I was watching “Trashopolis” on History Channel a while back and they did an hour long feature on Cairo. Trashopolis is a 5 part documentary program that takes an investigate look at the several iconic cities through the lens of their waste/trash.
In the episode featuring Cairo I was amazed by their “Garbage City” or “Manshiyat Naser”. Manshiyat Naser is a slum settlement on the outskirts of Cairo where several generations of the poorest Egyptians have collected garbage for recycling (before recycling was even understood). These trash collectors, the Zabbaleen, will criss-cross the entire city to collect garbage and return it all to Manshiyat Naser for repurposing. The interesting thing about Manshiyat Naser is that it is primarily occupied by Coptic Christians, who can often face persecution outside of their garbage enclave.
This interesting aspect of Cairo was entertaining but it didn’t really captivate me enough to write about it. However, I just recently stumbled upon some pictures of St. Simon’s/St. Samaan Coptic Church, which is located in Manshiyat-Naser, and it is not only stunning but it is the largest Christian church the entire Middle East (seats 15,000 people).
St.Simon’s has several cathedrals (indoor, outdoor and inside a cave) as well as a monastery that has been used for several centuries. Also known as Cave Church, it is difficult to reach as it’s not only embedded into the base of the Mokattam Hill but you can only access it by navigating your way through the labyrinth of the Garbage City. Interestingly enough, the higher elevations of the Mokattam Hill lead to the ancient City of the Dead as well as affluent Cairo suburbs.
The reason for me sharing this little “factoid” type post is that I’ve recently been thinking about lot the church in society. The church seems to claw out a sense of relevance and significance within a culture that doesn’t really feel the need for its presence any longer. The church in turn fears that it’s “only one generation away” from disappearing. The truth of the matter is that the church, the community of God, will never disappear. If it can remain vibrant and present in at the base of the hill of the dead in the back corner of the garbage city – facing persecution and alienation for centuries than I’m sure it can weather some South Park jokes and the rampant assumptions that all it’s good for is bake sales, senior’s bridge and hosting AA groups.