CAIRO – An ancient church is coming under fire for trying to help its single male and female members get married.
The matchmaking program at the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in the southern Cairo district of Maadi asks members who want to get married to fill out a form with information about themselves and the type of life partner they want to have.
Those managing the program classify the applicants and then try to match men and women who suit each other. They then organize meetings, and applicants who are attracted to each other can take serious engagement steps under the supervision of the church.
“I totally reject such a program because it demeans Christian girls and treats them as a commodity,” Kareem Kamal, a leading Christian activist, told Al-Monitor. “This is the first time the church plays such a role.”
However, many other churches are jumping into the matchmaking field, motivated by a sharp decline in the number of marriages among Egypt’s Christians, the Arab Middle East’s largest minority. A Christian getting married these days is becoming a rarity, observers say.
Statistics about marriages in the Christian community are hard to come by, but the same observers say the rate is falling dramatically. “There is a noticeable decline in the number of marriages among the nation’s Christians,” Christian lawyer Mamdouh Ramzi told Al-Monitor. “It all boils down to current economic conditions.”
Egypt has been performing well economically, according to official figures about economic growth, the exports and production. However, the same growth has been accompanied by a continual rise in commodity prices.
“The prices of food and housing are rising dramatically, while salaries remain the same,” Nadia Radwan, a sociology professor at Port Said University, told Al-Monitor. “This makes it difficult for a large number of men and women to get married.”
Marriage has its own specificity in Egypt. A bridegroom has to buy or rent a flat, buy most of the furniture for the marriage and pay most of the marriage costs. Radwan says many young men need to save for at least ten years to get married.
Covid-19 has had an impact as well. In his bid to curb infections, Christian Pope Tawadros II decided in April last year to limit the number of people who can attend wedding ceremonies at churches to six, in addition to a priest and a deacon.
The priests of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Maadi say that parents who pray at the church requested the matchmaking program. “Most of the churches have similar programs,” a church priest told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “We give the chance to young men and women to know each other under the supervision of the church.”
Apart from containing personal information and a personal photo of the people applying within the program, the form filled out by these applicants also includes information about the different personal, physical and educational qualifications of the partners they are seeking.
The church also organizes seminars and invites all applicants to discuss a wide range of social and religious issues. As they speak, those attendees demonstrate their educational levels and some of their personal traits. Afterward, the men can to go to the organizers and request a date with one of the women present.
The St. Mark’s Church, in Maadi as well, has a similar matchmaking program. Over 400 people attend, according to Isis Habib, a church worker responsible for organizing these events.
“Males usually outnumber females, who are always shy to attend such events,” Habib said. She added that men and women of all ages go to her church to participate in the matchmaking program.
The Coptic Orthodox Church, which is followed by the vast majority of Egypt’s Christians, refused to comment on the matchmaking program. However, the church sponsors another program to help men and women at the marriage age select the right partner. Senior church priests talk to youngsters about the person they should select to spend the rest of their lives with.
Some churches, according to Ramzi, offer financial support to marriage aspirants.
Nevertheless, this angers people like Kamel. “The church has a religious role to play and it should not deviate from this role,” Kamal said. “Churches play a social role, including by running schools and hospitals, but they cannot turn into dating agencies.”