Coptic youth movements started to appear at the end of the nineteenth century under Pope CYRIL V (1874-1927). The 112th patriarch of the Coptic church stressed the importance of religious education and moral teachings, among the young especially. Archdeacon HABIB JIRJIS played a significant role in encouraging such trends.
In 1900, with the help of some of his friends, the archdeacon formed a youth organization with branches all over Egypt. Its aim was to provide Christian education to Christian students attending public schools. Habib Jirjis was especially interested in the students of the CLERICAL COLLEGE, in whom he saw the future leaders of these movements.
In 1909 in Fajjalah, a district of Cairo, a special center was dedicated to youth services. It later became the Society of the Friends of the Bible, whose founder, Basili Butrus, was a graduate of the Clerical College. Concentrating on youth activities, its branches spread all over Egypt. By 1928 the students of the Clerical College had formed the Society for the Spread of the Word of Salvation, with nine centers in Cairo aimed at young people. Some of these centers were later turned into churches.
In 1937 another group of the Clerical College founded a similar association, Soldiers of the Coptic Church, with eighty branches extending from Giza, south of Cairo, to many of the northern dioceses. The main purpose of these centers was to promote Christian knowledge and church attendance among isolated Christian communities that had become Christian in name only. Special attention was given to those who lived in rural areas away from established churches.
Weekly gatherings were organized for religious instruction and the distribution of free Bibles. General education was also provided for the eradication of illiteracy by establishing modest centers with libraries. The appearance of Sunday schools in 1927 played an important role in offering fundamental Christian education in areas where it was most needed.
In 1946, the Society of Coptic Students and the Sunday School Organization jointly issued a list of aims, rules, and regulations for their associations. Different groups were assigned to various activities, to serve the religious, spiritual, social, intellectual, artistic, and athletic needs of Coptic youth. This created an unprecedented religious awareness among young men and young women, resulting in the mobilization of a youth force dedicated to religious and social services.
Young people, many of them university graduates, participated in these activities. Some joined monasteries and became monks. Some were raised to the rank of bishop and archbishop. Pope SHENOUDA III was chosen from these groups in 1971. He later established a special bishopric for the supervision of the various youth activities all over the country.
For these activities, wise leadership is essential. Books are provided for different needs in different disciplines, while tutoring is offered to those in secondary schools and universities by professional volunteers. Several camps are available for Christian communal living, and cultural activities are encouraged throughout the year. Youth organizations have become a vital arm of the Coptic church, stressing ecumenism and tolerance among its members.
- Habib Jirjis. Al-Iklirikiyyah bayn al-Madi wa-al-Hadir. Cairo, 1928.
- Al–Manhaj al-‘Am li-Madaris al-Ahad al-Qibtiyyah. Cairo, 1948.