CAIRO, Egypt — Father Sama’an has possibly the most unusual parish
in the world. It is located on Muqattam Mountain, home to 30,000 garbage
collectors or — zabbaleen — in Cairo. But this extraordinary man has
brought a wonderful beauty to the ashes of this area teeming of narrow
dirt lanes — a parish church that is a modern marvel not just for the
garbage collectors, but for all who visit it.
His incredible “Cave Cathedral” is the largest church in the Middle
East. It seats 20,000 and would do justice to the Hollywood Bowl with
modern sound system, and closed-circuit television. It is spectacular,
huge overhanging rock covers most of the amphitheater. The church is
affiliated with the Coptic Orthodox church that has about 6 million
adherents in Egypt, or 13.5 percent of the total population.
As word has spread through the Middle East about the Muqattam “Cave
Cathedral,” it has drawn together evangelicals, Orthodox, and Catholics.
Its pulpit has attracted not only the Coptic Orthodox pope, but also
Clad in Orthodox garb and sporting a beard, this humble cleric –
who preaches like Billy Graham and also prays for the sick — met with
and a few friends recently before the regular Thursday services, which
attended by thousands of believers from Cairo. They left the village’s
pungent odors and crowded into the cavern for a night of vibrant singing
with the help of a praise choir.
Before the service began, Father Sama’an prayed for a
sick young woman in his office. It was almost like a
scene from the film, “The Exorcist” as he stomped on the floor and
commanded spirits to leave her.
After it was over, as Father Sama’an’s sermon started quietly, the
voice of the humble priest slowly turned into thunder. Although it is an
Orthodox church, the message sounds like Billy Graham’s.
Many in the congregation had spent the day collecting and sorting
through a mountain of garbage. Cairo’s 14 million people daily produce
estimated 7,000 tons of garbage, but municipal and private trucks
less than 50 percent of the city’s refuse. During the past 35 years,
thousands of Christians, fleeing poverty in rural Upper Egypt, have
congregated into villages within Cairo’s garbage dumps, collecting trash
and recycling metal, plastic, paper, and bones. Although the villages
disease-prone and poverty-stricken, the Christian community has
emerged, as believers have developed schools, health clinics and
Through an interpreter, the priest explained that his ministry began.
“It started because of one Egyptian garbage collector,” he said.
“Through him, I became a changed man and eventually a worker for the
“I was living in Cairo, and was a counselor in one of the big
companies. I had lost one of my precious watches. It was very expensive
and I was very sad. One day, I received a knock at my door. A man in a
long dirty dress, carrying a bag, asked me if I had lost something. I
asked him how he knew that I lost something. I was afraid of him. The
garbage man told me he had asked at all of the apartments in the
and everyone had denied that they lost something and when I took the
garbage from here and while separating the garbage at home, I found
something. ‘So, sir, please tell me what you lost.’ I told him I lost a
“He took it out and said, ‘Is this the one you lost?’ I was
shocked. I told him to please come in and asked him his name and where
lived. I also asked him, ‘Why did didn’t you take the watch for
He replied, ‘My Christ told me to be honest until death.’ ‘You are a
Christian?’ I asked him and he said he was. I didn’t know Christ at the
time, but I told him that I saw Christ in him. This watch was very
expensive, it cost about $11,000.
“I told the garbage collector, ‘Because of what you have done and
your great example, ‘I will worship the Christ you are worshipping.’”
So began the Christian life of one Farahat, who eventually became
an Orthodox priest and took the name Father Sama’an, after an
11th-century saint. He began visiting the Muqattam area and was
confronted with a terrible state of affairs there, with drunkenness,
sickness and violence. So he began to emphasize the need for repentance.
“Only if our spiritual life with God is improved, God will provide for
well-being,” he told Kees Hulsman for an article that appeared in
Christianity Today. Egyptian physicians began providing free medical
assistance, and Sama’an continued to preach a message of repentance.
“People have to give their lives to Christ,” he asserts.
The priest said that when he first arrived in the area, “all they
knew was to drink, gamble, and live in sin. This saddened my heart. How
come they are in Cairo and do not know Jesus Christ? I started to have a
burden on my heart for this place.”
Father Sama’an said the first thing he asked God for was “His plan
for this place and towards these people.” He went on, “On Sunday, at
in the morning, I came here to the top of the mountain to a cave to
I started to pray for three weeks. After the third week, on March 15,
1974, in the middle of the day, I asked the Lord, ‘Why am I here, what
your plan for these people? The people here are very hard and difficult.
They live being drunk all of the time. Just lead me Lord.’ While praying
that, there was a big storm of wind, the papers from the garbage were
flying all over, millions of papers, and one paper fell right in front
me, and I was bowing, praying and I picked it up. It was a page from the
Holy Bible. It was very strange. Of millions of pieces of paper, why
one? It was from Acts 18:9, ‘Don’t be afraid, because I am with you,
and never stop because there are many who’ll listen.”
He said, “At that point I started to work here for four years in
homes and on the streets, in open areas here in this area, then meetings
homes, and then in bigger churches, then in this church. And four years
after, the Lord chose me to be a priest. As the work started to
in 1978, and step by step, now is what you see from the work of the Holy
“It’s not our work, or by our strength, but by His power says the
Lord our host. And all this work is the work of the Lord. The secret is
the Holy Spirit. There are hundreds of workers with me.”
He explained that beside the “big” meetings, they have other
meetings at the cave church, like the Monday morning meeting in the
chapels also carved out of stone with huge stone carvings depicting
from the life of Christ on its walls. “This is attended by 700 women,”
said. “There are prayer meetings, young men’s meetings, and family
What is so extraordinary about the church is that you will see a
Mercedes winding its way through the garbage area and up into the cave
church at the top of the mountain. “People from all backgrounds come to
our services,” he explained. “God’s aim for me is to help all of the
people here in this city.
Although some wealthy people do come to the services, most of the
work is among the garbage collectors. The priest said that he believes
very much in the supernatural aspects of ministry, especially among the
poor. “The Lord is doing miracles and wonders here,” he said. “There
people risen from this and a lot of people were healed and set free from
demons. Every day God anoints us and His work. At the same time, if this
work was done among wealthy people, they would think with their mind,
speak with their brain, but the simple people within our midst put their
right out in front of the wise people.
“In 1974, a 6-year-old boy who somehow got behind a big truck
bringing water had his head crushed under a wheel. His head was
completely flat and he was dying. His family took him to the hospital.
That day we held a meeting at night and we had no singing, no speaking.
We just prayed only for the boy. We prayed, ‘Give the boy a new head.
Amen.’ The next day a doctor at the hospital said that unless there was
a miracle, he’s
completely dead. The boy was lying in bed, his nose and ears gushing
blood, tiny breaths, and his mother beside him crying. We kept praying,
‘Lord, give Adam a new head. We believe.’
“Nine days later, we went to see Adam, they said he had been sent
home. We went to his house to see him. He was not sleeping or lying in
bed, he was playing with the other kids. His new head was now bigger
his old one. And today, he’s a great worker for the Lord, he’s married
has two children, boy and girl, and his head is still a witness. This is
our God. We did not heal him with science or brains, but by faith. God
will do the impossible by faith.”
Dan Wooding, an award-winning British journalist and author of
some 38 books, is a contributing editor to WorldNetDaily.