September 26, 2010.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday September 26, 2010 at 3pm at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

As we begin our academic year of Badaliya prayer gatherings let us be reminded that Massignon always invited Badaliya members to bring their prayer and their very deepest psychological and spiritual selves to the realities facing the religious, political and secular world at the time. Every letter to members of the Badaliya was a stark and often painful treatise on the plight of the least among us, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or simply identified as persecuted humanity.

The focus of the Badaliya was originally intended to encourage Christians living in Muslim countries and throughout the Middle East to engage with the Muslim community around them by working side by side with them, praying with and for them and building relationships that transcended individual and religious differences. At the same time his own knowledge, understanding and respect for Islam, along with an intense spiritual experience of the universal Christ as embracing all of humanity in His love and compassion, led him to desire and pray that all would receive that grace and blessing within the context of their own religious faith and traditions. Members of the Badaliya are witnesses to that love and compassion and mercy to the point of social and political action on behalf of those most in need. To substitute one's life for another's well being was the ultimate sacrifice and continues to be. There are many examples from Gandhi for the sake of a democratic and unified India to Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein in World War II and Rachel Corrie in Palestine in our own time.

With this history in mind and our call to re-create the Badaliya here in the United States, we are challenged to carry the spirit of the Badaliya into the religious and political realities in our world at home and abroad. Here at home where Christians are in the majority we are faced with the need to reach out to our Muslim and Jewish neighbors, to educate ourselves in their faith experiences and traditions. Recent Iftar dinners shared during Ramadan in August and September this year have been one way that we are building bridges with the Muslim community.

In his letters Massignon always honored the Jewish holidays as well. In September there was Rosh Hashana, which occurs on the first and second days of the month of Tishrei and is the new year for increasing the number of years. In Judaism there are other new year celebrations that honor the counting of other events throughout the year. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei. The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement,"Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur. The joyous festival of Sukkot celebrates the forty years the Jewish people wandered through the desert after leaving Egypt and is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei.

As beleivers and as Badalya (substitutes) the newest effort to bring peace in Israel and Palestine has begun at the political level with direct talks begun this month at the White House in Washington DC. The history of such efforts has been at best gloomy and unproductive. As Fr. Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine pointed out just after 9/11 in 2001, Christians in the Holy Land are a small minority but called to be peace makers and witnesses to hope. Thus we are dedicating our Badaliya to that hope and working with other Christians in the Holy Land to fulfill it.

Bringing Christians and Muslims together is part of the challenge. Massignon wrote:

"The problem of bringing Islam and Christianity together suffers from the initial hypothesis that after all, since Muslims and Christians have fought over religious ideas, the only way to reconcile is to abandon religious ideas and to take, for example, much simpler principles such as national unity or the purely secular and international principle according to which humans are human and there is nothing we can do here on earth but to try to see to it that human beings understand other humans; a purely humanistic conception of life. But we can envision the problem from another angle. For me it is a lived experience and not only a subject for research. ... It is to the measure that we have understood the other's religious problem, the ideal of perfection that religions call God, that we can approah them by finding within ourselves the way to conform our own actions to our consciences and simultaneously respect the consciences of others". (Écrits Mémorable II, p. 56. August 1959)

In our world, violence and injustice continues to be an unproductive choice and people of faith are also becoming a minority. But we know that our very best selves are brought to being through faith and therefore I leave you with these words of Benedict XVI:

"Our world, which has become totally positivistic, in which God appears at best as a hypothesis but not as a concrete reality, needs to rest on God in the most concrete and radical way possible. It needs a witness to God that lies in the decision to welcome God as a land where one finds one's own existence." (2006)

Peace to you.