Justice for Father Dall'Oglio after his kidnapping in Syria

Francesca Peliti's book on the Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, kidnapped nine years ago in Syria, was presented at the National Federation of the Italian Press.

Antonino Piccione-August 2, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: Father Paolo Dall'Oglio in 2008. ©CNS photo/John Feiste

"Paolo Dall'Oglio and the community of Deir Mar Musa", the book by Francesca Peliti (published by Effatà) was presented yesterday in Rome at the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (FNSI). Present with the author were: Cenap Aydin, director of the Tiberian Institute - Center for Dialogue; Immacolata Dall'Oglio, sister of Father Paolo; Giuseppe Giulietti, president of Fnsi; Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation; and Riccardo Cristiano, Vaticanist.

Nine years without Paolo Dall'Oglio

Nine years after his death, "we have continued to think of Paolo Dall'Oglio and to hope. In the meantime - reads the preface by Father Federico Lombardi - we could not help but wonder countless times about the fate of the Community of Deir Mar Musa founded by him, which has continued on its way, far beyond what many would have expected. Why and how? Why and with what perspectives? This book tells us and explains many things, rightly giving the main space to the personal testimonies of all the members of the Community who have been part of it up to now, or of others who have participated more deeply in its trajectory over the years. Paul is very much present, as the origin, guide and inspirer of this extraordinary adventure, and also with his letters. But there is more than him. And that is precisely why the Community is still there.

Over many years, Father Paolo's theological and spiritual vision has engaged a great number of people, making a mark on them by changing the course of their lives. Since 1982, the monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi, or St. Moses the Abyssinian, has become a point of reference for the Islamic-Christian dialogue. It has gone through many transformations, surviving war, the threat of Isis and the kidnapping of its founder in Raqqa on July 29, 2013.
The book tells their story through the voices of the protagonists. "It is a journey that began at the hand of Father Paolo, but did not end with his disappearance. "On the contrary," point out the organizers of the book presentation, "in these writings the Community renews a vow of faith that transcends historical events to put the thought of its founder back at the center."

Thetimonies and letters

In addition to the testimonies of the monks, nuns and lay people who in various ways have been part of this story, some letters that Father Paolo sent to friends during the early years accompany part of this journey. There are twelve letters in all, the first in 1985, the last in 1995: it is his account of that period. Francesca Peliti wanted to include them among the testimonies regardless of time, so that through the words of Father Paolo the past returns to the present.

"Since the day Paolo Dall'Oglio, then a young Jesuit, discovered, in an ancient guidebook in Syria, the existence of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi," Peliti explains, "there have been many people whose existence has been changed by their encounter with that place, that project, that vocation. Mar Musa has always had the power to attract even those who did not have a clear vision of their faith. It has always had the power to evoke the call, the strong and special vocation for the values it embodies and for which Paolo Dall'Oglio has become the spokesman."

First followers of Paolo Dall'Oglio

In the story of Jaques Mourad, the first monk who together with Dall'Oglio founded the community of Deir Mar Musa, the importance of the vertical dimension emerges, of the relationship with the Absolute that motivates and gives meaning to everything. "The fact of living in the nothingness attracted me," are his words, "it was the realization of a very ancient dream, because for me the desert is the place where I can experience a free encounter with God."

Other testimonies focus more on the physical dimension of being and doing together, on the monastery as a place of passage and formation, a stage of an itinerary susceptible to the most diverse landings and directions. "The accounts of some vocational events are impressive," Father Lombardi points out, "it's not Paul, it's not the charm of a place. It is God. But the path is very demanding. For most Christians in the East, you can live with Muslims, but it is difficult to really dialogue with them, it is difficult to love them as God loves them in Jesus Christ. However, this is the real great novelty that Paul came to sow in the land of Syria".

The community today

At present, the Community of Deir Mar Musa has 8 members, 1 novice and 2 postulants, in addition to the laity who collaborate in the monasteries of Deir Maryam al-Adhra in Sulaymanya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and of Santissimo Salvatore in Cori, Italy.

As for the kidnapping of Father Dall'Oglio, the siblings Francesca and Giovanni recently requested the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate what happened nine years ago. Since then, there has been no news: a "request for clarifications and official investigations that is now unavoidable", through a parliamentary instrument that, also because of its political relevance, "could allow us to get to the truth".

A matter on which silence has fallen too soon, also due to the widespread belief that Dall'Oglio was killed by his kidnappers. However, there are still many unclear points, starting from the fact that no one has yet claimed authorship of the action. And again: the motive for the kidnapping, the identity of the perpetrators - the men of the self-styled Islamic State? -and, in the hypothesis of murder, the failure to find the body.

A parliamentary committee

A few days after the request for the creation of the parliamentary commission, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, signed the decree dissolving the Senate of the Republic and the Chamber of Deputies. The hope is that already during the election campaign, which promises to be more polarized and divisive than ever, all the political forces and their respective leaders will find at least a point of agreement and commit themselves so that the new Parliament will adopt as one of its first measures precisely that of creating the commission on the dramatic story of a truly "great" person, because great was his life, his word, his style, in the sign of peace and dialogue in the midst of differences.

The Middle East, once a Christian land, is now inhabited by a Muslim crowd in which Christian communities are on the verge of disappearing. But the dream of a monastic community in which Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims can live together in harmony does not disappear. In the clarity of faith and strengthened by the visionary courage of all the followers of Father Dall'Oglio.          

The authorAntonino Piccione

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