Coptic priests taking the old school approach to mental illness? I wonder if Bob Larson has access to a Mercedes.
Possessed Egyptian Muslims are turning to Coptic priests to expel their demons the old-fashioned way—through the power of Christ
It’s 6 p.m. in Cairo’s Garbage City slum, and hundreds of people have gathered outside St. Sama’an Cathedral for the evening service. The crowd, which has been building for hours, is waiting patiently for Father Sama’an Ibrahim, the famous Coptic priest and founder of the church. It’s Thursday, which as everyone in Garbage City knows, is exorcism night.
The majority of the people gathered in this packed courtyard are not actually Christian. They’re Muslims who have come in the hopes that Father Sama’an can expel their demons. Groups of women in hijabs huddle together in silence, and every 30 minutes or so, a minibus arrives bearing more pilgrims. As darkness approaches, you can feel the anticipation in the air. One woman lets out a bloodcurdling scream, and two of her friends rush over to quiet her down.
Hamid, an old Muslim man who is uncomfortable giving his surname, sits on a bench, his crutches propped up next to him. “I am here because my body feels like someone is shaking me,” he says. “I want to meet Father Sama’an.” Hamid, like many here, didn’t come by himself. Two young Coptic women from Cairo found him on the side of the road and decided to help him get here. “There are bad spirits that live inside others,” says Vivian, 17, one of the women. She believes Father Sama’an’s abilities “come from God.”
Carved into the rock face of Mokattam Mountain, St. Sama’an Cathedral itself is more like a stadium, with seats that rise up into the sky to form an echoing amphitheater. As the crowd makes its way inside, Arabic hymns start to filter out through the large central entrance tunnel. At around 7 p.m., Father Sama’an, an old, bespectacled man with a flowing gray beard starts making his way across the courtyard to a Mercedes that has pulled up directly in front of the tunnel. This will be is his ride to the altar. The crowd makes a path for him and waves.