Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Mystical Imagination

Text:  “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner’.” (Luke 18: 13)

Meditation:  The Pharisee and the Publican offers to us two ways of “praying”… The former is self-righteous and the latter is asking for righteousness… The Publican went home justified, not the Pharisee. Beware!

1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step:  Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.

A Mystical Imagination


For this reason, faith is a struggle, but so are a lot of other things. When the surface is all that there is, it's hard to be enchanted by anything, to see the depth that's uncovered by poetry, aesthetics, altruism, religion, faith, and love. And it's especially difficult to understand community.
When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body of Christ and it becomes difficult even just to understand our real connection with each other.
As human beings, we are connected to each other in ways beyond the physical, beyond time, beyond separation by distance, and even beyond separation by death. But to understand this we need a mystical imagination.
The mystical imagination is the other half of the scientific imagination and, like science, its purpose is to help us see, imagine, understand, speak about, and relate to reality in a way beyond fantasy and superstition. But the mystical imagination can show us something that science, wonderful though it is, cannot, namely, it can show us the many grace-drenched and spirit-laden layers of reality that are not perceived by our physical senses. The mystical imagination can show us how the Holy Spirit isn't just inside our churches, but is also inside the law of gravity.
But how do we learn that? A saint might say: "Meditate and pray long enough and you will open yourself up to the other world!" A poet might say: "Stare at a rose long enough and you'll see that there's more there than meets the eye!" A romantic might say: "Just fall in love real deeply or let your heart get broken and you'll soon know there's more to reality than can be empirically measured."
And the mystics of old would say: "Just honour fully what you meet each day and you will find it drenched with grace and divinity."
(Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Religious Leaders and Building Peace - The Philippine Experience

Religious Leaders & Building Peace: The Philippine Experience
Prof. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI (Graduate School Faculty, Notre Dame University)
Fulbright 2002 New Century Scholar (Georgetown University)

I believe, a very important attempt to weave the experiences and lessons of religious leaders’ participation in building peace.  There are many and varied lived experiences of peace building that involve religious leaders of all faiths. It is interesting to note that both violent and peaceful people continue to use religious images and passages from the Scriptures or Holy Books to “justify” their acts and actuations that either promote conflicts and violence or building peace.

The peoples of Mindanao are witnesses to and participants in these two strands. They have seen both the violence and bloodshed in war and rehabilitation and reconstruction in peace building. In fact, war, piracy and kidnappings have always marred, from the very beginning, the encounters between Islam and Christianity in Southern Philippines.  It is often said that the Southern Philippines has really not known peace. What we, sometimes, experience are fleeting truces that allow peoples to build anew their homes and livelihoods until war erupts again and send them back to evacuation centers. 

A multi-awarded movie of the late Marilou Abaya Diaz produced a movie entitled “Bagong Buwan” (New Moon) that became the top grosser during the Manila Film Festival in 2002. The movie was a masterpiece that captured the continuing cycle of war and peace in Mindanao. Peoples live in a continuing “evacuation”.

 I will borrow Shakespeare’s words to describe the relations between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.

" . . . Creeping murmur and the pouring dark
Fill the wide vessel of the universe:
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch. . .
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face."

So Shakespeare's chorus described the eve of Agincourt. The words might well have been written also of Mindanao, more particularly of Muslim-Christian relations. When faiths and religious traditions confront each other, it is, for the most part, with "fixed sentinels" and even with the "whispers of each other's watch".
It is said that Christianity and Islam are, indeed, physically adjacent.  Yet, for all their nearness, the relations between these two faiths and their respective followers are largely shrouded in mutual suspicion and darkness. There are few exceptions on either side to rise above the general ignorance and suspicion. But these are rare … When faiths and religious traditions confront each other, it is for the most part, with "fixed sentinels." It is in the context of that “fixed sentinels” in Mindanao realities that I will share with you the few exceptions in building peace.

In the Philippines, particularly in the South, Christianity and Islam have always been presented as two competing faiths for the same geographical area. Wittingly or unwittingly, the recent spate of lawlessness like kidnappings, terrorism and plain and simple banditry is read along the understood "separateness" between Christianity and Islam.
This tragic and sad reality is further exacerbated by the contemporary surge of the so-called fundamentalist movements both in Islam and Christianity. The likes of the Abu Sayyaf and Pentagon Group/s that are often associated with fanaticism send jitters to the people in the area.

All these are familiar enough and part of our present problem. Often, they exercise tyranny over our spirits. They have produced a culture and a habit of suspicion and confrontation that make inter-religious collaboration and dialogue, truly, a very difficult task. It requires a commitment and determination to steadily school ourselves to resist and reject our habit of preferring suspicion to trust; our instinct to prefer the familiar confrontation to a new relationship of partnership in the world that is in difficult transition.

In the past as well as today, there is an ever-growing awareness of common territory and affinity between Islam and Christianity. The Qur’an in Chapter 5 verse 82 unequivocally encourages Muslims to cooperate with Christians. “Thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are the ones who say, ‘We are Christians’; that because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud” (S.5:82).     

The Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, clearly articulates the common territory and affinity between Christianity and Islam.

 “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own.  Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer alms-deeds and fasting.

Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The Sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”  (NA3).

Muslim-Christian Partnership towards Peace & Development

Long before the historic document, Nostra Aetate, there were a few Religious Leaders in the Southern Philippines (the traditional Bangsamoro Homeland) who have understood the importance of Muslim and Christian understanding to attain a lasting peace and sustainable development. There were difficulties, frustrations and pains, yet, they were transcended as they continued to learn how to live as neighbors. The Missionaries of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) have pioneered the new relationship between Muslims and Christians right at the very heartland of the Bangsa (Nation) Moro.

These attempts now constitute the noted “few exceptions” that trail blaze Religious Leaders participation in building peace in Southern Philippines. I will outline five traditions of Muslim-Christian leaders’ involvements in peace building that are associated with the OMI.

The first tradition was the continuing attempts to bridge the education & development gap in the Southern Philippines due to long years of government neglect. In the then empire province of Cotabato and the Archipelago of Sulu, OMI’s began the Notre Dame School System that brought quality education to the Moro peoples long before the establishment of the Mindanao State University.  The Notre Dame School system has generated so much social capital that educated Moro people and the leadership both in the rebel front and in local government easily point to their experiences in the Notre Dame campuses all over the Southern Philippines as examples of harmony and unity between Muslims and Christians.  This was also true in the island province of Basilan with the Claret Schools under the Claretians.

Post Vatican II, Sulu, Basilan and Cotabato had embarked on development programs following the universal call from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio  that specifically articulated that “development is another name for peace.”  Resources were generated to bring potable water to the rural communities, clinics were established in remote areas, to build houses for the poor and the “evacuees” now called “internally displaced persons”. To bolster agricultural productivity, farming cooperatives and credit unions were established.  Five foreign Bishops epitomized this tradition. They were Bishops Gerard Mongeau, OMI in Cotabato, Francis McSorley, OMI in Sulu, Philip Smith, OMI both in Sulu and Cotabato and George Dion, OMI in Sulu and Jose Maria Querexeta, CMF in Basilan. 

The ‘original’ Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) and its Implementing Arm, the MSPC Secretariate, ventured farther in Muslim-Christian Relations. With some Protestant churches and Muslim leaders, they carried further the dialogue into meaningful activities such as “Duyog Ramadhan” (Accompaniment during the fasting month of Ramadhan) and conferences on the rights of the Moro people to “self-determination”.

In a similar vein, the Protestant Churches through their Mindanao institutions had also launched dialogue and development programs both in Lanao del Sur and North Cotabato. The Dansalan College in Marawi City and Southern Christian College in Midsayap with their pioneering extension programs served rural Muslim communities.  These two institutions became the leading local partners of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines’ programs of dialogue among peoples of living faiths and of educating Christians about Muslims or PACEM.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI and Bishop Antonino Nepomuceno were pioneers in the beginning of this Interreligious dialogue both at the national level and local levels that involved the Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

The second Tradition was the struggle for justice and human rights, particularly during the dark years of Martial Law.  Arbitrary arrests and detentions, Military “zoning” (military encirclements of a community where all males were lined up in the public square and houses were searched and ransacked usually at nights), Cases of “salvagings” (killed or liquidated and later the bodies were dumped into the river) and ‘disappearances’ led to the formation of the first Christian-Muslim Leaders Association of the Philippines. Prominent personalities in this struggle were Bishop Antonino Nepomuceno, OMI, Episcopal Bishop Manguramas, and Sheik Omar Bajunaid. This group conducted capacity building for dialogue and monitoring human rights violations for priests, Imams and Pastors (Through Bishop Nepomuceno, I got involved in this work). 

They constituted the first “quick response” team to assist Muslim individuals and communities that were constantly harassed and repressed. The military wantonly violated their rights during military operations both in urban areas as well as in the remote areas.
It is a tradition that speaks of concern and sincere effort to achieve understanding between Muslims and Christians and to work together to preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values.

The association was there to protect people’s civil rights against the constant assaults of the fascist army of the Dictator Marcos. In times of war and calamities, Bishops Nepomuceno, Manguramas and Sheik Bajunaid were in the forefront to give relief, assistance, release of prisoners and moral support as well. They were able to forge Muslim-Christian solidarity that witnessed to the common tradition of trust, friendship and hospitality amid the legacies of suspicion, anger and hatred.  The Social Action Center in Cotabato, during the Martial Law years, became the powerful symbol of Muslim and Christian solidarity for justice, freedom and brotherhood..

The third tradition is the path personified by Bishops Bienvenido Tudtud (Lanao del Sur) and Benjamin de Jesus, OMI (Sulu). Both Bishops were gentle, jovial and friends to all, but most especially to the poor and the vulnerable sectors of Philippine society. Their passionate commitment to the poor and dialogue of life led them to venture in a humble and non-threatening friendship with the Muslims in the Vicariate of Sulu and the Prelature of Marawi. They wanted to be the humble and compassionate servants of the peoples of Sulu and Lanao del Sur. This path is now enshrined in the universally accepted dialogue of life that translates into everyday life the desired friendship that should characterize the relationships between and among neighbors.  It is a path that continues, in daily living, to break down the walls (both visible and invisible) that separate Muslims and Christians.

To advocates of this path it is actually a dialogue of life that carries out the joyful and humble work of proclaiming God’s unconditional love and his inclusive kingdom that recognizes and respects the dignity and spiritual treasures of the Muslim neighbors.

The fourth tradition is the pioneering peace education and advocacy began by the OMI run Notre Dame University (NDU).  It is the first institution of higher learning that has integrated peace education in its curriculum where both Muslim and Christian students are required to take peace studies.  The University’s peace advocacy has led to mediation and conflict resolution efforts of the citizens (Muslims and Christians) in Southern Philippines.

Following the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front, Peace Education became one of the flagship programs of President Ramos. Funds were appropriated for NDU to train people and build capacity for all Mindanao Universities with the hope that these Universities would in turn establish their own training centers.  Today, the government Mindanao State University (MSU), the Jesuit run Ateneo de Davao University and Ateneo de Zamboanga University are few examples of Institutions of Higher Learning that grant degrees on Peace and Development Studies. These institutions also conduct a non degree peace education workshop to high school and elementary teachers both in the public and private schools. The aim of these institutions is to integrate in the formal school system, particularly in Mindanao, the culture of peace.

The fifth tradition is the actual involvement in peace making and peace building.  Beginning with the Peace Talks between the Philippine Government and the MNLF in 1992 until 2000, prominent religious leaders like Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI of Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, Sr. Amelia David, ICM of the Diocese of Pagadian and prominent lay leaders Josephine Leyson of the Diocese of Dipolog (in Zamboanga del Norte) and Atty. Alan Flores of the Diocese of Iligan in Lanao del Norte got involved not only in that historical peace process between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) but also in the transitional Consultative Assembly from 1996 to 2002 implementing the 1996 Final Peace Accord. 

It should be noted that a Protestant Pastor (Rev. Absalom Cerveza) became a prominent negotiator in the MNLF Peace Panel. He also served as the deputy Chair of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) during the time of “transition” from 1996 to 2001.

In many ways this tradition is symbolized by the NDU Peace Center that also helps in the forging of the initial ceasefire agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). NDU was also tasked to form the religious leaders both Muslims and Christians to monitor and supervise the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. From 1997 to the days immediately prior the “all out war” policy of President Estrada, the religious leaders under the leadership of NDU Peace Center monitored and supervised the ceasefire agreements.

It also facilitated the birthing of the still functioning Coordinated Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) that continues to monitor and supervise the existing ceasefire agreement between the Philippine Government and the MILF. 

Beginning the 2000 all out war policy of President Estrada, another OMI, Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI got involved in giving sanctuary to refugees. With the Church-led organization like Tabang Mindanaw (Mindanao Assistance), he is has been in the forefront of rebuilding people’s lives ravaged by a never ending war.

These traditions show concrete Muslim-Christian collaboration on the ground that indicates the heart of dialogue and peace building. Like politics, peace building is local. They are rooted in “being” with the people, especially the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society. It is a “rootedness” that is shaped and fashioned by a shared living, sympathy and solidarity. This becomes the well-spring of active participation in all human endeavors, economic, political and cultural, always in favor of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.  Oftentimes, this kind of witnessing is clearer and more eloquent than any signing of agreement.

Muslim-Christian collaboration is not something abstract. It is a human activity which involves our total life experience. It takes place in the individual as well as communal lives as peoples of differing faiths live out their faiths and conviction according to the living traditions. No doubt, the partnership and collaboration depend upon a bridging leadership that enhances mutual trust and understanding. It demands respect for the identity as well as the integrity of the other. It rests on the conviction that God who is all merciful and compassionate desires to draw all peoples and the whole creation into a relationship of love and peace.

This type of partnership should enhance a new culture that enables and empowers peoples to draw from each other’s traditions and common resources to help face today’s threats to global survival and work together toward peace with justice and the integrity of creation. Religious leaders as exemplified in the five concrete traditions on the ground should spare no effort to live and work together towards reconciling conflicts, eradicating bigotry and prejudices, and empowering grassroots level communities to act upon their own choices in self-development towards a more just and participatory society.

There are no simple formulas for enhancing collaboration and partnership. Every situation demands a serious study and reflection of the many and varied factors at play. Some of these are historical, social or doctrinal. But whatever the factors and their magnitude, it is, in the final analysis, everyone’s duty to see a better community where peoples of differing faiths and traditions live in love, justice and peace. As religious leaders, we have the obligation to emphasize that which unites us and to make a determined effort to set aside that which would divide us. We can only do this if we have full understanding of what the other believes, and are committed to the principle of respect and recognition of the beliefs and feelings of every community and person.

In concrete terms, there is the urgent need to steadily school ourselves to prefer trust to suspicion; prefer friendship to familiar confrontation; and above all, prefer love and service to the usual hatred and bigotry.  This demands a shedding off the old as well as dying …. But is this not the meaning of the saying:  “the old gives way to the new and death leads to life?”

It is precisely in this reality of continuing search for peace that I would like to cite two people. The first is the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali in his message to the 2nd International Forum on the Culture of Peace, 26 November 1995: “Peace is the basis for the realization of all the finest aspiration of life itself.”  The second is Pope John Paul II, a man known to harness both the religious leaders and traditions to promote peace and dialogue among religions. During his visit to the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 6 May 2001, he said: “It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as COMMUNITIES IN RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE, NEVER MORE AS COMMUNITIES IN CONFLICT”. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence.  Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.”

“Better mutual understanding will surely lead to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each other’s religious beliefs at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions NOT IN OPPOSITION, as it happened too often in the past, BUT IN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE GOOD OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.”

Again in his departure address (8 May – Damascus), he appealed to all the peoples and to their political leaders “to recognize that confrontation has failed and will always fail.  Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for the economic, cultural and social development to which the people of the region have a right."

In our commitment to peace building, we have to continue to believe and assert that PEACE is essential premise for human development, accomplishment and success.  This belief and assertion need always to be nurtured with care and protected from assaults and degradation by violent and evil men and women of our age.

There is no ready-made culture of peace for Mindanao or anywhere for that matter.  There are no easy quick-fixes to our difficulties and problems.  But together, we can weave a new “mat” where PEACE can take roots, grow and flourish.  But to be able to weave that new mat, we need to teach ourselves to speak the language of peace and reject the language of war!  

My dear friends, notwithstanding the difficulties and at times what appears hopelessness of our efforts… it is our collective responsibility to transform the language of war to language of peace – from force to reason, from imposition to dialogue, from exploitation to partnership, from enemies to friends.  It may sound as a new utopia…. But there is a the urgent need to plant, cultivate and nurture a new and refreshing attitude of openness in mind and heart, an essential disposition in understanding and living through the relations between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.  The Arabic word for this is TADABBAR.  This is the new attitude that will pave the way for a new beginning for each one of us and for each of our faith communities – yes, a new PASSAGE from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

In conclusion, I would like to quote a ten-year old Negah’s understanding of Peace…

"I know what a mine, a tank or a gun is, but I don't know what Peace looks like, because I haven't seen it.  Some people say it is a bird.  Some people say it is luck.  But I know when there is peace everyone can go to his homeland and live in his home.  When it comes, I will see what peace is and I will forget the names of all the weapons that I know." (Read at the IA Consultation – London, October 5-6, 2004)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our Common Search and Table...

Our Common Search...
By Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI

The interreligious gap and misunderstanding in the Southern Philippines has a long history. It dates back from the period of colonialism when the Philippines was annexed by Spain in the 16th century and later by the US at the turn of the 1900.

The encounter with Spanish forces was characterized by continuous war, except for intermittent truces that resulted to alienation and opposition between the Christianized Filipinos and the Islamized Filipinos now known as the “Bangsamoro peoples”.

The period during the American period was also characterized by war, only this time, by military victory that put an end to the once powerful sultanates in Mindanao and their annexation to the Philippines. This annexation paved the way for the programs of pacification and assimilation which included among others the opening of Mindanao for migration from the Luzon and the Visayas.

These historical facts have given rise to three significant realities that continue to haunt Muslim-Christian relations in the Philippines, even today. To wit:

1. The lingering suspicion and lack of trust that continue to characterize the relations between Christians and Muslims;
2. The sense of injustice on the part of the Bangsamoro and the Indigenous peoples for their lost ancestral domain.  After years of migration, they have found themselves a minority in their traditional homeland.  The Muslims are now majority only in five provinces out of the 24 in Mindanao; and
3. Poverty and neglect that led to, among others, the highest in mortality, illiteracy rate, lowest in access to basic services, especially health and education.

The above three are few of the causes of the renewed rebellion in the Southern Philippines.  The peace process in the Southern Philippines follows the ever changing tide and wind of the government in Manila.

This is the context that has made urgent the interface of Christianity and Islam in the Philippines.

There is an urgent need to distance the face of our faith traditions from the stereotypes of rebels/terrorists, on the one hand and oppressors and the army of occupation, on the other.

Christians and Muslims of goodwill, specifically bishops, ulama, priest and lay leaders beginning in early 70’s stood for justice and respect for human rights even during the height of battles between the Philippine regular army and the Moro National liberation Front.  The provinces of Cotabato and Sulu – the lands of many battles have witnessed examples of solidarity of people of goodwill from Christianity and Islam who continued to stand for justice and human rights.  The first association of Christian-Muslim Religious Leaders in Mindanao began in 1973 few months after the declaration of Martial law.  Then following the Peace Agreement in 1976, a more formal national conference involving leaders of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims began to address the problems of the South and to bring these issues to the attention of the National government.

Again, following the 1996 Final Peace between the Philippine Government and the Moro national Liberation, the Notre Dame University Peace Center has been in the forefront of   support and a pillar in the peace process in the Southern Philippines and the implementation of the 1996 Peace Accord.

Both associations contributed, through conferences and consultations, to a formation of yet another ‘thread’ beyond the familiar stereotypes and slogans in southern Philippines.  This a partnership, albeit still a minority, that work for peace, reconciliation and partnership in building a more inclusive communities and governance.

Interreligious dialogue has a particular and peculiar history in the Philippines both in the local and national level given the situation of the war in Southern Philippines.  Simply to name a few:
A partnership to stand for justice and defense of human rights;
A support to the peace process in Southern Philippines that continues from 1976 to the present;
An attempt of mutual accompaniment in celebrations of festivals like Duyog Ramadhan;
A pressure on the protagonists of the war to go back to the negotiating table to settle their differences;
Involvement of the religious from both sides of the divide in Tract II of the peace process in Southern Philippines.  The on-going consultation in Mindanao on peace is undertaken in the name of the Bishop Ulama Council, the former BUF.
Adopting Peace Education in schools and institutions of higher learning to imbibe a culture of peace in campuses; and
Assistance to the victims of war, specifically to the internally displaced.

In a similar vein, there are other movements and social formations that are of shared leadership of Muslims and Christians (Catholics and Protestants). These are active in various consultations and fora that seek to impact policies affecting the Southern Philippines.   These attempts to influence official policy formulation range from peacebuilding to the shape of peace agreement that will be acceptable to the major stakeholder in Mindanao.

The urgency for dialogue given the concrete context of the Southern Philippines and the attempts of leaders from both divides have greatly influenced the Philippine government to adopt interreligious dialogue as a priority in seeking a just and sustainable peace in Southern Philippines.  This has become an official policy that has marked the Philippines’ strong intervention and support to interreligious dialogue at the international bodies like UN and the Alliance of Civilizations, and of late in the Non Aligned Movement.

New Wind blowing and shaping…

Peacemaking is at the heart of our faith tradition…”Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”  Peacemaking demands for a new relationship – a new solidarity for all peoples across political and ideological boundaries, across cultures and religions.

I wish to echo the late Pope John Paul II’s message in Damascus at the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 6 May 2001.

“It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as COMMUNITIES IN RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE, NEVER MORE AS COMMUNITIES IN CONFLICT”. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence.  Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.”

“Better mutual understanding will surely lead to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each other’s religious beliefs at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions NOT IN OPPOSITION, as it happened too often in the past, BUT IN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE GOOD OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.”

In the same vein, I read the Common Word, with 138 signatories that speak of weight, influence and scholarship.  I personally consider the letter something historical with long enduring impact-

In the letter the Koran verse on tolerance is quoted: “Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works.  “Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ” (Al-Ma’idah, S. 5:48).

This Letter is a very important step in dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  Often Christians have taken the initiative regarding dialogue, and they have so done well. It is important that this first step continues in this direction with increased clarity, even showing differences and the need for correction.

I believe that with time this Letter can create an opening and a greater convergence on the more delicate issues of religious freedom, the absolute value of human rights, the relationship between religion and society, the use of violence, etc.., in short current issues that worry all believers in our world today.

People, institution, nation, communities, in fact, individuals endure and are recognized by their fidelity to values and traditions they stand for.  And to us, the three values that stand are family, joyful hard work and our faith & traditions. Today people admire Mother Theresa or Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King Jr. or Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, not because of their achievements but for the values and beliefs they stood for. They believed and lived with integrity and no embarrassment.

The need to provide the Story line…

Where do we locate ourselves within this flux and how do we view our confusion to say the least and deep crisis at worst in that new wind that blows and shapes a new world?

More than ever before, there is a need to “re-appreciate” and perhaps even “re-construct” the stories of successes and failures, of power and wealth in the present age now labeled as both “post modernism” and “post ideologies”.  I turn to Gil Bailie (cf. Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads: 1996) for the apt description of this age. He takes the person of Bernard (a character in Virginia Woolf’s novel, The Waves) to depict the modern person.  In the novel, Bernard says: “I have made up thousand stories. I have filled up innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all the phrases refer, but I have never yet found that story.”

I believe that Christians and Muslims, notwithstanding the difficulties, have found the way to the writing of the needed story line… it is there in the story of our family, tribe and clan. It is a “kindredness” shaped not only by blood, but also by our community and eco-system.  And our story line rooted in faith and traditions that form our values that lay the foundational set of virtues to move together forward in achieving our goals for ourselves and for humankind. We are darn proud of our story and we share it with the world with smile in our faces and joy in our hearts.

In Conclusion

I will end this presentation with a quote from the martyred President of Egypt Anwar Sadat (yet another  Nobel Peace laureate) expressed at the Knesset during his historic visit of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

“… Yet, there remains another wall.  This wall continues and constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection, a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deeds or decision.  A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement... It is this official statement as constituting 70% of the whole process. Today, through my visit to you, I ask why don’t we stretch out our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we might destroy this barrier?”

No doubt, we can lead the way by stretching our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we may build a new world with no borders and barriers yet preserving our identity as we tell and re-tell our story line with smile in our faces and joy in our hearts.

A final quote: “The age of nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudice, and build the earth.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Christian Witnessing that Muslims Understand - a Path for Interreligious Dialogue

Christian Witnessing that Muslims Understand… a Path and a Challenge for Interreligious Dialogue.
by Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI

Today, the world faces myriads of problems… poverty, AIDS/HIV, Wars and Genocides, Terrorism, Human trafficking, etc… This reality urges believers to take a second look at their respective religion… and ask fundamental, perhaps revolutionary, questions. Is religion part of the problem or part of the solution to that problem that the world faces?  In the midst of these man-made tragedies, how do our religions fulfill authentic compassion in human society? 

It is this same reality that compels us to also take a second look at our relationships as men and women of differing faiths.  Thus the beginning of “interreligious” dialogue…

My years of experience living in the midst of Islam in Southern Philippines have taught me that interreligious dialogue is a continuing journey… that can be described by an attitude and a disposition that a pilgrim takes as he/she embarks on the hajj.  “Labbayka” is the word that comes out of his/her mouth as he/she begins the journey to God’s abode. Labbayka ‘inna hum - Here I am … ready to do your bidding… in awe and in solidarity with all who undertake the journey…

In many places, circles and communities, interreligious dialogue is akin to an exercise or a ratio studiorum.  But to many people struggling to survive… to retrieve their dignity and basic rights and freedom as human beings or as a community and nation, interreligious dialogues offers that HOPE for an alternative world where with all our differences we can feel at home – secure and happy as children of God .

In my desire to live and struggle with Muslim minorities in the Southern Philippines , I have always been guided by what the Qur’an positively says about the Christians… And through these, I continue to struggle to enflesh that type of Christian witnessing that my Muslim neighbors can easily understand…

Three (3) Passages…

The first text is from Sura 5: 82 that says… “and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say ‘we are Christians’, because amongst these are men who are devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” (wa latajidanna aqrabahum mmawaddatan lilladhina amanu-l-lladhina qaalu nnaanasaaraa dhaalika bianna minhum qasisina waruhbaanaan wa annahum la yastakbiruna.) 

I resolve that I shall be true to this in my dealing with my Muslim neighbors… To be a…
·       A person of learning;
·       A person that renounces the world and NOT greedy; and
·       A person who is not haughty or arrogant!

Yes, I can be that person nearest to them in Love… because I am a Christian…

The second text is taken from Qur’an 57: 27 that states… “…we sent after them Jesus the Son of Mary and bestowed on him the Gospel; and we ordained on the hearts of those who followed him COMPASSION AND MERCY’.  (waja’aalnaa fi qulusbi-lladhina-ttaba’uhu raa’fatan wa –rahmatan).

The two key descriptions of Jesus’ followers are Compassion and Mercy… Is this NOT the very heart of religion and the very heart of God…? God is Rahmaan and Rahim!  “loving-kindness” The heart of religion and a believer as described in Sura 50:37… A believer who remembers the need for a feeling heart, a hearing mind and a present self… to his/her neighbor… (“…inna fi dhalika la-dhikra li-man kana lahu qalb aw alqa al-sam’wa wa huwa shahid”)

Reflecting on this passage, I wander whether the call for us is precisely to retrieve these key descriptions and allow them to bear upon the relationship between the worship that we bring and the behavior that we come by… or putting it in another way, allowing the “coincidence” between the heart of God and the heart of the believer.

The third text is from Sura 49: 14 that says “…we made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).  The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you”.  (Ya_ ay yuhal na_su in na_ halaqna_kum min zakariw wa unsa_ wa ja'alna_kum suu_baw wa qaba_ ila litaa_rafu_ in na akramakum indal la_hi atqa_kum in nal la_ha alimun kabir.)

Still in another Qur’anic passage, Sura 11: 118, it says: “If thy Lord had so willed He could have made mankind one People: but (he willed it otherwise, ands so) they will not cease to dispute.” (Wa lau sya_'a rabbuka laja'alan na_sa ummataw wa_hidataw wa la_ yaza_lu_na  mukhtalifin(a).)

But what is this righteousness being asked of us…?  Sura 2: 178 tells us… “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and giveth his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God fearing.” (Ya_ ayyuhal lazina a_manu_  kutiba 'alaikumul qisa_su  fil qatla_, al hurru bil  hurri wal 'abdu bil 'abdi wal unsa_ bil unsa_, faman 'ufiya lahu_ min akhihi syai'un fat tiba_'um bil ma'ru_fi wa ada_'un ilaihi bi ihsa_n(in), za_lika takhfifum mir rabbikum wa  rahmah(tun), fa mani'tada_  ba'da za_lika fa lahu_  'aza_bun alim(un).)

This is the concrete response to the Qura’nic invitation to “excel each other in good deeds” that constitute true piety and righteousness…

A Tradition….

When I was a young and idealistic priest… in search of a path on how to live and work among Muslims, I stumbled through the help of Frs. George Anawatti, OP and Jacques Jomier, OP and their Dominican companions in Cairo during the early 80’s to touch base with a tradition that began and identified with Frs. Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld.  It is the Badaliyya movement… or a Ransom Movement. 

It is a tradition that draws inspiration from the whole reality of “being a ransom” before the Lord beginning with Jesus Christ… to mark the relationships with our Muslim neighbors.

This a tradition retrieved by St. Francis of Assisi by being a threat to no one… loving in his powerlessness and poverty all without exclusion thus being empowered to call even the vowed enemies – called at that time as the “Saracens” as “brothers” and “sisters”.  Francis lived as a LITTLE and poor brother to all – semper minor!!!

In our contemporary times, Frs. Louis Massignon and and Charles de Foucauld through the mystical paths… discovered anew this inspiration and lived the hospitality as both guest and host and fulfilling in their lives and prayers whatever may be lacking or ambiguous in our relationship but at the same time always remaining as “little” brothers to their Muslim neighbors.

Last January 2006, I launched a blogspot on this particular path – the Badaliyya Movement.  I believe that by highlighting the examples of “Badals” in history of Muslim-Christian relations, we my find a key to a  life and community shared without exclusion.  Visit the blogspot at  http://badaliyya.blogspot.com/

In conclusion, I simply desire to reiterate what the Qur’an says about us and these remain formidable Challenges for us.

First is to become exemplar of  “la inna yastakbiruna”- not to be haughty…

Second is to enflesh in our life and action that raafatan wa rahmatan” - Mercy and compassion  - the urgent need today - a feeling heart, a hearing mind and a present self… to his/her neighbor.

Third is to follow the path that shows  “ila litaa_rafu_ in na akramakum indal la_hi “ - heeding invitation to “excel each other in good deeds.

And fourth is to retrieving the path of Jesus… who died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). He was a ransom (BADAL) for us all that we may be saved and have life to the full (John 3: 16)

Massignon's Mystical Vision of Muslim-Christian Relations

Massignon’s Mystical Vision of Christian – Muslim Relations

Better known in his native France than in this country, Louis Massignon was one of the most important scholars of Islam who ever lived. His influence on the study of Islam in the West was far-reaching, but Massignon was far more than an influential academic. His engagement with Islam was deeply personal and marked his life in profound and dramatic ways.

In a preface to a 1999 biography, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, paid tribute to Massignon's passionate engagement with the Other: "Louis Massignon invites us to enter into... the rediscovery of the original dialogue between cultures and religious. ... At a time when our world is prey to new waves of intolerance and new fundamentalisms ... we need to revive, in the hearts of men, this existential spirituality of Louis Massignon: dialogue, openness and tolerance."

A turning point in Massignon's life and the onset of his personal relationship with Islam began at the approach of dawn on May 3, 1908. While being held prisoner aboard a steamship on the Tigris River, accused of being a spy, Louis Massignon received a visit from a "Stranger without a Face" who took away everything he was and gave him everything he would become. Many years later, when he tried to describe this experience, Massignon stammered and resorted to metaphors. Massignon wrote that he saw himself as God, his judge, saw him at that moment--depraved and pretentious, worse than useless, undeserving of love or mercy or even of existence. He had abandoned the faith of his childhood; he was an active homosexual, a slave to his passions.

Massignon reported the execution of this judgment was suspended due to the prayers of five intercessors: Massignon's mother, the writer Juris Huysman who had prayed for Massignon on his deathbed, the Saharan hermit Charles de Foucauld, the tenth-century Sufi mystic al-Hallaj, and the Alousi family, pious Muslims who had given Massignon hospitality in Baghdad. It was thanks to these intercessors, both Christian and Muslim, that he was able to receive pardon. Massignon would later marvel that the prayer that spontaneously came to his lips after the mysterious visitation was in Arabic: "O God, O God, have mercy on me in my weakness!"

Louis Massignon was born on July 25, 1883, at Nogent-sur-Marne. His father was a sculptor who was well known in the French artistic community. Massignon was fascinated by Africa and the desert from his youth. His first trip to Algeria in 1901 confirmed his passion for this totally different world. By the age of 20 he had ceased to practice his Catholic faith and declared himself an agnostic. In 1904 he traveled to Morocco and began to seriously study both classical and dialectic Arab. In 1906 he was in Cairo. There he learned of the legends of al-Hallaj and met Luis de Cuadra, a Spanish nobleman, a convert to Islam, who became his lover and companion. The following year Massignon was sent by the French ministry of education to Baghdad for an archeological expedition into the Mesopotamian desert. It was during this mission that he was detained and accused of espionage and experienced his visitation from God.

While in Baghdad, Massignon had presented himself to the Alousi family of whom he had heard good reports. They didn't know him and had every reason to be suspicious of him. Yet they gave him hospitality, made him part of the family, shared everything with him and protected him as one of their own. After his capture, at great risk to themselves, the Alousi family rescued Massignon when the steamship he was on arrived in Baghdad. They made sure he received the medical attention he needed and helped him escape from Iraq.

When the "Stranger without a Face" presented himself to Massignon, it was like a reversal of his own role with the Alousis. The fact that he had been received as a faceless stranger enabled him to receive the divine visitation. Massignon never forgot that he owed his physical and moral salvation to the hospitality of this Muslim family. Through them and his other intercessors, Massignon encountered the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hospitality, one of the sacred duties of Islam, became a leitmotif for him, a lens through which he saw the entirety of God's relationship with us and our relationship to one another. To receive the other such as he is, in his strangeness and mystery, to accept him and share with him and, at the same time, be received--in this consists the Law and the Prophets and the Fiat, the gracious acceptance of the Incarnate Word by the Virgin Mary.

Massignon's other Muslim intercessor was al-Hallaj. One of the reasons Massignon traveled to Baghdad was his decision to write his doctoral dissertation on this 10th-century mystic who suffered greatly from the divisions in Islam and dreamed of a unified Muslim community. Although his God was the transcendent God of Islam, al-Hallaj claimed an intimate, loving relationship with him. Because of this, Al-Hallaj was condemned as a heretic and crucified; his body was cremated and his ashes thrown into the Tigris River in the area in which Massignon received his visitation.

The rest of Massignon's life was an unfolding of his experience with the Stranger and was dedicated to repaying his debt to his Muslim intercessors. For the next 50 years he studied and made known the life and sayings of al-Hallaj. The quality of his relationship with the mystic/martyr is strikingly summarized in a text written in 1932: "It is not that the study of his [al-Hallaj's] life, full and strong, righteous and undivided, ascending and dedicated, has revealed to me the secret of his heart. It is rather al-Hallaj who has penetrated my heart and penetrates it still."

Massignon thought about the priesthood and about joining missionary priest Charles de Foucauld in the Sahara but finally opted for marriage. Mobilized as an officer in the First World War, he was first stationed in Macedonia, then sent to Syria and Palestine as an aide to the French high commissioner. When Jerusalem was liberated from the Ottoman Turks, Massignon entered the Holy City alongside Lawrence of Arabia. He suffered bitterly when the Allies later broke their promises to the Arab insurgents. After the war he was named professor at the College de France where he taught until 1954. He went to Egypt regularly to give classes, in Arabic, at the University of Cairo. In 1929 he founded the Institute for Islamic Studies in Paris and that same year began giving French lessons in the evenings to illiterate North African immigrants--a work he carried on for several decades.

In 1941 he founded the Institute Dar-es-Salaam in Cairo to promote Arab-Christian studies. At one time president of the Friends of Gandhi, during the struggle for Algerian independence Massignon regularly visited North Africans detained in French prisons. He was arrested several times for participating in nonviolent demonstrations against French brutality toward Arabs both in France and Algeria, and he was physically assaulted by right-wing students for being an "Arab-lover." 

In 1950, Massignon was ordained a priest in the Greek Melkite rite, which allows for married clergy. He died of a heart attack Oct. 31, 1962.

Louis Massignon was a complex and conflictive personality. His erudition was legendary and often overwhelming. He was a tireless talker, literally bursting with ideas and intuitions, constantly jumping from one theme to another with a logic known only to himself. Yet he possessed a basic simplicity. He based his life on a sacred promise he had made to pray for his Muslim brethren and offer his life for them as they had prayed and risked their lives for him. Everything, from his vast intellectual-powers to the most humble gestures of solidarity and friendship, was at their service. There was an absolute, uncompromising, almost frightening fidelity and commitment. This loyalty extended to all his friendships. He would solemnly offer himself as a victim for the salvation of Luis de Cuadra, his former partner.

Not only did Massignon immerse himself in Arab literature, philosophy and mysticism; he learned to think as a Semite, reason as a Semite and express himself as a Semite. To read Massignon is to enter into another world where all is symbolic, where words point beyond themselves to mysteries that cannot be possessed. He approached Islam from the point of view of Islam itself and saw its values as they are interiorized by the community, as a pious and sincere Muslim would wish to live them. He sees the other as the other wants to see himself. This is the dialogue of hospitality, the reception of the other not on one's own terms but on his.

Massignon was not naive. He was well aware of the pettiness of the Muslim legalists, the intolerance of the fanatics, the avarice and ambition of the unscrupulous, yet he loved what was pure and noble in Islam. And it was this image of what was best in their faith that he presented both to the Arabs and to the Western world. (Would Christians not wish that our church be judged on what it aspires to be rather than on the tarnished witness we give?) Massignon's approach to Islam is not apologetic in any sense of the word nor is there any hint of proselytism. He desired, of course, that his friends arrive at the plentitude of truth but was convinced that what was positive and pure in Islam was a vehicle of grace that did, in fact, lead to the fullness of truth, even if it was not articulated.

Massignon, however, did not seem tempted by Islam as were many of his contemporaries who contrasted the sense of the sacred and the all-penetrating religious reference of the Muslim community with the secular indifference and spiritual apathy of Western culture. The God of Islam is unique and transcendent and the human race was created to witness to this inaccessible oneness. The God Massignon experienced and for whom he lived was the lover of man, the guest of the Virgin, who entered our lives that we might enter his. 

Massignon never pretended to be a theologian; his piety was very simple, almost childlike. In his life-long dialogue with Islam, he was very clear about where he stood; there was gratitude, respect and genuine love, but there was no accommodating the truth or glossing over irreducible differences on a confessional level. The ultimate and essential dialogue, however, was in the silent purity of the mystical experience, in the communion of the saints where the merciful are shown mercy beyond time and space.

Louis Massignon opened a whole new dimension to Christian-Muslim relations. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, was an enthusiastic admirer of his work as were Jacques and Raissa Maritain. The very positive assessment of Islam in the decree on ecumenism of Vatican II was due in great part to the influence of Massignon. For Islamic scholar John Voll of Georgetown University, the enduring legacy of Massignon was to reveal, both to the Western world and the Muslim world, the mystical dimensions latent in Islam.

But Massignon was not always understood by his contemporaries. His patriotism was seriously questioned during the Algerian revolution. His attitude towards the state of Israel alienated many of his closest friends. He did not deny the right of the Jewish people to a homeland but opposed the violence with which they expelled and humiliated the Arab populations to erect what he saw as a secular and materialistic state.

Reactions to Massignon in the Islamic communities were varied. He had many authentic and long-lasting friendships with numerous Muslim scholars. Those most receptive to him were the social radicals who wanted to modernize Islam and who were led by Massignon to rediscover the essential religious and mystical elements of their faith. One wonders what the Middle East would be today had Massignon's disciple, Ali Shari, prevailed in Iran rather than the Ayatollah Khomeini (Shari was assassinated in Paris prior to the overthrow of the shah). Just as numerous, however, were those who felt uncomfortable about a Christian expounding on their religion. Moreover, it was practically unimaginable in certain more traditional circles that a Christian who knew Islam as profoundly as did Massignon would not convert to Islam if he were in good faith. He was thus suspected of ulterior motives. After centuries of polemic and warfare between Christianity and Islam, it was difficult to believe in the absolute gratuity of Massignon's interest and sympathy.

There are many truths lived and preached by Massignon that are relevant to the "clash of civilizations" we are witnessing today. There can be no peace and confraternity without dialogue, and there can be no dialogue without respect for the other such as he is. This implies a basic humility, a capacity for hospitality where one is emptied and enriched. This is the opposite of what is happening around us. But prophets are sent in times of crisis, and Massignon's dedication to empathetic understanding of the other sets a standard for us to follow today.

(by Jerry Ryan is a freelance writer and a longtime worker at the New England Aquarium. Published in National Catholic Reporter Dec. 17, 2004)

Prophecy - Challenge and Comfort


Working for a summer in one of our Oblate parishes, I was living in the rectory with an elderly priest, a fine, saintly man. He had been ordained for more than 50 years and had, during all those years, been exemplary, honest, faithful, and generous. He was deeply respected. I was taken by his goodness.
One evening, I asked him: "Father, if you had your life as a priest to live over again, would you do anything different?" I was expecting him to say no, given his obvious goodness and fidelity. His answer surprised me.
"If I had my priesthood to live over again," he said, "I would be a gentler with people the next time. I would console more and challenge more carefully.
I was one of those people who was taught and who deeply believed that only the full truth can set us free, that we owe it to people to challenge them with the truth, in season and out. I believed that and did it for most of the years of my ministry. And I was a good priest, I lived for others and never once betrayed in any real way my vows and my commitment.
But now that I am older, I regret some of what I did. I regret that sometimes I was too hard on people! I meant it well, I was sincere, but I think that sometimes I ended up laying added burdens on people when they were already carrying enough pain. If I were just beginning as a priest, I would be more gentle, I would spend my energies more trying to lift pain from people. People are in a lot of pain. They need us, first of all, to help them with that!"
What the world needs first of all from us, the churches, is comfort, help in lifting and understanding its complexity, its wounds, its anxieties, its raging restlessness, its temptations, and its infidelities and its sin. Like the prodigal son, the world needs first of all to be surprised by unconditional love. Sometime later, and there will be time for that, it will want hard challenge.
(Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI)

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Badaliyya Tradition

The Badaliyya Tradition…
By Dorothy C. Buck

In 1934 a renowned French Catholic Islamic scholar and an Egyptian Christian woman also prayed together before the altar of a Franciscan Church in Damietta, Egypt. In a passionate plea to the God of Abraham, father of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, they made a vow to dedicate their lives to pray for the Muslim people, to stand before God for them.

As a young man, Louis Massignon had lost interest in his Christian heritage. After an unusual conversion experience while on an archeological mission in Baghdad he became a devout Roman Catholic believer. Through years of research in the Arab world he came to love his Muslim friends and colleagues.

Mary Kahil was a Melkite Christian who grew up in Cairo, Egypt where she became active in the Muslim women's political and social causes.

Louis discovered the roots of his spirituality and his faith life in his belief that to be a follower of Christ we must substitute our own lives for the salvation of others as Jesus did.

Thus the vow that Louis and Mary made in Damietta on February 9th, 1934 was grounded in a deep conviction of the heart, a call to what Louis named the Badaliyya, an Arabic word meaning substitution.

In 1947 Louis Massignon and Mary Kahil received official approval from Rome for the statutes of the Badaliyya. They attracted many members in Cairo as well as those joining in solidarity with them, like Cardinal Montini, the future Pope Paul Vl, and many others in monasteries and church communities around the world.

In the statutes they agreed to pray for the Muslims, to treat them with respect, affection and kindness, and to personally live the gospel message of love in their daily lives. Like Mary they devoted themselves to the Muslim community by volunteering in organizations where they could live out the spirit intended by the Badaliyya.

They met once a week for an hour. Guided by his relationship with Charles de Foucauld, Massignon invited them to begin their gatherings with a prayer in solitude before the altar called adoration. Then they read the spiritual writings of Foucauld or others, and ended by praying together.

Louis Massignon's understanding of what he called mystical substitution traced back to earlier church traditions. The many saints who were often martyrs for their faith were said to unite their sufferings and death with the passion and death of Christ.  In the medieval church some extraordinary mystics felt called to pray to take onto themselves the physical and emotional afflictions of those who came to them for healing.

These examples seem far from our contemporary experience of faith and appear exaggerated and foreign. Yet, Louis Massignon's vision of such immense love of
God, even at the expense of one's own life or health, evolved into a profound and intense spirituality of compassion for others.

In a letter written on January 16, 1955 to Mary Kahil he described the spirit of the
Badaliyya: (All Massignon references are from L'Hospitalité Sacrée, Ed. Jacques Keryell, 1987. Author's translation.)

"...They say that the Badaliyya is an illusion because we cannot put ourselves in the place of another, and that it is a lover's dream. It is necessary to respond that this is not a dream but rather a suffering that one receives without choosing it, and through which we conceive grace. It is the visitation [by the spirit of God], hidden in the depth of the anguish of compassion, which seizes us as an entrance into the reign of God. It certainly appears powerless, yet it requires everything, and the One on the cross who shares it with us transfigures it on the last day. It is suffering the pains of humanity together with those who have no other pitiful companion than us."