September 21, 2014.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Islands of Peace Institute Faith Sharing on Sunday, September 21,2014 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Interfaith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

As members of the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute, dedicated to the well-being of our brothers and sisters who are suffering throughout the MIddle East, and to the non-violent efforts at securing peace and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine, this summer's escalation of violence in Gaza, along with the persecution of minority religious believers throughout the region calls us to even greater purpose in our faith sharing gatherings and social actions.

In June we met with members of al-Khalil, friends of the Mar Musa community in Syria founded by Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, for a life-giving discussion of Badaliya and the vision of Muslim and Christian solidarity rooted in Louis Massignon's and Fr. Paolo's spirituality and vision of hope in the future. An hours meeting with our dear friend, Fr. Jean-françois Six, who has overseen the Union Sodalité of Blessed Charles de Foucauld since Massignon's passing in 1962, reminded us of the roots of the Badaliya in the Greek Melkite Eastern tradition and the intrinsic connection between the Badaliya and Foucauld's spiritual Union Sodalité. We are invited to reflect ever more deeply on these connections together in our faith sharing gatherings.

Everyone's concern for Fr. Paolo is palpable and we continue to pray for him and all Christians who have been abducted in Syria, and now, in Iraq, holding out hope that they will be safely returned to their communities.

In this month of September, Catholic Christians have celebrated two important feast days that can lead us into further Muslim and Christian dialogue and appreciation of each other's faith traditions. On September 8th the Church celebrated the Nativity, or Birth of the Virgin Mary which affirms that she has been chosen by God for an exceptional role among women. She and her son, Jesus, are traditionally understood to have been conceived and born into the world without sin, which allows her to fulfill the prophetic words found in the biblical Book of the Prophet Isaiah , "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, God with us."(Isaiah 7:14) We call this the Immaculate Conception of Jesus.

Although Islam does not acknowledge the Christian concept of original sin, Muslims do, however, believe that we are by nature imperfect and inclined to turn away from the straight path towards Allah in our thoughts and behavior. In the Qur'an we find that before she was born, Anna, Mary's mother, consecrated her child to God and prayed that she would remain pure and protected from all evil.(Surah III vs.35-37) Then we read, " Behold! the angels said "O; Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you: chosen you above the women of all nations". (Surah III vs. 45). The Qur'an describes her childhood as always under divine protection and being nourished by the angels. Just as Mary's uniqueness is seen in Christianity as due to her becoming the "God-bearer" in carrying Jesus in her womb and therefore as always linked to her son, so in Islam she is always related to the miraculous birth of her son, Jesus.

On September 14th the Church celebrated a feast day that would be far more controversial in the eyes of our Muslim friends. It therefore invites us to reflect on its multiple meanings for us as Christian believers and highlights our willingness to cherish one another as much in our diversity as in our similarities. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross highlights the centrality in Christianity of the meaning of the Cross of Jesus and understanding of His Crucifixion. Tradition describes how the Empress Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor known as Constantine the Great, journeyed to the Holy Land in the year 326. On her way she is said to have founded churches and attended to the poor. In Jerusalem she asked the inhabitants to direct her to the site of the Crucifixion. Excavations revealed the hidden crosses believed to be those of Jesus and the two thieves who were crucified with Him. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on this site in Jerusalem and remains a central pilgrimage destination for all Christians today.

For Christians, the Cross is intrinsically tied to the victory over evil and death by the Resurrection of Christ. He invites us to take up our own "crosses" in life in order to follow Him. Christ's acceptance of His Father's will, even unto death, is our model for total submission to God's will in our own lives. In fact, it is only through the acceptance of God's will and our willingness to live with our often overwhelmingly heavy "crosses" that we will share in the victory of the Resurrection on the Last Day. These are only a few of the deeper meanings of the Cross in Christianity.

Fr. Paolo wrote a provocative reflection on the beliefs of Muslims and Christians in relation to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He wrote:

"In the Qur'an, the question of the resurrection of the dead is conceived as a second creation. God, who created the world and has given us life a first time, is able to give it to us anew, either for life and eternal joy, or for pain and eternal chastisement. In this, the Muslim faith is completely, "Catholic". However, after the Islamic affirmation that Jesus did not really die on the Cross but was taken directly up to Heaven by God, Muslims equally think that He will return to earth and that He will die as a martyr in order to inaugurate the Final Resurrection of all the dead. How is it that death on a Cross would be unworthy of the holiness of the Prophet, son of Mary, while death in combat with the Final Anti-Christ would be glorious?.....For Muslims there is no contradiction between the negation of the Cross and the martyrdom of Christ in the final "jihad". Death on the Cross represents the shame of failure that God can not permit in his Beloved, his Prophet, the son of Mary, while there is nothing more glorious and victorious than to die in the eschatological battle to the end against the final Anti-Christ.The Muslim position is both divided and pluralist on this subject. I think it takes us back to a sense that goes beyond the "letter" of the Qur'an as well as [beyond] the eschatological projection. Our Islamo/Christian reading would like to move towards that."

(Dall'Oglio, P. Amoureux de l'Islam, Croyant en Jésus Les Additions de l'Atelier/ Éditions Ouvrières, Paris, 2009. p.154)

True to his inquiring and deeply reflectve spirituality, Fr. Paolo invites us to engage with him in our willingness to go beyond the "letters" of our traditions in order to truly "see" each other. Massignon would say that we must enter into the heart and mind of the "other", their way of thinking and being, to truly understand and love one another.

Peace to you.