Mar Musa and continuing the work of Fr. Dall'Oglio
by Chiara Zappa

The monastic community founded by the Roman Jesuit, who died in Raqqa in 2013, elected fra 'Jihad Youssef as the new abbot. His account to AsiaNews: "The Syrian people are tired of war, divided and abandoned by the international community, which is actually overwhelming them with the embargo. They suffer from the absence of a vision for a future free from multiple resentments".

Mar Musa (AsiaNews) - A "comprehensive reflection on the activities and prospects of the Community in the post-Covid era and on the ways to keep alive the charism embodied by our founder, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio".

This is how Brother Jihad Youssef summarizes the contents of the General Chapter which in recent weeks elected him the new abbot of the monastery of Mar Musa in Syria and of the monastic community of Ibrahim al-Khalil (Abraham the Friend of God), also present in Cori (Latina) and Sulaymaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Syrian monk, who replaces Sister Houda Fadoul, is one of the long-time companions of the Roman Jesuit who in 1982 re-founded the ancient structure of Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi (monastery of San Mosè l'Abyssinian) near the town of Nebek, about eighty kilometers north of Damascus.

In 1991 he created a mixed ecumenical community devoted to dialogue with Islam, which today brings together eight monks and nuns plus a novice. Expelled from the Syrian regime in 2012, Fr. Dall'Oglio was kidnapped in Raqqa in the summer of 2013 and his fate remains unknown.

Fra ’Jihad, what activities you are pursuing iin Syria today?

The Mar Musa monastery is carrying forward the small project to safeguard the biodiversity of the valley, which includes a cultivation of olive trees and a nursery in which some agronomists have carried out experiments and research.

Hospitality, which is one of our pillars together with prayer and manual work, has unfortunately been suspended since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. During the Chapter, however, we discussed times and ways to reopen the doors to pilgrims.

In the town of Nebek, in addition to maintaining the music school and the kindergarten for children, due to the consequences of the war we had to dedicate ourselves to numerous humanitarian aid initiatives, especially to support the medical expenses of the most needy families.

We also take care of the displaced people of Qarytayn, where our monastery of Mar Elian once stood, destroyed by the Islamists in 2015, and of the poor in the Homs area. Our support for university students continues: about forty are attending courses in Italy and thirty here in Syria.

How is life in Syria today?

The people are war weary, they have been divided and abandoned by the international community, which in fact oppresses them with sanctions and embargoes; they are hostage to widespread corruption and mistrust of institutions. They suffer from hunger, poverty, lack of work and the absence of a vision for a future free from hatred and multiple and complex resentments.

What, on the other hand, is the commitment of your community in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Cori, in Italy?

In Sulaymaniyah, in the monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are restoring the church. We feel our vocation is to go where there are places of worship to be rebuilt. There, in addition to various initiatives to support the poor, we carry out a very broad and articulated cultural project also at the service of displaced people from various areas of Iraq, which includes language lessons (Arabic, Kurdish and English), painting, literature, a theatre school. And then tailoring and handicraft courses, training activities for educators, catechism, games and after-school activities for children, especially refugees, literacy courses and counselling interventions. The monks and nuns engaged in study live in Cori. Here too the restoration of the church, damaged during the Second World War, is at a very advanced stage.

What were the other themes at the center of your chapter?

We reflected on many aspects of our spiritual and community life, such as the importance of meditative silence in dialogue with the Sufi style, but also of the weekly sharing meeting. We also focused on how to carry on the charism entrusted by the Lord to Fr. Paolol. One of the most important guidelines that emerged concerns the central role of the laity, both in the Church and in our community: we therefore want to find a way to expand this, like the tent of Isaiah's prophecy.