Everybody came to bid farewell to Father William Sedhom, the man who founded the El-Nahda NGO and inspired generations, who passed away at the age of 75 on 12 April.
Father Sedhom was born in 1948 in Garagous, a small village in the Upper Egyptian Qena governorate. The village is known for its pottery tradition, which was revived by the Jesuits Brothers Association in the 20th century.
Growing up against a background of artistic and human development inspired the young pottery artist. His passion for freedom, equality and creativity lent him the title " Father of Dreams."
In the presence of Father William
The ceremony took place at the theatre of Studio Nasibian, which serves as the premises of the El-Nahda NGO, in its first event after being renovated following a tragic fire that gutted its premises.
The stage was all set. The desk of father William was upfront, along with his cane propped against a poster of his library. The scene emphasized his powerful presence among his loved ones despite his death. To the right of the desk was a podium for his friends to share their memories.
This is one of the places that witnessed the outsized role of Father William in cultural development and in supporting art, the freedom of expression and the right to education.
After the fire, Father William tried his best to renovate the theatre along with Father Micheal, the head of the Jesuit brothers, who helped rebuild the theatre.
"His role in supporting the right to education for the marginalized is highly influential and the new generations ought to learn from it. The generations that were raised on his beliefs were really influenced by him in the fields of cinema, music, literature and fine arts. All of them became stars in their own fields and thanks to him who supported them regardless of their beliefs and school of thoughts," explained Marwa Abdallah, director of the school of cinema at the NGO and the presenter of the event.
Father William also played a unique role in preserving the cultural heritage and oral history of El-Faggala, one of Cairo's old neighborhoods. His photo book Garagous, documents the mission of the Jesuit Brothers and their inspiring pottery factory that was the key in human cultural and economic development of his home village Garagous.
His projects, El-Faggala Tahki Wa Toghani (Faggala Sings and Tells Tales) and El-Faggala Menawara Be Ahlaha (Faggala is Enlightened by its People), helped document the social as well as the oral history of the neighborhood that was once a cultural hub and the centre of book selling in Cairo.
In honor of his memory, the association played a segment from the soon-to-be-released documentary film on Father William.
Many people attended and talked about such an inspiring man. Ahram Online selected a few of the testimonies.
Art, culture and freedom for all
Father Joseph Eskandar, the current CEO of El-Nahda, explained how the NGO first got its start, and what it felt like to be following in the footsteps of such an iconic figure.
"The idea of the El-Nahda NGO first started with the graduates of the Holy Family School of El-Faggala, where father William got all his support. His mission was supported by the Jesuit Brothers of Levantine. We planned on passing on his mission to me but he left without telling me anything."
"This is because he planted everything in those who he worked with and in those that surrounded him. As if he wanted to tell me, if you want to continue my mission, you have to learn from them. He left without giving us a roadmap to follow, he left us the freedom that we have learned from him. How to be free. He left our world believing that the culture and art is a human right to all humanity without any discrimination."
“He left this world at the age of 75, 50 out of which he spent in monasticism. He left behind him the NGO that turned 25 this year," he added.
The father of dreams and adventures
To Father Magdi Seif, the representative of the Jesuit Brothers in Egypt, Father William was not only the father of dreams, but also the father of adventures.
The young Sedhom left his village of Garagous, Seif narrated, studied philosophy and embraced many political and philosophical schools of thoughts. His decision to join the Jesuit brothers’ monastic tradition was driven by the belief that it would be the only place where he could embrace his dreams.
“Indeed it opened its arms to him, the father of dreams and adventures. All his steps, dreams and adventures are taking him to even more.”
"Just like the lead character in the novel titled Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by American author Richard Bach, Father William wanted to do three things that are against the nature of the sea gulls. He was a rebel who wanted to fly higher, faster and further. Father William did the same and his dreams were reality that continues to live in the people who shared such dreams with him and now we are baring the fruits of such dreams," he said.
To Mario Boulis, director of Jesuit Cultural Centre in Alexandria, Father William was also an uncle.
"I would like to talk about him in the present tense because he is present. I swear by life, freedom and prayer, he was the voice for the voiceless. He lives all his life proud to be from Garagous, this simple village where he learnt about the Jesuit brothers. He was able to see the light inside each one of us.”
Renowned Egyptian writer and thinker Mohamed Abul Ghar shared his thoughts on Father William with the audience.
"I want to start with a salute and thank you to Father William's soul, who left us suddenly; may peace be with him.
“He is an Egyptian icon who came from the heart of Upper Egypt to study philosophy, and learn about Ibn Rushd. All of this was completed by joining the Jesuit brothers in Cairo where he found that he could serve best by aiding the underprivileged.”
“In 1998, he founded El-Nahda Culture and Scientific Renaissance Association – Jesuit Cairo, which is a huge establishment, and the Academy of Renaissance for performing arts that was established in 2016, as well as cinema and theatre activities held on the premises of Studio Nasibian at the association. He inspired me with his energy and soul," Abul Ghar concluded.