Our friend still stood by our table holding a couple of plates he had cleared away. We asked him to sit with us but he shook his head. He seemed to be staring at some spot across the room and finally said, “Ah yes, we do indeed revere the Mother of God as all Christians should. In my country not only Christians cherish her, but also Muslims and others as well. A few words on our history are necessary first. You may remember in 1967 after only six days of fighting we were defeated by a small country we supposed to be inferior to Egypt in every way; in size, might, and wealth. The Six – Day War with Israel brought us to our knees both militarily and physically. You see our Christian population both Orthodox and Catholic had joined the materialistic ways of the pagan world.”
He sighed before continuing. (Admittedly we did recall the war but not the details of it.) “We were in dire need and began praying for our very survival. One year later in 1968 a Sunni Muslim passed by St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church where I lived in Zeitoun, a suburb of Cairo. He saw a woman on the roof and thought she was about to commit suicide so he reported the sighting to the police. It was believed by observers to be the Blessed Mother. That was the beginning of numerous apparitions seen by millions from April 1968 to 1971. Investigations could not explain the appearances of the luminous figure. The witnesses included Christians, Muslims and even Nassar, the leader of our country and also a Marxist. The head of the Orthodox Coptics sanctioned the apparitions and years later Pope John Paul 11 visited the sight. The outpouring of believers was widely reported in our papers but not in western news as I understand.”
My husband said, “We had no idea of this. Did the Catholic Church also sanction the apparitions.”
“No, Paul VI said it should be left to the Orthodox Coptics because St Mary’s was not a Catholic Church. Catholics are much fewer in number in my country. One time Blessed Mary came bearing an olive branch and we knew she was our path to peace in the Middle East. She gives us hope but my people suffer and Christians are persecuted daily.”
We were enthralled by our host’s revelation and speechless for a moment. I finally asked, “Is there any more to the story?”
“You don’t want to spend the beautiful day here in this dark restaurant. Just one more thing I must tell you. Zeitoun has been known for centuries as the place Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed when they fled Herod. St Mary’s is known as the actual spot where they resided in Egypt.” Reluctantly we bid our acquaintance good-by and travelled on down the windy river road.
One Sunday afternoon a short time later we decided to have lunch in the same restaurant; however, when we arrived, the parking area was empty and a for sale sign posted. I could not help but hum that theme song from The Twilight Zone: duda, duda… Was the Meeting an apparition only experienced Once Upon a Time?
Note: This post is not fiction. Reflecting on this encounter we realize the natural world and the spiritual realm are entwined and designed by the One…who knows when I sit and when I rise… and when I stop along the way for lunch. Psalm 139:2 NIV