Dear IC: So Father Patrick Reardon found President Assad of Syria to be “cordial and personable…a man of obvious culture, refinement, modesty and gentility.” Perhaps if he and other Christians had been allowed to visit some of the “hot spots” in Syria, they might have gotten a different perspective. Assad is a petty tyrant, a liar, and a murderer! Once again, Christians are on the wrong side of history. Syrian Christians who support Assad will live or die to regret their actions. Hopefully, future IC publications will offer a more accurate version of events that does not give credence to Assad’s propaganda.
Dear IC: What’s going on with IC? Winds of change? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the piece about Syria and Assad. This can’t be true! If you want to publish a different opinion, fine, but at least accompany it with some editorial comments. This is very dangerous, defending a dictator. Even if he were reasonably tolerant towards Christians. Even the Arab League condemns him. This report has nothing to do with responding to the whipping up of Western sentiment. I’m always wary of that myself, but here that is not an issue.
No, this is really a failure on the part of the Fellowship. And I sincerely hope this is not an indication of a new policy. That would mean my immediate departure. Johanna Geers
Dear IC: I read with great interest the account by Father Patrick Reardon of his recent visit to Syria. Syrian reality is complex; allow me to add another alternative perspective, very much in line with the principles of the OPF. It is that of Deir Mar Musa’s efforts for peace and reconciliation.
The community of Mar Musa (St. Moses) at Nebek near Homs was founded by a Jesuit, Father Paolo dall’Oglio, some two decades ago with an ecumenical and interreligious vocation. The brothers and sisters are drawn from different Eastern and Western Churches and come from various countries. The monastery is also engaged in dialogue with the surround-ing Muslim communities.
Last September the community held a week of spiritual jihad (struggle), with fasting and prayer sustained by sakina (God’s peace), for the sake of recon-ciliation between Syria’s children. It invited all the brothers and sisters, Syrian citizens, and friends of the community to join it in this effort, either visiting the monastery or observing the week at home. In its invitation, the community mourned those killed, all members of the one Syrian family. It hoped to touch the hearts of those who had yielded to the temptation to use violence, justified by fear, self-interest, duty, religion or ideology, and it prayed for the miracle of reconciliation.
I quote some passages, in translation, from this invitation of 8 September 2011, which was posted on the monastery’s website (www.deirmarmusa.org) at that time. (Each time I consult the website, there are fewer texts on it.)
“Syria is a wounded country, its inhabitants’ souls full of feelings of injustice and fear of the other. Everyone considers others a danger to their own community and has difficulty regarding them as human beings, deserving of the same rights and dignity as themselves.
“The evaluation of events varies enormously, with people being carried away by extremism, which removes the space for a possible national entente in the shared life of society. Even within one family or monastic community extremism divides people, sooner or later leading them to justify the violence used by the side they consider they belong to. How can we come safely out of this murderous whirlwind which deforms the humanity of all of us? How can we achieve for everyone the reforms which some want, while keeping the good aspects of the past which others are attached to? How can dialogue take place between two sides when each consider the other as liars, enemies of the fatherland and humanity?
“We believe that some paths to reconciliation exist, even if they must be the subject of discussion and negotiation. We want the door of freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be opened and the media to become more ethical, both inside and outside the country. For we cannot escape from lies except through having a plurality of sources of information.
“We also appeal to people’s desire to acquire a level of conscience which will enable them to resolve their conflicts peacefully in the great majority of sit-uations. We thus refuse both any inter-vention by a foreign army and any escalation by terrorists within the coun-try. We can also no longer accept the use of violence to repress the peaceful movement of democratic demands.
“We suggest to the Syrian government to invite the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and other non-partisan international human-itarian organizations to cooperate with the Syrian NGOs in attaining three aims: guaranteeing the pacific nature of the demonstrations; accompanying journal-ists to cover the events; providing the mediation through which the parties to the conflict can communicate with each other and attain reconciliation and peace.”
Father Paolo dall’Oglio has also put forward the concept of “consensual democracy” as a framework for the country’s political future.
At the end of November, the Syrian government issued Father Paolo dall’Oglio with an expulsion order. It is reported to have been suspended since, on condition that he makes no further public pronouncements which can be interpreted as political.
We can, however, all continue to pray for peace and reconciliation in Syria, inspired by the same vision as the community of Deir Mar Musa.
Sent by an OPF member with ties in Syria who is known to the editors but wishes to remain anonymous to protect friends and preserve safe passage in and out of Syria.
❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012