Father Paolo Dall’Oglio Father Frans van der Lugt Father Jacques Mourad
Many of you who read these Notes have generously donated to our appeal for funds to support children refugees at the monastery of Mar Elian in Qaryatayn, Syria. Sadly, the work at the monastery has been imperiled. On May 21, four armed men from ISIS entered the monastery and abducted the abbot, Father Jacques Mourad, along with a co-worker. There has been no word if he and his colleague are still alive. Father Jacques was a friend. A soft-spoken man with an air of gentleness around him, he gave the energy of his life each day to comfort those suffering from the war.
Now all three priests we knew and worked with in Syria have been silenced: Father Paolo, abducted and presumed killed by ISIS in Raqqa where he went to appeal to them for mercy for other prisoners; Father Frans, shot dead in the courtyard of the Jesuit refuge in Homs where he worked without pause to serve the Homs community under siege; and now Father Jacques.
These men were warned their lives were in danger. Friends insisted that they leave for their home countries — Italy, the Netherlands, and France — before it was too late, but they refused.
Father Jacques: “As the priest and pastor, I will never leave this place so long as there are people here, unless they hunt me down.”
Father Frans: “I have learned about the generosity of the Syrian people. As I was with these people in their good times, I am with them in their pain.”
Father Paolo: “I have been thinking of the words of the disciples to Jesus in the gospels before he died. ‘Must you go to Jerusalem?’ they asked. And the answer is yes — sometimes you must go to Jerusalem. You must go with your physical body in order to be there.”
For us who are not faced with such a decision in the midst of a war — to stay or to leave — what can we learn from the self-sacrifice of these priests? We might be in awe of them, or baffled by their decision, or even repelled by it, but their action nevertheless reveals something about the human soul’s capacity for love that may give us a glimpse into the awesome mystery of our own identity and our own capacity.
The Sufi mystic Inayat Khan describes the soul not as an entity but as a current, like the current of a vast river of becoming — a radiance rather than a thing. Each of us can experience this current directly, not as a concept but in the intimacy of the present moment. If it remains a concept it doesn’t reveal very much. The intimation of the luminous current that is soul only shows itself directly, without interpretation. When it is revealed like this, we recognize that all of us are this same current, this soul. It is not isolated inside our privacy; it is an invisible radiance happening all at once, shared by all.
I believe the faith of these three priests was so profound that they realized this commonality of our souls’ provenance, the universal current that runs deeper than the specific stories of any religion. Each of them served Muslims and Christians without discrimination. They knew in their bones the unity behind the diversity we experience. Their generosity flowed naturally because it was not encumbered by a presumed division of self and other. To them, Jesus’ admonition to “Love your neighbor as yourself” was not an analogy, but a simple description of the way it is.
In the early spring a few years ago, I went for a walk with Father Paolo on a rocky trail behind his monastery of Mar Musa, a stone eyrie originally built into the desert cliffs in the 10th century. There had been a light snow during the night that was now melting in the morning sun. We sat on the ground next to a wide rock and watched the water running down the rock’s surface. It glistened with little flashes of rainbow light. Father Paolo was moved by the sight of the light-filled water playing over the stone in this dry land – he took it as a good omen for the interfaith project we had been discussing.
“You see how the water sparkles there and there and there?” he said. “It is the same water, but look how it shines with different colors!”
Father Paolo, Father Frans, and Father Jacques could not leave their people because they were their people, even the armed men who came to silence them. When thirty men, all masked, attacked Mar Musa in 2012, as Father Paolo recounted to an interviewer in Beirut, “the monks and sisters talked to these men, and invited them for tea. The men found themselves in a different world, and their humanity started to surface. These are our people too.”
That is the embrace of kindness these priests offered with their lives. They saw how our many souls are one from the same sacred source. Their first concern was not self-protection but faithfulness to this truth. The sad news of their being silenced holds within it this good news, the message of love their lives revealed.
I just spent some days in gratefulness. i needed to become 51 to be humble enough not to complain about “being here” or not having more of this and that. Does the message of Brother Steindl-Rast contradict the Course In Miracles, when it said yesterday “The world i see holds nothing that i want” and today “beyond this world is a world i want.”? Or is not the other way around: Each moment of gratefulness opens our hearts to the real world and restoring to our awareness which was given us already? http://youtu.be/3Zl9puhwiyw
When I was born in East Germany in 1963 this part of the country had already been under one form of dictatorship or another for thirty years. In 1933 the Nazis had come to power, and the post-war communist dictatorship had another 27 years to go. When I grew up and went to school it was expected that I would join the communist youth organisation – which I did, because my parents did not want to suffer disadvantages for political disobedience. Nor did I.
The political education in this organization was strict. The teachers made it clear that communism was the final answer to all the problems of human civilisation. The Communist ideology equated the development of human consciousness with the biological laws of mutation and progress, based in Darwinian evolutionary theory. They taught us that history would inevitably lead to Communism as biological evolution had led to Homo Sapiens.
That sounded very convincing in itself.
But we were able to compare our standard of living with that of West Germany, which broadcasted its way of life every evening into our living rooms via TV. This was possible because out of an inner resistance the East German people had put thousands of antennas up on their roofs in order to receive the West German signal. When the western parts of our family visited us, we could see that the capitalist system was progressing much faster than ours. We had the most primitive cars using technology of the thirties. Our Eastern technology couldn´t catch up with the Western speed. The whole economy in East Germany could not fulfil the desires of the people. That caused a lot of frustration. The proclaimed superiority of our system was therefore only propaganda.
The Communist claim to moral superiority was debunked by how the system was dealing with its own people. The people were more interested in consumerism and free traveling than in the promises of the golden future of communism. Thus the system was never really accepted.
The Communist Party founded therefor the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit(Stasi), which was one of the best Security Services of the world. It was taken seriously by the Mossad (the secret service of Israel), in contrast to the West German counterpart Bundes-nachrichtendienst. The job of the Stasi was it to ensure the survival of the Communist regime. It called itself The Shield and the Sword of the (communist) Party. The mere existence of the Stasi caused mistrust between our Christian youth group and the other alternative movements I was involved in. To introduce fear into all underground groups and also into the Christian middle class was the main achievement of the Stasi.
Spies were everywhere and we knew it.
One time, short after my induction into the army I tried to escape to the West via Hungary. In my naivety, I told some of my friends about my plans. One day of despair I was finally sitting alone in a hotel in Budapest, after being rejected by the West German embassy there, which was not able to smuggle me out of the country. By accident I was talking also to the owner of my rented room and informed her about my plan. She was the mother of a Hungarian soldier who was keeping guard on the border. She begged me in tears not to risk my life by the attempt to cross the border, because the Russians would shoot me, as she knew well from her son.
After all of this I received an intuitive inner message, saying that I could return safely to East Germany, but still had to go to the Army for 18 months. I had no other choice and returned.
Indeed nothing happened to me. Not because the Stasi was so nice and merciful to forgive me. Even the plan to escape from the country would have been sentenced to two years in prison. I was probably not taken because the spy in our group was not telling them anything. He was actually on my side, as he had been forced into spying by the threat of jail when he himself asked for asylum in another West German embassy.
This forced treachery against a friend was common in our society: it is what the movie “The Life of the Others” is based on. However, my kind of luck was not common.
The Stasi tried to know everything, believing that control would produce security. They opened our letters on a regular basis. They listened to our phone calls. My family was fortunate to have a phone at all because my mother was a doctor. We were almost the only ones beside some security officers. The other phone was on the street, the only one for nearly a thousand people. Each call to the West required government approval. The crackling in the line was the sure indication that “Big Brother” was listening. This occurred during all phone calls to West Germany in my experience.
But because the Stasi did not trust computers (being afraid of a Western spy attacks) they created miles and miles of paper, with no meaning in the end. They had no filter system like the NSA has today. So they did not know what to do with all the information they collected.
They were not the only ones who monitored us, however.
In the spring of 1989, when my sister went to West Berlin in order to benaturalized by the U.S. protecting power there, we found that the U.S. also knew everything about our family. The Americans were able to collect information about us by hacking radio signals. In 1989 the surveillance of West Germany by the NSA was already in full swing because of the Allied post-war agreements between the U.S. and Germany. The German magazine “Der Spiegel” has already written of this in 1989.
When the East German people did not agree to be further suppressed by fear they went to the streets claiming back their freedom in the fall of that same year. When I reached the building of the Stasi during the first demonstration I saw the shadows of soldiers with AK-47 in the light which shone across the darkened building. They were running up the steps to be positioned behind the windows. All we had were candles in our hands, and the “brotherhood of man” – each other.
And against us throughout the country we faced three standing armies: the regular German NVA, the Russian occupation forces, and the army of the Stasi against us. On our side we had only some hundred thousand people on the street out of 16.8 million people living in East Germany.
Where were all the other East Germans? They were watching us on West German TV – complacently observing from the safety of their homes, waiting to see how it would turn out. So how, in the end, did we win the revolution?
Because time and the universe were on our side.
The wind of change had already been introduced by Gorbachev. It was time to wake up. And luckily not one shot was triggered during the revolution. East Germany was a very disciplined country. That was the prerequisite for Gorbachev not to interfere: “If one gun is fired, I would have need to send the tanks,” he said afterwards. His generals would not allow him to let us go otherwise, because the blood of their forefathers shed during World War II against Hitler’s Germany demanded that Eastern Europe remain forever under Soviet rule, as Brezhnev said in a secret meeting with the captured Czechoslovakian Government around Dubcek in August 1968 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia during the Praque Spring. Breshnev, the Soviet leader, did not want the invasion and literally bagged Dubcek, the Czechoslovak leader at that time, until the last days to take back the reforms which changed the communist country within a few months almost into a grass roots democracy, what Dubcek did not do want to do. So the Czechoslovakia Spring ended. Also did the Hungarian revolution a decade before the Prague Spring in 1956. At that time the Soviet leader Chruschtschow was ready to let the Hungarians go, meaning to let them become neutral like Austria. But the Suez Crisis performed by Israel, the U.K. and France prevented this to happen. The Soviets could not allow a break in the wall of their defence system. Could we be successful in our foolish endeavor in 1989?
For some reason we were carried through the whole process without that one fatal shot being fired.
Can we maintain such discipline today, in the face of NATO-orchestrated infiltration and provocation, such as we saw in Egypt and in Ukraine? In the face of the vastly more sophisticated surveillance of the NSA?
The surveillance we experience nowadays has a much higher perfection and penetrating power then the Stasi had until 1989. Is there any hope for a change?
It is worth remembering that we really had no hope in 1989. Who could change the post-war order, this fragile nuclear balance between the USSR and the U.S.? We were watching ourselves as if in a dream, even as we were walking and yelling in the streets, tearing the system apart step by step, taking on one position after another. We could not believe what we saw ourselves doing.
It was a miracle altogether.
We did not want to implement the West German capitalist system into our country. But the people who spent the revolution on their sofas, watching passively from the sidelines, who were the vast majority during the first elections – they were tired of socialist experiments. For them, freedom essentially meant money and traveling – being part of West Germany. I do understand it.
But now we have reached the same point. Our dream of freedom can´t be supported by the system anymore. Do we have help to do the same thing again? Help is always there. But we have to jump into the unknown in order for the Unknown to fight for us. If we merely watch from the sidelines, nothing will happen.
As Joan of Arc said, “Act! And God will act with you.”
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This moment is a counterpart of different ideas. True and false ideas don´t touch each other, because the come from different realms. But in this moment in our mind they flowing into the stream of our consciousness and we can just let them go. All illusionary ideas will be translated into Truth and ideas which are already true will lift us up even more into heaven or pure consciousness.
About the Holy Spirit who is right under the “thunder of the meaningless”.