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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Interfaith in Iraq

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Irak: Neues Kloster für interreligiöse Begegnungen

A new monastery is being built in northern Iraq as place of encounter and prayer for Christians and Muslims. The model is the Syrian Convent of Mar Moussa. A monk of the monastery community, the Swiss Jens Petzold has already been on site for two months and another brother and two sisters will follow, said Petzold to the agency "Kathpress" from Suleymaniye, a northern Iraqi town where the monastery has been established. The initiative for this project comes from both the Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk as well as the Community of Mar Moussa themselves.

Archbishop Sako invited the community of the monastery in Syria to revive the old Church of St. Mary in Suleymaniye and transform it in conformity with the requirements of the monastery. Brother Jens said the community had long sought to expand their activities in the East. They had already thought about communities in Iran and Pakistan, two countries where conversion is however currently not possible (Blognote- and they are clearly not a proselyte community). The discussion kept returning to Iraq. The status of Christian minority in a Muslim country is interesting for the community of Mar Mousa . Petzold: "We want to be there for the Christian minority and enter at the same time through our presence into dialogue with Islam."

"We certainly don't just want to import monks into the country"

Petzold wants to develop spiritual activities for the Christians in the city . He believes that the contemplative spirituality of Mar Moussa would also appeals to Christians in Iraq. At the same time, the monk seeks to build with imams, sheikhs and mosques "good neighborly relations". St. Mary's Church in Suleymaniye is an old church in the city, unused for many years.

According to the customs and traditions of Eastern Christianity and Islam are the pews removed, and prayer rugs are put in place. So the meeting place will address the faithful of both religions and be a place of dialogue and common prayer as well as new perspectives. In the long term, it is hoped that locals will join the convent. "We certainly do not want to import in the long run monks in Iraq".

The monastery is modelled on Mar Moussa in Syria , the Syrian Catholic monastery of Mar Moussa hit the headlines in late February of this year when it was attacked by 30 heavily armed and masked men and searched for weapons and money. Those who were present at the monastery, monks and guests were for hours at the mercy of armed men although no-one was injured. Whether the perpetrators were opponents of the regime, secret police, or "common criminals" is controversial. Brother Jens would not comment publicly on the events, although they have their suspicions about possible motives.

Built by the Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, the revitalized monastery is an important center of interreligious dialogue in Syria. Father Dall'Oglio with his community has also expressed support for democratic reforms in Syria, without making common cause with the militant opponents of President Assad. At the time of the raid itself, Dall'Oglio was in Damascus. The tradition of Mar Moussa extends back into the 5/6 Century AD. The full name of the monastery is "Mar Moussa el-Habashi," translated "St Moses of the Abyssinians" and refers to a highly aristocratic Ethiopian saints who left behind carnal pleasures, wealth, career and family in the home in order to live a sober life as a recluse. The present church of the monastery was built in 1058. The monastery was deserted for more than 300, until it was revitalized under Father Dall'Oglio.

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