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Susanna Akram, 25, joined the group as a toddler, as did her sister. Her mother, Mary Farouk, also assists with various church programs that serve the deaf community.

“When Susanna and her sister were 3, I told myself, if they will not be able to live with me with [spoken] words, I could live with them with sign language,” Mrs. Farouk says.

Ms. Akram attended training in Lebanon two years ago and now assists younger group members, leading in prayers and then hosting one of the workshops.

“Deaf people have a lot of dreams, but to no avail,” Ms. Akram says.

“The deaf are absent from their own environment,” Father Nassif adds, “because there is not enough attention given to their condition.”

Father Nassif has a keen awareness of the special needs that often go unmet, especially at the margins of society. In addition to his work with the deaf community, he has spearheaded a number of other local initiatives, including a prison ministry.

In Egypt, he says, there are many faults in the popular understanding of disabilities in general. Deaf people may be viewed as lesser in intelligence or fitness for employment.

“They are normal people, like us,” he says, adding that they merely face a communication gap.

The Coptic Catholic priest believes the church can and must play a greater role in assisting such underserved communities. “Churches in general don’t have priests who speak sign language,” he says.

One of Father Nassif’s dreams is to build a school for deaf students in Minya. Although the ministry has the necessary experience and trained personnel, gathering financial resources remains the principal challenge.

Nevertheless, through this and countless other efforts across Egypt, the Coptic Catholic Church — though numerically small — works tirelessly to elevate lives and promote the flourishing of communities.

But it is a challenge that the church is facing with determination and a renewed sense of resolve.

In August 2013, amid clashes with security forces, supporters of ousted President Muhammad Morsi formed mobs and attacked Christian institutions across Egypt. More than 80 church and religious service buildings were looted and razed.

Among those buildings burnt was the Franciscan Sisters’ School in the town of Beni Suef, about 60 miles south of Cairo.

For more than 120 years, this primary school opened its doors to all members of the community, regardless of social class or religion. However, amid a conflagration of sectarian violence, the cross atop the building became a target.

In the reception room of the school, the sisters recount the horror they felt that day.

“They gave no choice to the four sisters at the building,” says Sister Nagat Samaan, superior of the community of women religious.

“The sisters fled without knowing where to go. The closest place that took them in was the home of a Muslim woman who used to work in the school.”

Sister Nagat recalls with sorrow the first time she set foot in the building after the attack. “The scene was very painful,” she says. “They destroyed and stole everything. I don’t want to remember it.”

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