In Memory of Dr. Helmy Guirguis
- Published: Saturday, 07 March 2015 07:51
- Written by Lord David Alton
In Memory of Dr. Helmy Guirguis
By Lord David Alton
- Published on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 09:27
Remarks by Lord Alton of Liverpool at a Memorial Service for Dr. Helmy Guirguis at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 6.30 pm, March 3rd 2015.
In 1997, when I was raised to the Peerage as a Baron, and entered the House of Lords, one of my young children asked me "Dad, does it mean we get a castle?".
No, I patiently explained not even a salary.
But, I told him, that thanks to Her Majesty the Queen, Garter-King-of-Arms, would be talking to me about my right to a coat of arms.
What should go on a coat-of-arms, my son asked?
Symbols, and a motto which mean something to you and which connect with you, your family, and the beliefs which animate you. So, we talked about what these might be.
Ten years earlier, while a member of the House of Commons, I had been one of the founders of Jubilee Campaign - a charity which, among other things, campaigns for freedom of religion and belief - rights conferred under Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Jubilee had been founded in response to the murder, incarceration and egregious violations of the human rights of countless men and women in the former Soviet Union.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall Jubilee wanted to refocus its work and asked me to travel to Egypt and to publish a report into the discrimination experienced by Egypt's Copts.
It was the visit which first opened my eyes to the wonderful story of this apostolic church, rooted in the earliest accounts of Christianity. I was privileged to visit St.Mark's in Cairo and to meet the late Pope Shenouda.
That visit opened my eyes to the suffering and persecution of the Copts and to the remarkable humanitarian work of men and women like Maggie Gobran, whom I wrote about in my book Signs of Contradiction.
That visit led me to meet UK Copts - represented so well by Bishop Angaelos - and to my first encounter with the wonderful Dr. Helmy Guirguis. I have been proud to be associated with them ever since.
My only regret in travelling to the international Coptic Conference in Washington, last year, was that Helmy's health made it impossible for him to be there with me.
So what has this to do with my son's question?
When, in 1997, Garter-King-Of-Arms asked me what symbols I wished to incorporate into my coat-of-arms I told Helmy of my intention to include the Egyptian ankh cross.
The ankh is the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. Some say it represents the giving of life.
Although it has its origins in an antiquity which predates Christianity its symbolism at the heart of the new dispensation represented by the Holy One who came as a child to Egypt and was crucified at Golgotha.
Nailed to His cross is all our suffering, our sins, our mortal failings and our pain. It is the cross which gives life and truly represents eternal life.
Along with the ankh cross, for my coat of arms, I chose two words as my family motto. They are the words which were given to Moses; Choose Life. They were words which were at the heart of eveything which Helmy did and for which he stood.
I am told that in ancient Egyptian mythology the ankh means that once the pharaohs, or, indeed, any other person dies, their heart is weighed on a scale against the feather of truth.
If the heart is heavier than the feather, it means that the person commited too many bad deeds in their life.
I have no doubt that when his heart is weighed on the scale of truth, and his work written into the Book of Life, Helmy's heart will be lighter than a feather because in all that he did - as a doctor to his patients and as a physician to a sick society - he never abjured the truth. He understood to what suffering the failure to detect the symptoms of this malady would lead.
As a doctor - and, indeed, as a patient - Helmy knew a thing or two about the heart.
In his professional life he clung to the ancient duty of the physician - that if you cannot help you do not harm.
He also knew that the heart of the human problem is the human heart.
That is why he used his considerable talents to promote an alternative medicine to the hatred and sectarianism which seems to characterise life in much of the Middle East today.
He was an apostle of peace, respect, tolerance and co-existence. But he also knew that we had a duty to tell the truth and to stand up for those who are voiceless and powerless.
The consequences of ignoring the signs of disease have been seen most vividly, in the aftermath of Helmy's death, in the shocking beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. They went to their deaths as martyrs, with the gentle name of Jesus on their lips.
The most fitting memorial to them; the most fitting memorial to Egypt's Copts - who in an orgy of violence, reminiscent of Europe's Kristalnacht, have seen their churches, homes and business desecrated and attacked; the most fitting memorial to members of the ancient churches being slain across the Middle East by ISIS and their fellow travellers; the most fitting memorial to a truly good man, will be for others, from the next generation, to be inspired by the work of Dr.Helmy Guirguis, and to now take up his mantle.
May he strengthen our resolve and deepen our own hearts. May he rest in peace.