12 June 2015
In Cairo, a young zabbaleen, or garbage picker, transports by a donkey cart his day’s scavenging to be sorted and sifted for anything useful. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The newspaper for the Archdiocese of New York, Catholic New York, features this week an interview with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reflecting on his recent trip to Iraq and Egypt:
Msgr. Kozar said he found the same strong faith among the Christians in Egypt. They face a different, but no less worrisome range of problems, including the perception by their Muslim neighbors that they were supportive of, if not complicit in, the military overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi nearly two years ago.
In the aftermath of that coup, mobs attacked Christians and burned their churches.
“About 55 church compounds were burned, destroyed, and I visited four or five of these,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And although there is a great improvement in having this government, we feel more protected but by no means are we free of violence or free of danger.”
Unlike other parts of the Middle East where better-educated Christians are at least better financially positioned, Christians in Egypt are often at the bottom of the social strata.
Part of the reason Msgr. Kozar visited Egypt was to show CNEWA’s solidarity for this marginalized, impoverished community. On the outskirts of Cairo is a municipal dump and on the fringes of that dump live 900,000 people in a squalid shantytown. They make their living picking through the garbage. These “garbage pickers” are overwhelmingly Christian. There are no public utilities and no water, no sewers and no electricity. You won’t find the shantytown on any government map.
“They collect garbage in donkey carts or on their backs and they hand-sort it,” Msgr. Kozar explained. “Food they can’t eat, they give to the pigs. And they sort out plastic. They have crude, hand-cranked machines to mulch plastic for recycling, same thing with aluminum.”
Read more and check out additional photos at Catholic New York.
And to learn more about the plight of the garbage pickers of Egypt, read “Salvaging Dignity” in the September 2012 edition of ONE.