11/28/2011, 00.00
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Fr. Dall'Oglio under threat of expulsion from Syria: "they’re closing the door to dialogue"

Interview with the Jesuit founder of the Khalil community at Deir Mar Musa, 30 years in the country and engaged in dialogue with Islam, who is likely to be expelled. He took a position in favor of consensus democracy, freedom of expression and national reconciliation.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "I run the serious risk of being expelled from Syria", said Father Paul Dall'Oglio, founder of the monastery of Deir Mar Musa in an interview with AsiaNews on his personal situation of having to leave the country. "The Syrian government has sent a letter to the Syro-Catholic bishop of Homs, asking him to send me abroad. The justification is explicitly provided in the positions I have taken in favor of consensus democracy, freedom of expression and reconciliation. "

Deir Mar Musa monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian is a monastic community of Syro-Catholic, near the town of Nabk, about 80 km north of Damascus. The monastery was built by Greek monks in the sixth century. Abandoned in the nineteenth century, it again became the home of a small religious community. Father dall'Oglio, who is the soul of the al-Khalil community, launches a series accusations: "The saddest thing in this case, is that some factors that have led to this decision must be sought within the context of the church, probably as a reaction to my action, in the past, against cases of corruption and the lack of transparency of some prelates. "

The al-Khalil community which has lived at Deir Mar Musa for 20 years, is very anxious over his possible expulsion. And the Jesuit says: "personally, leaving Syria in the eye of the storm, after 30 years in this country, is something that breaks my heart. This means that the doors will close on initiatives to promote dialogue, reconciliation and real reforms. We still hope that this decision will be reviewed, and we hope that Syria will emerge from this crisis, while maintaining its unity, and becoming a pluralistic democracy where all components are respected and harmonized. "

Fr. Dall'Oglio’s position on the crisis is very clear. "The Syrians want, and deserve, human rights, starting with the free press and human dignity. We should seek an agreement through negotiation, and international guarantees. Of course there is the risk of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as the influence of a 'conspiracy' by regional powers. This is why Christians and other minorities tend to support repressive policies. But violence and discrimination are directly contrary to our ethical values. And they are not a guarantee for our long-term presence, and only true brotherhood, dialogue, theological esteem of the other can be a guarantee".

On the prospects of interreligious relations, the Jesuit is not optimistic in the short term. "Until now, there is no specific Christian emigration, or the threat to religious places, but the process of a dangerous civil war between Sunnis and Alawites has already begun mainly, for example in Homs. A serious effort should be made to stop it. At Deir Mar Musa, we continue to welcome visitors of all faiths to pray and work, and we remain fully committed to Islamic-Christian brotherhood. Some say that we are naive, perhaps it is true ... we contemplate a peaceful future for Eastern Christian communities, as innovative and constructive elements in the heart of a thriving free Islamic Umma".

Is there a fear among Syrian that the Islamists, or figures close to the Islamists, will take power?

The fear exists, especially among religious minorities: Christians, but also (and sometimes to a greater extent) among the heterodox Islamic communities, such as the Alawites, Druze, Ismaili ... fundamentalist Islam (Salafist and Wahabi) exists in Syria, but it represents a minority . The Muslim Brotherhood are very popular, but should not be immediately labeled as extremists. The fear of political Islam has been used for a long time by the Syrian authorities to justify a strong system of repression. We should not forget that this fear has been used to justify the Wests friendship and business relationship with Ben Ali and Mubarak, among other Arab dictators. As Christian minorities in the Islamic world, we should not be paralyzed by fear of political Islam. Above all, this should not lead to policies and support systems contrary to our ethical values. Our long-term future, in the Islamic Umma, depend on an attitude of good-neighborliness, respect for theology and common militancy towards human progress. "

Are religious minorities anxious for the future of Syria?

The communities that have enjoyed a privileged position in recent decades do not want to lose it of course. The situation right now is blocked, with a symmetrical escalation in violence and deadly clashes that take place every Friday, and if not every day. In some cities we already see violent clashes between people of different communities.

What can you tell us of your ministry at Deir Mar Musa?

Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi is an ancient monastery located in the desert mountains of Qalamun. After two centuries of neglect, it has been restored and houses a monastic community of monks and nuns engaged in dialogue with Islam, prayer, manual work and hospitality. Many Syrians of all faiths visit us to stay a few days, weeks or months with us. They find a place of serenity, tolerance and introspection. Finally, on a personal level, I pray that the president will accept my desire to remain in this country, as a signal of peace through negotiation on his part. For many people the signal of this community dedicated to harmony is essential for a better future. I am a religious man of Italian origin but after 30 years in this country, I feel radically Syrian. The hope of a peaceful progress, a maturing towards a pluralistic, national and secular democracy, must be renewed. It 'is a constructive response both to the slide towards civil war and national dissolution and the danger of trying to return to how things were. A consensus democracy. " (N.C.)

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See also
Pope: urgent appeal for the release of Fr. Dall'Oglio, kidnapped two years ago in Syria
For Father Youssef, staying in Syria under the bombs was a “test of faith"
Msgr. Zenari: prayers in Beirut and Damascus for kidnapped bishops and priests. Fears for their fate
Catholic music to promote dialogue in Ambon, the city of sectarian violence
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Christians in global prayer drive for safe release of Fr. dall'Oglio


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