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“The work they normally do is cooking and taking care of the house,” she says of the workshop participants. “Now, they are making things with their own hands. They are creating things and that gives them more confidence in themselves.” What’s more, she adds, the women take great pleasure in both learning and practicing technical crafts.

The parish offers these services to all members of the community, irrespective of background. “We are doing this without any discrimination with regards to religion,” she says, adding that “at the service center, there is no Muslim or Christian. We are all the same: Egyptians.”

Mrs. Abdo regards this spirit of tolerance and peaceful coexistence as vital. Her own experience of conversion has helped her to encourage interfaith encounter; as a young girl, she says, she had heard negative things about Catholics. “But then, when I went to the Coptic Catholic parish church and listened to the Divine Liturgy, I found it was practically the same.”

This discovery led her to realize isolation and separation can lead people to emphasize differences, even when common ground is far greater.

“Here in Izbet Chokor, our relations with our Muslim neighbors are very good. You can see peaceful coexistence in very small acts,” she says. “During the Islamic month of fasting, or Ramadan, some Muslims wish us ‘Ramadan Kareem’ (noble Ramadan) and we respond, ‘Allahu Akram’ (God the most noble and generous one), the traditional Islamic response.”

Some, she says, are surprised; all are delighted.

“I am very sad when I see what is happening to Christians in the region,” she says of the rise of intolerance in Egypt and elsewhere. “I also pray for the Christians in other countries; I light a candle at every liturgy to pray for them.”

Challenges such as these, however, bring Mrs. Abdo back to the importance of faith — of listening for God’s voice, and of acting in accordance. This, she says, gives her strength, even in the darkest hours.

“After every bad experience, God gives me the power to overcome it. So, every hardship that comes along, I can overcome it because of my faith — God helps me,” she says. “The bad experiences in my life have made me stronger.”

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A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.

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