Perhaps God has given me the gift of foresight. Last week I wrote a short post on St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, and a letter of protection that was issued to the Christians there by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, himself over 1,300 years ago.
St. Catherine’s is the oldest continuously functioning monastery in the Christian world dating from the mid-6th century A.D. Sadly, the Eqyptian authorities have ordered St. Catherine’s to close without warning due to the lawlessness that prevails in the Sinai these days. I am providing a link to a news article below in the English language Arab press that describes its current predicament.
I visited St. Catherine’s as a Christian pilgrim in late 2010. Four months later the revolution which overthrew Eqypt’s president Hosni Mubarak broke out, and began the current troubles. My visit to that Holy place was one of several highlights in a very eventful journey. I feel very badly for the local Arab residents of St. Catherine’s town who were already very poor. It seems that settlements always spring up around monasteries, and there is a tribe of Arabs who have protected and lived around St. Catherine’s for centuries. Aside from working the farm, and providing services to pilgrims and tourists, they also assist pilgrims up nearby Mt. Sinai, often by camel, those ships of the desert. I remember waking after midnight and setting out on an unforgettable journey to the summit of Mt. Sinai by camel caravan. My driver was named Muhammad (what else did you expect?) and our camel was very sure footed. If anyone ever has the opportunity to climb a mountain by camel in the Eqyptian moonlight at 3:00AM, I highly recommend it. I feel badly for those local Arabs because the ongoing conflict has ended the streams of pilgrims and tourists, and forced them to sell their camels because they cannot feed them anymore. Those people have now lost their livelihood. The monastery itself is also in a dire straits due to the loss of financial support from visiting pilgrims. St. Catherine’s which has survived since 534 A.D. is fast becoming collateral damage in the current Mideast turmoil.
May God protect the monks and the local population of St. Catherine’s, and grant them the ability to survive these difficult times, and recover once the danger is past.
The full article can be found below, courtesy of Al-Monitor.com: