox Church to the meeting at the Jesuit Retreat House in Maryout. This was the occasion also to bless the new church of the retreat house and have an ecumenical prayer in it. Then the two Popes planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace and dialogue. There was also a discussion in small groups about various themes such as the environment, the influence of the Church on modern society and dialogue. The spirit was unofficial and very friendly, living up to the title of the day: “brotherly love”, and clearly people were enjoying each other’s presence. All those present admired Pope Tawadros’s simplicity and sincerity. Pope Francis sent a special letter for the occasion, even though at the time he was on one of his journeys abroad. The meeting ended with some refreshments.
Five years after the death of Frans van der Lugt sj, four Jesuits live in Homs again. What do they do there? And how are the other six Jesuits active in Syria? Homs is the city where Father Frans van der Lugt sj was murdered on 7 April 2014. A few days after Father Frans's murder, the people who were locked up in the city were able to leave the besieged district under the guidance of the United Nations.  The streets around the Jesuit house are still badly damaged, although there is no fighting anymore. In 'his house' in the old town - Boustan al Diwan - where Father Frans is buried, he was alone at the last minute. Now there are four Jesuits living here again. Father Paul Diab is the parish priest of the church. Not far from there, in Nouzha, are a church and a catechesis centre, once built by the Dutch Jesuit Father Michael Brenninkmeijer.  In Nouzha there is little war damage, the church and the catechesis house are widely used by hundreds of adults and children. Here flourishes a large group "Foi et Lunière" where disabled young people are included. In Nouhza are homework classes and other activities with children. Father Magdi, an Egyptian Jesuit, is the priest in Nouzha and works for the Jesuit Refugee Service. The community is also home to Brother Michel (73) and a young Polish priest Andrzej who offered to help build Syria. Next to the church in the old town are two school buildings that used to belong to the Jesuits. One is completely broken, the other is slightly damaged: at this moment only the playground is used by playing children. Al Ard Al Ard is the centre that Father Frans founded outside the city of Homs. There was a vineyard and a farm where wine was made. In Al Ard people with intellectual disabilities were taken care of. Father Frans gave youth retreats and psychotherapy. Al Ard suffered badly from the war: the vineyards were damaged, the winery was destroyed; everything made of metal was demolished and sold as scrap. At the moment it is still too dangerous to think of reconstruction and staying the night is certainly not an option. Carefully agriculture and horticulture are being restarted. The Jesuit Order is prepared to invest in reconstruction, but not yet.  Jesuit Refugee Service - where the need is greatest The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), works in various countries in the Middle East: mainly in Lebanon and Iraq, and also in Jordan and Syria. In recent years JRS has provided much emergency aid: food and shelter. Last September the soup kitchen was stopped in Aleppo; when the need was greatest, 17,000 meals a day were made there. In the last year the emphasis has shifted to what is traditionally the strong side of JRS: education and psychosocial assistance.  In Syria JRS is active in medical care. Two small hospitals in Aleppo are run by JRS, including internal medicine, gynaecology and paediatrics. JRS also finances the laboratories, quite a few medicines and sometimes operations. In Syria a total of 240 people work for JRS, including three Jesuits. Many of these people have themselves been displaced and driven from their homes and land. More than 300 women and 800 children take part in activities in different cities: courses to learn a trade, psychological groups for trauma processing, self-help and other lessons.   Damascus - help and dialogue Two Jesuits in Damascus work for the JRS: Father Fouad comes from the region itself and Father Goncalo from Portugal. The third priest, Father Rami, was responsible for religious education, and he helped war victims who needed a new prosthesis. He also did a lot of counseling - he was trained as a psychoanalyst. In Damascus, a new centre was built that will have two focal points: education, especially for refugees, and interreligious dialogue: meetings between Christians, Druze, Alawites, and Muslims. Hopefully the building will be ready by 2020. Aleppo - training and community building  Two Jesuit priests are currently in Aleppo: Father Sami, who remained in his post throughout the war, and Father Alvaro from Mexico, who has just arrived. Like the above mentioned Fathers from Poland and Portugal, the latter responded to a call for volunteers for Syria made by Father General one and a half years ago. Father Sami has done a lot for students in recent years: he set up study places - "study zones" - where students can quietly study together with electricity, heating, WiFi and a printer. These are things that few young people have in the places where they live and survived. There are also tutoring and computer courses and he helps people to apply for jobs.  Antoine Audo sj, bishop of Aleppo for the Chaldean Christian, also lives and works in Aleppo. From 2011 to 2017 Bishop Audo chaired Caritas Syria which, thanks to the support of Caritas Internationalis' network plays an important role in humanitarian aid, particularly in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo. Caritas Syria has eight departments spread throughout the country to provide aid. Finally, there is the Midan centre in Aleppo. It started a century ago as a neighbourhood centre for Armenians. Ten years ago refugees were received from Iraq. In the recent war the centre was badly damaged. One part was demolished, another part was repaired, and the sports field will soon open again with new artificial grass. In the coming years, the building will mainly be used by JRS for education and community building. What will happen to Midan in the long term is still open.  So in 2019 there are ten Jesuits in Syria: three in Damascus, four in Homs and three in Aleppo. The number of employees is in the hundreds.  This video was made by the JRS in 2014:
From the 30th January to the 3rd February a meeting was held in Lebanon for recently ordained priests of the Province. On each day talks were given by various speakers touching  topics such as child abuse, the sexual life of the consecrated person as seen by a psychotherapist, and also confession. There were also times for sharing in groups. On the second day, various practical points were discussed, such as ordination and the preparation for its celebration. A good part of the third day was spent in sharing in small groups. A lay-person, Sandra Chaoul, came to give a talk about formation in Ignatian leadership. Among other things, she spoke about a formation session on communal discernment and apostolic planning. Next another lay-person, Hyam Abou Shedide, a journalist, spoke about the media and the fact that they touch the three fundamental centres of the human person: intellect, heart and instinct. The afternoon was dedicated to an outing and during the Mass the young priests renewed their vows. The participants appreciated the exchanges among themselves and with the animators. The spirit throughout was pleasant and brotherly.
On the 17th November 2018, four novices of the Near East and Maghreb Province, who finished their second year, and are now doing their Juniorate in Beirut, pronounced their first vows. These were Oussama Halim, Houssam Suleyman and Michael Ghobrial from Egypt and Mike Kassis from Syria. Fr. Dany Younes, the Provincial, presided the Mass assisted by Fr. Mourad Abou Seif who is the Master of Novices and Fr. Roney Gemayel, their present Superior, and a number of other Jesuits priests. The Mass was celebrated in the church of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayedet el Najat) at noon. During the homily, Fr. Dany spoke of four main points: a) our vows express our gratitude towards God the Father and Jesus Christ; b) beware of the grace you ask for, because if you ask for love of neighbor, you know the price of love, and if you ask to follow Christ you know where this will lead you, definitely to the Cross; love costs and glory is the ability to strive hard with joy. After the Mass, Fr. Roney Gemayel presented them with a cross. Then those presented we invited to a festive lunch. In the meantime, two other Novices, are doing their second year long experiment in Aleppo and Damascus.
After the ordination of two new priests in Lebanon during the months of June and July, it was Egypt’s turn. On the 31st of July, in the church of the College of the Holy Family, Mario Boulos was ordained a deacon by His Beatitude the Coptic Catholic Patriarch, Mgr. Ibrahim Ishaq. Then on the 23rd August, it was the turn of Fr. Joseph Nabil to be ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Assyut by Mgr. Kyrillos William, bishop of the diocese of Assyut, assisted by Fr. Provincial, Fr. Dany Younes SJ and a good number of Jesuits and diocesan priests. The cathedral was full of faithful who came expressly to celebrate their gratitude to Fr. Joseph who as a young layman had served for a number of years in the diocese and was greatly appreciated by all. His friends and ex-collaborators helped organise the ceremony and the festive dinner that followed the ordination. Two days later, Fr. Youssef Abdel Nour was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of the city of Minia, again in the south of Egypt, with the imposition of the hands of Mgr. Boutros Fahim, bishop of Minia, again assisted by Fr. Provincial and many Jesuits and diocesan priests. Some Jesuits came from Lebanon and France to assist at the two ordinations. This ordination too was followed by a festive dinner in the cathedral hall. Hungary On 25th of August was the priestly ordination of László Elek SJ in Miskolc.