Patrick Comerford with Archbishop Mouneer Anis at a recent USPG conference in High Leigh
The Province of Alexandria has become the 41st province or self-self-governing Church in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria officially became the 41st province of the Anglican Communion yesterday (29 June 2020).
The new province was previously known as the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and was then a diocese within the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
The first Primate of the new autonomous church is Archbishop Mouneer Anis, who will continue in this role and in his existing role as the Bishop of Egypt until his retirement next year (2020).
The new Province of Alexandria has four dioceses: Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Gambella (Ethiopia). It also covers ten countries: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. Morocco is included within the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe because to its proximity to Gibraltar.
The former Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa completed its transition into an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion after the move was approved at meeting of Anglican Primates in Jordan in January and by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.
The General Synod of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East approved the request to secede from its province, and the diocese then came under the temporary Metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who signed a Dead of Relinquishment legally inaugurating the new Province of Alexandria.
The new Province is named after Alexandria, the north Egyptian city that was home to one of the earliest branches of the Christian Church.
Archbishop Mouneer Anis said, ‘the early church in Alexandria has shaped the Christian thought of the whole world during the first millennium. It is our prayers that the new Province of Alexandria would do the same during the third millennium.’
The former Diocese of Egypt has played a vital role in inter-faith dialogue and in recent years has been helping refugees from South Sudan and other countries along it borders.
An international service of thanksgiving to mark the inauguration of the new Province will be held in Cairo at a later date. The Province of Alexandria has been allocated Sunday 2 August in this year’s Anglican Cycle of prayer – a date that had been allocated to the now-postponed Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.
Some years ago, when Archbishop Mouneer was the President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, he was a speaker at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), when he spoke about recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.
He was asked frank questions about the conflict in Libya, the state of affairs in the ‘Holy Land,’ and what Anglicans can do.
Archbishop Mouneer has visited Libya many times, and before his fall Colonel Gadafy had handed over to the Anglican Church ‘a wonderful 16th century church’ in Tripoli that had been renovated at a cost of $1 million.
Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict not just since the Israeli state was declared in 1948, but from very early on. Jerusalem is at the heart of the issue and at the heart of the conflict, he said, and we cannot ignore the place of Christians either. All three faiths have rights in the city. This is an international city, to which these three main religions should have free access. Both Jews and Muslims want exclusive access to Jerusalem, but a common-sense solution is required he said.
He spoke openly of the role of Anglicans as a small Church in every part of the Middle East. We have a bridging role between the Churches, as is being experienced in Egypt and Jerusalem, and in the Gulf, but Anglicans also have a bridging role between Christianity and Islam, and he believes Anglicans are the most active Church in dialogue in the region.
He provided an interesting analysis of the different Islamic groups in the Middle East, and pointed out that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East are peaceful, peace-loving moderate people, who have co-existed with Christians and Jews in the region for the past 14 centuries.
He offered interesting insights into the recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, and spoke with compassion and passion of the experiences of young people and of women.
Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis with the Coptic leader, the late Pope Shenouda III (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
At the USPG conference that year, Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the Coptic Orthodox Church, with 12 million members, is not only the biggest Church in Egypt, but is also the biggest Church in the Middle East. They are paying a heavy price, he said, and they remember that they were martyred in the first centuries and after the Islamic conquest, that they have suffered in the past, and that they have paid the price.
He offered interesting insights into the role of Turkey and its influence on many thinkers in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. He pointed out that Islam in Turkey is different, more moderate and more peaceful, that Arab countries are watching Turkey, and, he suggested then, they were thinking Turkey’s model could be a good one.
I first got to know Archbishop Mouneer during working visits to Egypt around 2003 and 2004, when I was working on a resource pack, including a DVD, on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Later, he visited Ireland, including Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. He took part in one of the ‘Discovery’ services in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, I brought him to the mosque in Clonskeagh, and he and his family were guests in my home in Dublin.
Archbishop Mouneer Anis spent 26 years in medical practice before becoming a bishop. Speaking at that USPG conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon, he drew on his own experiences as a doctor and a bishop in Egypt.
A pressing need in the 21st century is the need for health care, which is a basic human right and which underpins the millennium development goals. As Anglicans, he said, we need to be involved in restoring wholeness, and to follow in the steps of Jesus who sent his disciples to heal the sick and preach the kingdom.
Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the healing ministry of Christ was linked with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and the outcome of healing always was that people give glory to God. When the Church offers healing, we walk in the steps of Christ and fulfil his mission, offering a practical response to the command to love our neighbour.
He also recalled the beginnings of the medical mission of the Anglican Church in Egypt, which is traced back to Dr Frank Harpur, a TCD-trained doctor and CMS missionary from Ireland who is well-known for eradicating the parasite enclostomi in Egypt.
Dr Harpur began working on the Nile on a floating house boat that he used as a hospital, visiting villages on the banks of the Nile and in the Nile delta, treating villagers. From this work, the Harpur Memorial Hospital was built in Menouf in 1910. ‘And they are still talking about Harpur,’ said Dr Mouneer, a former director of the hospital.
Providing figures on the state of the health of the world’s children, he told that year’s USPG conference: ‘Looking at all these sad figures, the Church cannot be silent.’ The work may be like a drop of water in the ocean, but we should do our best to relieve the suffering of people, in that way becoming partakers in Christ’s mission and compassion, he said.
We need to translate the good news of the Gospel into action, Archbishop Mouneer said. ‘There is an abundance of preaching in the Church, but the world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it.’
He said health care is showing the Gospel in action. He recalled that he is asked frequently by Muslim friends in Egypt when they see the work of Christian-run hospitals, why Christians care in such a way. He answers because Jesus taught us to love everyone, and because he loved everyone. Love involves action and sacrifice. Healing and health are not only physical but holistic. The healing ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and practising medicine is a calling and not a job.
Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis in Christ Church Cathedral during a visit to Dublin