Syrian monastery seeks guests after years of conflict

NABK, Syria: A Syrian desert monastery that was as soon as a hub for interfaith dialogue, attracting tens of 1000’s, has reopened to guests after greater than a decade of conflict and isolation.
“We yearn for folks to return. We need to see them pray and meditate with us as soon as extra, in order that they could discover right here an area for calm, silence and contemplation,” Father Jihad Youssef instructed AFP, his voice echoing by means of the darkish, empty halls of the monastery he heads.
In 2010, 30,000 folks visited Deir Mar Moussa Al-Habashi (St. Moses the Ethiopian), a seventh century monastery perched atop a barren, rocky hill about 100 km  north of Damascus.
However the onset of civil conflict in 2011 and the disappearance of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who had led and revived the group since 1982, scared away guests for practically a decade.
With safety having improved in surrounding areas, the monastery reopened its doorways to guests this month.
They have to climb 300 steps to succeed in the stone monastery, constructed on the ruins of a Roman tower and partly carved into the rock.
It has an eleventh century church adorned with icons, historic murals and writing in Arabic, Syriac and Greek that claims “God is love” and “within the identify of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” — a phrase that serves as Muslim reward to God.
Dall’Oglio hosted interfaith seminars on the monastery, the place the Christian minority and Muslims used to hope facet by facet, turning it into an emblem of coexistence that attracted guests and worshippers for 3 a long time.
The Italian Jesuit priest was expelled from Syria in 2012 for supporting a mass anti-government rebellion, however returned a yr later.
He disappeared in the summertime of 2013, on his technique to the headquarters of the group that later turned often known as Daesh within the metropolis of Raqqa, the place he had gone to plead for the discharge of kidnapped activists.
Dall’Oglio’s observe of inter-religious coexistence was the precise reverse of the illiberal, murderous extremism of IS.
He was reported to have been executed and his physique dumped in a crevice quickly after his seize, however his demise was by no means confirmed by any celebration.
“IS almost certainly kidnapped him. We have no idea for certain whether or not he’s alive or useless,” Youssef mentioned, including that nobody contacted the monastery to demand ransom.
In 2015, the monastery got here beneath Daesh gunfire after the jihadists started two years of management within the close by Homs countryside.
“We had been scared we might be kidnapped or killed at any second,” particularly after IS reached the close by village of Al-Qaryatain and kidnapped teams of Christians there, Youssef mentioned.
Daesh kidnapped the monastery’s former chief Jacques Mourad from Al-Qaryatain for a number of months in 2015. The group razed a monastery within the close by village and locked a whole bunch of Christians in a dungeon. They had been later freed, however a Christian group which as soon as numbered a whole bunch in Al-Qaryatain has now fallen to fewer than two dozen.
“We skilled all types of concern,” Youssef mentioned, including that they felt remoted within the desert monastery on the peak of the preventing, and later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
US-backed native forces defeated the Daesh “caliphate” in japanese Syria three years in the past, whereas Syrian authorities troops, supported by Russia and Iran-linked forces, have recaptured a lot territory from rebels.
“This can be a easy monastery devoid of luxuries. There isn’t any Web or cell protection, making it simpler to flee the hustle and bustle of town,” Youssef mentioned.
Two monks, a nun, and two postulants stay within the three-story monastery, which incorporates rooms for guests, a fowl farm, and an expansive library.
They stay off the land and drink from a close-by properly.
Within the early hours of the morning, Youssef calls out to them for breakfast from a courtyard overlooking caves carved into the hill.
The lonely hilltop refuge basks in unparalleled tranquillity.
Youssef Al-Halabi, 48, has been a monk for 16 years however he mentioned the dearth of holiday makers left him questioning what he may do to fill his spare time.
“I began searching for methods to fill these lengthy hours… as a result of generally we had zero yearly guests,” he mentioned.
After his morning prayer, the white-bearded monk normally heads to a close-by cave to make candles. Typically he occupies himself with farming.
Halabi, who has devoted his life to worship and to serving guests, mentioned he hoped folks would fill the monastery as soon as extra “to share our lifestyle.”
“This can be a area to breathe, away from the noise and agitation,” he mentioned.

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