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Archive for the ‘Paolo Dall’Oglio’ tag

Telling Stories of Muslims and Christians in Syria

Deir Mar Musa, the Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian

A portion of Deir Mar Musa, the Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian

by Stephanie Saldana
from The Interfaith Observer

Twelve years ago, I travelled to a monastery in the Syrian desert, where I met an Italian priest by the name of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio. For 20 years, he had been living in rural Syria, serving as the abbot of the ancient monastery of Deir Mar Musa. There, he led a community of Arabic-speaking monks and nuns dedicated to prayer, hospitality, manual work and dialogue with Muslims. As I settled in I was astonished to notice Muslims visiting all day, admiring the church frescoes, joining the local Syrian Christians for lunch, even excusing themselves so that they could perform their prayers in a quiet corner of the monastery grounds. I had never seen love between Muslims and Christians embodied so effortlessly, a communion of human beings sharing daily life.

Over the following years I came to know Father Paolo well, and grew accustomed to the Muslims who visited his monastery almost daily. Father Paolo told me stories. He spoke of Muslim sheikhs who came to discuss their faith, of Muslim visitors who arrived bearing gifts – one prominent Muslim artist even sculpted a cross for the monastery – of meals and songs and fears shared between faiths. He quoted the Qur’an as easily as the Bible. To Christians, he told stories of Muslims and their love of Jesus, Mary and the Prophet Mohammed. To Muslims, he told stories of the respect early Muslims had for Christian monks.

Last year, as the crisis in Syria escalated, Father Paolo publicly called for reconciliation in an attempt to avoid civil war. In late November the government issued an order for his expulsion.

For weeks I was haunted by what Father Paolo’s expulsion would mean for Syrian Christians. The conflict in Iraq had already led to the exodus of more than half of the country’s Christian population. The threat of a mass exodus in Syria was equally real – for they had been placed in an impossible situation. As minorities protected by the government, local Christians were terrified of a civil war that would leave them vulnerable to Muslim extremists, just as they were frightened that if an Islamic party took control of the country, their rights would no longer be recognized. Yet now the government was demanding they silence themselves and abandon the Christian principle of confronting injustice and working towards peace.

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