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Victoria priests offer insight into Egypt

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Jan. 30, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 29, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

Nelly Leheta, right, of Cairo, protests along with others, outside the Egyptian Consulate on Westheimer Road on Sunday in Houston. She recently arrived to visit family in Houston from her home in Cairo.

Only a few months ago, a pair of religious priests formerly stationed at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Victoria returned to the United States from service work in Cairo.

It was there the Rev. Alfonso Serna and the Rev. Alberto Rodriguez provided spiritual and educational assistance to more than 500 Sudanese refugee families. Serna lived in Cairo for about one year, while Rodriguez worked in the city for six months.

"My experience was very positive. I feel very sad about what's happening there," Serna said of the rioting. "I never thought it would happen."

While living in Egypt, Serna and Rodriguez became acutely aware of the country's thick political tensions growing among citizens. But neither predicted the city would erupt in deadly chaos and rioting mere months after they returned to the States.

"I never thought it would be like this," Rodriguez said. "People talked about politics, money and gas prices going up, but not about riots."

Serna said he, too, overheard conversations of political frustrations among citizens and said some of his friends even chose to leave Egypt to escape decades of what they described as governmental mismanagement by the country's president, Hosni Mubarak.

"I noticed a lot of discomfort in society because of the political situation, and some of my friends had to flee the country because they were not happy with the regime," Serna said.

The weeklong protesting efforts have resulted in the deaths of about 100 people and hundreds of injuries and arrests.

To end the rioting, which has now spread to Suez and Alexandria, Egyptian citizens demanded Mubarak's resignation from his three-decade-long post.

"They don't care about Mubarak," Rodriguez said. "It's stupid and absurd to be in power for 30 years, and now he's grooming his son to be in power behind him."

When asked if Serna was relieved to have returned before the riots broke out, he said, "In part yes and in part no because the service and need for Christian community is much needed over there right now."

Though Rodriguez plans to return to Egypt in the future, he is less than optimistic that anything can be done to resolve tensions there.

"I don't see a way out of it. It's out of hand," he said. "It's too little, too late."

Serna, however, said he's hopeful a much-needed change will arise from the unrest.

"I've been following everything, and I've been in touch with a few of my friends over there and they all sound like they're positive this is going to change things for the better," Serna said. "I hope things get better over there."

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