For Sunday, June 24, 2012
Birth of John the Baptist
Vigil: Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Peter 1:8-12
Day: Isaiah 49:1-6
Luke 1:57-66, 80
Most people would not consider a monk who has lived in the desert for thirty years a threat to the stability of a government. But that is not how the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad views the Italian Jesuit priest, Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio.
Fr. Dall'Oglio arrived in the Syrian desert in 1982, where he uncovered the remains of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi. The eleventh-century ruins marked a hermitage dedicated to St. Moses the Ethiopian. During his time in the desert, Fr Dall'Oglio gathered a small group of followers who worked to rebuild the monastery and also build together a communion of life dedicated to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The monastery at Deir Mar Musa has become a place of pilgrimage for both young Christians and young Muslims in Syria, as is revealed in a brief video from PBS, and a 2010 story in the New York Times.
Now, after years of promoting dialogue and understanding, Fr. Dall'Oglio is being expelled from Syria. Although the order for his expulsion came down last year, a Facebook campaign managed to postpone its implementation, at least until this week. Now, Fr. Dall'Oglio is on his way out of the country.
In May, Fr. Dall'Oglio was in Qusayr, Syria. He told Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, that he went there to be an oasis of prayer "in the middle of the fight, in an enclosed city; constant prayer, disturbed by machine guns."
He stays with a Christian family in town, because the parish house is not safe. Fr. Dall'Oglio explains, "My prayer and my presence wants to also be a sign of hope, so that Syrians can blossom this spring, to a future of unity and dialogue characterized by pluralism."
Like Fr. Dall'Oglio, John the Baptist went out into the desert. In his own way, John found and heard the message of God. And like Fr. Dall'Oglio, John paid a price for adhering to that message. In John's case, the price of being a prophet was death at the hands of the corrupt government of Herod.
Fr. Dall'Oglio does not yet face death, although in an interview with National Public Radio he said: "It would be better for me to be dead with the martyrs of this country than to go away in exile. I have offered my life for the future of this country, and I wish to stay in full solidarity with them; so I will come back."
We'll celebrate the birth of the Baptist this weekend, the holy Forerunner, who spent much of his life in the desert. He was the one who proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God. The Gospels for both the vigil and the day are hopeful and prophetic. Because we know how the story of John the Baptist ends, we also hear these texts with a certain sense of foreboding. As joyous as John's birth may be, we know that it doesn't turn out well for him in the end. He's beheaded by Herod, because of nothing more than a drunken promise given to a sensuous dancer.
As much as he desires to be with the people of Syria in their own land, Fr. Dall'Oglio doesn't know if he will ever be able to go back to the place that has been his home for thirty years. His solidarity with young Christians and young Muslims has put him at odds with the government even as he speaks of peace and nonviolence. He says, "I am a monk, and I have taken a position with nonviolence."
After celebrating the festival of John's birth this weekend, we may go to dinner (if we were at Saturday night Mass), or breakfast or brunch. We might work out in the yard, or relax with friends at a lake or beach. Maybe we'll go to a movie or to a mall to take advantage of the air-conditioning. Almost all of us will not worry about gunshots or bombs or being expelled from the place we've lived for years, things that our fellow Christians worry about day after day in Syria, in Iraq, in China, in Nigeria, and in other places where the church is persecuted.
It will be good for us on this feast to think about the Christians who live in the region of John's birth, and to consider their testimony to the faith. Our prayer, support, and solidarity would be a fitting way to honor the one who pointed the way to Christ. Concrete actions to help persecuted Christians would be a fitting way to honor the birth of John, who pointed out Christ as the Lamb of God, slain for all.
Great and merciful Lord,
your Son's coming was heralded by John,
who proclaimed him to be the Lamb of God.
As we celebrate the festival of John's birth,
may we heed his prophetic voice
and find the way to the One who gives us life without end
secure in the promise of his love.
We ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
LECTURE BY FR. PAOLO DALL'OGLIO, SJ
In 2011, the University of Scranton hosted Fr. Paolo Dell'Oglio, founder and director of Deir Mar Musa monastery. Fr. Dell'Oglio's lecture was titled, "In Love with Islam, Believing in Jesus" and emphasized the importance of mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims for peace in the Middle East. You can watch Fr. Dell'Oglio's lecture on YouTube at: " target="_blank">www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtB1n85iRlI.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (known throughout the Middle East as the Pontifical Mission) supports Christians in discreet ways in very challenging situations. Invite parish members to learn more and to make a contribution by visiting: www.cnewa.us.
FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM—June 21–July 4
The Catholic Bishops have announced a special time of prayer leading up to Independence Day 2012. The "Fortnight for Freedom" begins on June 21 and will include opportunities for prayer on a local and national level. For more information visit: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/index.cfm. Parishes that use the publishing services of Liturgical Publications Inc can find cover art on the LPi Art & Media Portal with the keyword "Fortnight for Freedom."
PETER'S PENCE COLLECTION
Many dioceses will take up the annual collection to support the charitable works of the Holy Father (Peter's Pence) the weekend of June 23–24. Promotional materials are available from the UCSSB on their website at: http://usccb.org/catholic-giving/opportunities-for-giving/peters-pence/collection/index.cfm. Publishing partners of Liturgical Publication Inc have easy access to these materials and much more through the exclusive LPi Art & Media Portal. For information on a free Art & Media Portal account visit: www.4LPi.com/bulletinsandnewsletters/resourcestools/portal.
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