February 5, 2023.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday February 5, 2023 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us on Zoom, or in spirit, as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, and an end to the war in the Ukraine.

In this 5th Sunday between the end of the Christmas liturgical season and the beginning of Lent and Easter, the readings are inviting Christian believers to recognize what living as a Christian means. Today when we hear "feed the hungry and clothe the naked" we may hear "reach out to the homeless person on the street" or "welcome the foreigner and stranger"; as "welcome the many asylum seekers risking their lives to find safety from violence and poverty or the thousands of refugees left homeless by war in the Ukraine, oppression in Afghanistan and Palestine or others suffering under dictatorships throughout the world. An endless litany that can easily cause us to stop listening to the news or feel powerless to act. Yet, we are told to be "salt to the earth, and a light to the nations". That means we are to enter into the lives of others and shine the light of the gift we have received of Divine Love on those who need it the most, even those strangers who speak a different language or have different cultural norms and religious beliefs. St. Paul makes it clear that "our faith rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God" and it is that powerful light of Divine Love that is meant to shine through us.

Over the past 20 years we have often reflected on the foundational roots and meaning of Louis Massignon's Badaliya, or Substitution, and quoted the words of those who have lived and are living the spirit of Badaliya for our reflections. Some we can experience as spiritual giants, such as our newly canonized Saint Charles de Foucauld and al-Hallaj, the legendary 10th century love-mystic and martyr of Islamic Sufi tradition whose life and writings engaged Massignon's research and publications for 50 years. Others could be called disciples of Foucauld and Massignon himself, such as Father Christian de Chergé, Pastor of the Trappist community known as The Monks of Tibherine, martyred in 1996 during the Algerian civil war and subject of the 2010 film, Of Gods and Men. Among those is the Jesuit Priest, Paolo Dall'Oglio who, in 1977 at the age of 23 on discovering an abandoned monastery constructed in 1058 CE in the Syrian desert 50 miles north of Damascus, felt called to refurbish its deteriorating frescoes and establish a community there. Perhaps the following words of Massignon can help us to understand how Paolo led the community living at the monastery of monks and nuns at Deir Mar Musa to offer their lives in Badaliya, in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors in Syria.

"Meditate on the meaning and scope of our commitment, for if substitution is before everything a thought, a vow of our souls, it is truly only accomplished if we take into our lives and our hearts of flesh the pain of others, their bleeding wounds, in nonviolence, through compassion and other's interior tears: then teach it to others." Later he adds that truly crossing over to the other is experiencing what another person is experiencing; entering into their interior experience as a Muslim believer or a Christian believer.

In her book of interviews with Paolo, Guyonne de Montjou describes her first experience of the Syrian Catholic liturgy, an Eastern rite aligned with Rome celebrated at Mar Musa in the traditional Arabic. Paolo explained:

"Here we speak the language of the Qur'an; we are in a fifteen centuries old church and we speak the sacred and liturgical language of all Islam ... because Islam is a religion that tends to the entire Truth, and it's there that we find ourselves Christians. We place ourselves in the axis of the destiny of Muslims, in order to understand them from the interior, in order to love them."

In Amoureux de l'Islam, croyant en Jésus, soon to be published in English, Paolo described his relationship with Islam as "a kind of dual membership" as Islamo-Christian. He wrote that a pivotal experience of the Muslim Friday prayer was "like a first time ... the beauty, the universality, the sweetness, the truth of the Muslim prayer unveiled themselves to me in all their power! I was there with the peasants and at the same time in all the mosques in the world. The Muslims say that to be in prayer is to stand in between the two hands of the Merciful, like God in the Bible kneads the clay in his two hands to fashion the human" This experience in the ancient city of Bosra in Syria was where "The mystery of the Muslim prayer entered into my own prayer life". Much like the relationship of Jesus to his earliest followers, "My attitude does not differ from that of St. Paul who felt himself Jewish among the Jews, Gentile among the Gentiles, all in all." (1 Corinthians 9: 20-23) This experience goes beyond theological and dogmatic differences to "desire to recognize the work of the Spirit of God within the Muslim religious experience."

There is much more to learn from Father Paolo's experience and from the monks and nuns at Deir Mar Musa in the community named al-Kahlil, Friends of Abraham and from those communities in France, Italy and Switzerland that are the Friends of Deir Mar Musa.

In this moment when war continues to rage in the Ukraine and division rather than unity plagues our political and cultural lives, may we too recognize the movement of the Spirit of God within all who embrace the spirit of Badaliya in their hearts, their prayers and their lives of witness and action. May the promise of peace with justice be fulfilled within us and through us and out into the world.

Peace to you,

  1. Buck. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter Two: "The Call of the Divine: Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld." KNP Publications, London, NY 2002. Quotation from LM's letter to members of the Badaliya, Christmas 1956. p. 82.
  2. Guyonne de Montjou, Mar Moussa: Un monastère, un homme et un désert Éditions Albin Michel. 2006. p 12 (my translation)
  3. Paolo Dall'Oglio in collaboration with Églantine Gabaix-Hialé Amoureux de l'Islam, croyant en Jésus Les Éditions de l'Atelier/Éditions Ouvrières, Paris 2009 p.32-33. (my translation)

See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute