Hearing of a jail for “special cases,” young people from the Focolare Movement decided to investigate. At the jail they found men, women and children, mostly Christians from Eritrea.
Their story was one of incredible pain. In an attempt to escape the difficult situation in their own land and believing they were being brought to a better place, they discovered instead that they had fallen into the trap of human organ trafficking and would soon be among the anonymous dead. When they realized this, they fled over the border and took refuge in Egypt. Without documents they were arrested and jailed. This is where the Focolare’s young people met them waiting for a way back to Eritrea.
Abdo who is a firsthand witness, recounts: “With the help of a missionary and the young people from the Focolare Movement we were able to go into the jail. We were enthusiastic about offering help, but we never imagined the suffering we would touch with our own hands. There was a scarcity of food and hygiene; and medical care was nonexistent inside the jail that had once been an army barracks.
The young people were shocked to see children there, even small children. One child had been hit by a stray bullet as he was making his way across the border.
“It’s impossible to express the deep pain we felt in the face of such great suffering,” Abdo continues. “With our eyes filled with tears, we asked what evil thing these people had done that merited them to be in such a situation.”
But the young people didn’t lose heart. They split into groups, listened to people’s stories, tried to bring help and hope in God’s love. They provided material assistance for the most urgent needs.
“Some needed medicine, others clothing or a telephone in order to contact their families and inform them where they had ended. But their first need was for someone to visit them, and show an interest in them.
The people running the jail told us that the main problem was food. Abdo recounts: “One day, we prepared a hundred small containers of kosheri, a typical Egyptian dish made with lentils, pasta and rice. Our meeting ended as usual with a moment of intense prayer. They were singing the psalms in their own languages, with one soul and one voice. They sang with such faith and strength that it enveloped us all in a deep spiritual atmosphere. It was very moving!”
Since then the visits have continued, involving Youth For A United World members from other Egyptian cities, such as Cairo and Sohag, in this strong experience. “Several Eritreans have already returned to their homeland, but new inmates who have been the victims of the same dramatic situation continue to arrive at the jail. Often we feel our powerlessness in not being able to do or give more, but we entrust them all to God who can do all things. Perhaps we’re only being asked to make this small contribution towards building a more united and fraternal world.”