Letter to the friends of the community of "al-Khalil", (Abraham the Friend of God) 2008



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Our Most Sincere Thanks:

Dear friends, we wish to thank all from the depths of our hearts for choosing to help us in our financial need throughout this difficult year. Indeed, we have received much help from friends, both materially and spiritually.

In the Letter to the Friends that follows we will describe to you our situation and our different projects. We are conscious that the global financial crisis will affect the capacity of people to help in the charitable sector and that our problems may be seen as secondary from your point of view.

We wish to express our deep solidarity with all those who are suffering in this crisis and we are aware that we may need to slow down the implementation of our dreams.

In Syria prices have increased at least 25% since March when the price of diesel tripled and drained our resources.

As a matter of fact, the donations of last year came from a small number of individuals and associations. It is perhaps unlikely that the same people who helped in 2008 will be able to help in 2009. But, as a matter of fact, we are still creating structures that should ensure that our monasteries will be self-sustaining in the future. (Please see the details of the different projects in the letter.)

Many people have visited the monastery of Mar Musa in the last few years. If it was possible to offer wide and free hospitality it was because of a network of solidarity in the name of Abraham. Don’t think that we are so smart that we can overcome difficulties without help.

When we say that Deir Mar Musa belongs to you we really mean it.

We had thought that with the thousands of people that have stayed in the monastery during the last twenty years, there should be a good number of them wishing to participate according to their ability and their priorities.

Cheques and international money transfers of between 10 and 100 dollars can cover our needs and help us in assisting others but only if the number of donors is large enough. This letter is being sent to more than 5000 people throughout the world in four languages… Some larger donations, together with the generosity of many people, will allow us to go ahead in serenity! (Please find at the end of the letter the details of our bank accounts.)

Finally, once again profound thanks from our hearts.

And so, on to the Letter to Friends!

Salâm wa Mahabba,

May Peace and Love rejoin your houses together with this letter.

It is late, like every year, but nevertheless full of our news. We wish to share with you our joy and to beg forgiveness for the lack of personal correspondence with each of you.

Akhbâr: News from the Community

Abouna Jihad, father Jihad



To begin, we wish to bring to you, like a bride, the news of the grace that God has given to us on the occasion of the Ordination to the Priesthood of Jihad at the end of his philosophical and theological studies in Rome. There was a wonderful feast in his native village which was a big grace for all of us. It was a special blessing for his father who is sick but so far very happy to be able to participate in this important achievement of his only son. This year « Abouna » Jihad is staying in Deir Mar Musa caring for his father and in the meanwhile he is enjoying his honeymoon with priesthood. He was for some weeks in Aleppo teaching theology in the local Institute for Lay People whom appreciated him a great deal. Insha’Allah, by spring he will study German in Damascus to prepare, in time for next year, his studies of biblical exegesis in the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

Abouna Boulos, father Paolo

Paolo has travelled a lot to deliver conferences in many places in order to offer the fundamental elements of our vocation to a larger public and also to widen our monastic perspectives. He will spend the month of January in Algeria, in a pilgrimage in the places of Father Charles de Foucauld, to pray and deepen our common vocation. On 2nd February he will receive a doctorate honoris causa from two universities in Belgium, the French speaking Louvain-la-Neuve and the Flemish Leuven. This is in honor of the contribution of the Deir Mar Musa Community in “the opening and dialogue between cultures, ideas, and people”.

Abouna Jack, father Jack

Jack is known as the monk of two monasteries (Deir Mar Musa and Deir Mar Eliyan) and caretaker of two shrines (the monastery and the parish of Qaryatayn). For him, Deir Mar Musa represents his contemplative vocation, solitude with God and prayer with brothers and sisters. Deir Mar Eliyan represents the place of pastoral service in the small parish in Qaryatayn and a spot to exercise hospitality towards devoted Christians as much as Muslims who visit the tomb of the Saint. The monastic community participates with pleasure in the occasions offered by Qaryatayn parish and monastery to deepen the unity of our souls.

(Please read on for news of Deir Mar Eliyan).

Ar-râhiba Houda, sister Houda

Sister Huda, after she returned from her studies in Rome, has been in Deir Mar Musa acting in the ministry of spiritual exercises and care of novices and guests. During Lent 2008 she was in France invited by the CCFD (Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement) to share her knowledge of churches in Syria, about monastic life and our activities in protecting the environment and promoting local development. She came back refreshed by meeting so many charming and hospitable people. Over the summer she has taken care of preparing the children of Nebek for first communion enjoying of reciprocal fun and consolation. Abouna Jack has renounced representation of the Community in Louvain from 2nd February 2009. Sister Huda will take on this role and take advantage of the occasion to pass by Cori and see her friends there. Then she will make a pilgrimage to Lourdes: an old dream!

Ar-râheb Boutros, brother Boutros

Our brother Boutros has green fingers! He has planted plenty of trees and bushes around the monastery and takes care of them faithfully. He is also our cheese-maker and production is growing. He is also in charge of hospitality. Boutros was ordered a sub-deacon many years ago and he is full of zeal for the liturgical service. The community and he himself wish that he will be ordered a permanent deacon. This discernment is important for us because we wish to distinguish clearly between the monastic vocations for men from the sacred order. In the meantime, Boutros has returned to study theology with the help of Jihad ... and spiritual fruits are already evident!

Youssef al-mubtadi’, the novice Youssef

In 2007, Youssef the novice performed his one month of ignacien spiritual exercises under the guidance of Houda. This was of great satisfaction to all in this ministry, because of the abundant spiritual fruits that accompanied the exercise and also because a non-ordained member of the community was able and permitted to offer such a precious spiritual service. Last summer, in Jordan, Youssef participated, with great satisfaction, in a workshop on environmental protection and management of environmental protected areas with people gathering from a number of Arabic countries. In fall 2008 Youssef has entered his third year of novitiate: he took a month before Christmas for a spiritual retreat in a cave he chose and restored in the mountain. He received the spiritual help of Paolo for this experience. This kind of retreat of one month is now traditional before the final monastic vows in our community.

Daniel al-mubtadi’, the novice Daniel

The novice Daniel spent the academic year with Jack in Qaryatayn recommencing his studies and preparing to take his secondary school diploma. His success was a satisfaction for all of us. He is now in Damascus for a time of three months in order to think about his vocation. We ask you to pray for him with us so that he will learn the loving will of God for him.

Diane al-mubtadi’a, the novice Diane

In September, the novice Diane completed her first year as a novice. In January she and Huda went by bus to Jordan to visit the mountain Nebo and the place Jesus was baptized. They were obliged to come back after they got stuck in Amman because of the snow. Diane kept her intention and during spring she walked all the way to Jordan with two friends from Belgium. They were welcomed on the way by convents and people, by Christians and Muslims. They stood in the water of the Jordan River praying for all of us and all of you. Diane is now in Damascus to study Arabic for two months. She comes at weekends to Qaryatayn for rest and community life.

At-tullâb fi Cori (The students in Cori (Latina, Italy))

Ar-râheb Jens, brother Jens

Brother Jens is dedicating this year to studying Arabic and Islamic sciences in the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic studies in Rome. Also regarding Jens, the community is considering his vocation to be ordained a deacon. All this is for us to investigate the prospect to found Insha’Allah a community in Iran and/or Pakistan.

Ar-râhiba Dîma, sister Deema

Sister Deema has finished her two years of philosophical studies in the Gregorian University in Rome and has already launched herself into three years of theology. Deema helps with youth catechism in the Cori parish and she now has a nice circle of friends in the village. With Jens she participates in the community-based activities of the Khalil Allah Association (Abraham, the friend of God) that were created in Cori this year to gather friends and donors of our monastic community. It is legally recognized association and it will play an important role in the development of our witness in Italy.

Mawâlîd Judud, newborn

New babies! Marwan, an employee of the monastery, and Marwa have had Elias, their third most welcomed child. Mihyar is our electricity and informatics expert; he and Manal have given to Aabdo a little sister: Sanadi. For us it is a real joy and a source of hope to see those young families growing in faith and optimism built on love. The grandfather of Sanadi also works with us and he is responsible for our flock of goats and for the almond grove west of the monastery. He was ordered a permanent deacon to the parish of Nebek last year, and we see in his ministry a new dimension of spiritual solidarity.

Al-‘asdiqâ’: Friends


Mary spent a very dynamic year here in the monastery and everybody was happy with her. As a psychotherapist with many years of experience and a deep spiritual charisma, she offered help to lots of people. After a very painful accident in Italy, Mary has discovered more clearly that the place she wants to stay in is Garfagnana (Lucca) and not our mountains. However, she remains part of our closest friends circle.


After spending two years with as a volunteer (SCD), taking care of our library and as a perfect secretary, Natalie left us with much sadness and tears. She has been a real sister for all of us. With her we had the chance to experience the meaning of sharing life between monks and laics. We wish in our prayers for her all the good in the world!


This is the name of a very nice volunteer agro-economist, engaged to his scientific commitment for development and also to his spiritual and cultural growth. The baptismal font of our ancient church rejoiced four years ago giving birth to Raphaël in the faith.


We have welcomed in the middle of the year a young French volunteer of Moroccan origins. Her name means « Augustine». Nobody ever takes the place of another person, but Kabira took on the role of Nathalie in a very original way. Five times a day she prays in the church and she hang her habit in the cupboard among our dresses.

For the day of Abraham sacrifice, the Aïd, she asked Paolo to offer a little goat. Since that moment she has a new father.

Kabira, Raphaël and Diane have collaborated with passion in the rewriting of Paolo’s book Islamophilie, which he is writing with Eglantine for the Editions de l’Atelier.

In addition to the regular volunteers some trainees from the university joined us. We had two Russian geographers and a tall French agronomist (Benjamin) who has drawn an environmental map of the protected area and a draft guide for the trekkers.

Deir Mar Eliyan – Qaryatayn

In the monastery of Saint Julian, we had a very special year! First of all, the core of a community (Jack and Daniel and others) has settled down in the new courtyard close to the tomb of the saint. It’s a blessing and we are feeling the effects, especially in prayer.

Thanks to the generosity of a family of friends from Damascus and other European donors, we were able to continue the construction of the new courtyard. Nine sleeping rooms (some with toilets) are ready to host monks and other guests, and a very nice « liwan » (a sort of big open salon with an arch inside) and a small dining room next to the kitchen has also been restored. Together with the east wing, built earlier, we can now receive groups of 25-35 people.

In addition, the construction of a small room with internal balcony will be used as a library. As soon as we build new rooms they will be used by groups of visitors and pilgrims. Throughout last summer, many groups from different churches came for spiritual exercises. The west wing has to be finished and it will include five sleeping rooms with toilets. Some trees will be planted to provide shade in the courtyard. This place of pilgrimage is accessible for old and disabled people and families with small children who like to walk around. For us it is a real joy to see the place full of Catholic Orthodox and Muslim villagers. We also continue our work with a staff of the Directorate of Antiquities of Damascus.

This year, the big surprises! Two small elegant marble columns belonging to the Byzantine era monastery have been discovered together with some touching decorations from clay belonging to the church dating from the late Middle Ages. We also have found some intact tombs of monks and they must receive further studies. Next year, we hope to finish our excavations and then we will confront the delicate question of how to present the site to tourists and pilgrims. We will try to organize an access to Saint Julien’s tomb (fifth century) and we wish to give value to this evidence of the monastic presence across the centuries in the Syrian desert.

From the agricultural point of view the extraordinary cold of last winter together with the drought had parched most of our olive trees and destroyed the season. By chance, we had pruned them radically and the trees were saved and we hope for fruit in the coming years.

The monastery has offered hospitality to a French friend, Marie, who has taken care of the production of medical and aromatic plants, following in the footsteps of Diane. Friday evening a mass is celebrated for the parishioners in the rebuild church of the monastery. The relationship between the locals and their Saint was revitalized. The parish choir is now not bad (it is good to know that Abouna Jack is the magician of the parish choirs of the diocese!) Even the catechism activity is improving; and through persistence and various attempts the animation of youth and adults start to flourish.

An-nashâtât, the activities

Nadwat er-Ruaât: The Consultation with the Shepherds

Let’s go back to Deir Mar Musa… We want to underline the importance of this consultation with local partners. To listen to their advice, needs and requests, is necessary and important. This year, we have been able to create harmony between the shepherds close to the protected area and our environmental priorities. We have programmed with them to use 25 hectares (from 35 destined to be the visitors’ centre) as a special space for experiments in the rehabilitation of grazing lands in a more rational and sustainable way.

This year, fodder prices have risen sharply and many breeders failed. In such circumstances solidarity cannot just be a word.

Nadwat er-Rabiaa: The Spring Workshop

We have focused this year on the good quality of relations with different local stakeholders facing environmental challenges. The importance of energy issue (the saving of non-renewable sources and the use of sun and wind) has been underlined. In particular the question of geothermic acclimatization of inhabited spaces has been considered because we want to use this technique in the building of the park house and the hostel in the visitors’ centre.

Wâha Rûhiyye fi Shâm

A Spiritual Oasis in the Region of Damascus (www.shamspiritualoasis.org) is the name of a competition for architectural students and architects from all over the world. This programme had been financed by the European Commission (realized in partnership with an Italian and a Czech NGO). There were two exhibitions in Damascus and Deir Mar Musa with 50 relevant projects. A publication of the most interesting elements will accomplish this initiative and will help in discerning the best plans for future realizations.

The exhibition in Deir Mar Musa last November was also the occasion to inaugurate the first hall of the Park House, to plant trees, to clean garbage on the way on a day of passionate youth activity and to organize three days of environment awareness building for the local population in the Arabic cultural centre of Nebek.

It has been a great experience of dialogue especially with the Syrian students from the different architectural faculties coming to visit and being very open in their discussion and curious about our vocation.

Nadat el-Hiwâr: The Dialogue Seminar

Every year, always with some organization difficulties, this seminar has tried to gather a meaningful sample of the local society. This year the title was “The spiritual education and the human development”. The presence, all along of the four days seminar, of a good number of Shiite and Sunnite, men and women, has certainly enriched the exchanges.

Deir el-Hâyek: The Weaver Monastery

The Weaver Monastery has truly been able to offer the best of itself since last summer thanks to five new rooms and the new chapel (and meditation room) on the fifth floor. During all these years we have observed with joy that every time we finish a building it is immediately used by groups and individuals, even if it is not completed. See how stone is at the service of men!

We still have to build four rooms, a little gallery with a big water reservoir and three or four little hermitages along the western wall. We hope that the cell phone company will open a track behind the mountain accessible to 4-wheel drive cars to allow access for people with disabilities to this place of silence and dialogue. In the Weaver Monastery there is already a tower for the elevator that will be installed once the cell phone track is open.

Especially in summer and in Muslim feast holidays, Deir el-Hayek has been welcoming groups for spiritual exercise. In August, the four day seminar of interreligious dialogue showed how useful and practical the new spaces are. It is a real joy for us to see how much spiritual good has already come from this house since it was built.

Ath-thaqâfa al-mâddiyya: Material Culture

This year we entered a competition for cultural projects organized by the European Commission in Brussels. For this competition we thought about the rediscovery of material culture and its value in the community and produced a proposal of developing local handicrafts while following fair trade principles. Though we were unsuccessful in the competition it impressed upon us that it is always useful to work towards the future, even when there is a shortage of money! With this in mind, we have launched a program aiming to create a laboratory for artistic copper handicraft. A copper artist from Damascus and a good friend of the community, Remon, has expressed a serious interest in coming to live with us and offering his services. In the mean time we received a visit from the chief of the Jesuit Refugees Service, Fr. Balleis S.J., who opened up new perspectives to us with the suggestion, which we welcomed, that we focus our copper lab project on small groups of young Iraqi and Palestinian refugees as well as Syrian boys in difficulty.

In this letter are some wonderful images of the censer of incense that he has created on the model of the ancient censer of the monastery from the 10th century which is now at the British Museum. Copies of this censer are available from the monastery shop. The copper lab project was proud to receive its first donation, from a Palestinian lady originally from al-Khalil-Hebron. We also hope that the development of this lab will be in part financed by the sale of the handicraft products.

Other future plans include the creation of a school of icons of Syrian tradition. The development of this school would be in two phases: historical and critical studies of the works of art typical of this region and a practical school for trend iconographers.

Ad-dukkân: The Shop

The shop will be moved down to the street level to improve exposure to customers and will occupy the two old garages at the entrance of the valley. The shop sells products of not-for-profit organizations. Doing this helps promote solidarity between us and these organizations. For the time being, we are building the copper lab next to the shop in a space that will be transformed into a garage in the future. The location of the old shop will become a part of the hostel on the Abraham Path and will be offered as a room for meetings, workshops, etc.

Deir al-Malâ’ika th-Thalâth

The Convent of the Three Angels!? We would like to ask you to propose a name for the hostel of the monastery at the entrance at the valley…

We hope to receive funds from the Lazio Region (a region of Rome) as the expression of the will to encourage local development in the pattern of Mediterranean together with peace promotion and interreligious harmony building. It will be built Insha’Allah at the entrance of the valley and we will try to hide it in the hill behind the boutique. The convent once completed will be able to receive between 100-120 people in its practical and simple rooms and dormitories. It will have a chapel with large doors and next to it a multi-use room that may be used as a cafeteria or a conference room. This room would then become a big church for occasions when Deir Mar Moussa is hosting important groups of pilgrims. Another smaller room will be dedicated to silence and meditations, where the Muslim guests can pray. There will also be rooms in this building where we would produce radio and television documentaries and programs. The focus of these programs would be to promote the message of acceptance of all people and their values, contrary to some current media productions that broadcast against other religions leading to disharmony. Our hope is that this convent will become very important and useful for emergencies along the Abraham Path which is a current project between Turkey and Jerusalem, via Deir Mar Mousa. For the moment the Syrian government has approved the part of this road from Deir Mar Mousa to Damascus. The rest will be done if the international relations in the region improve, which is everyone’s wish following the new and great American change.

Buyût Mar Mûsa lil-Aâ’ilât al-Fatiyya: The houses of St Moses for young families

Another crazy venture! It has been said for many years that when a particular area land of 750 m² was bought, 9 apartments would be built for families, some of them from parishes of Nebek. The building of these apartments has commenced and priority of allocation will go to poor families with children, families of lay people who collaborate with the monastery and families who want to come and live in Nebek, to be near our community and share our life and our spirituality. These spacious apartments will be very comfortable; around 110 m² in size and fitted with thermal isolation. They have to be simple and in harmony with the other sections of the old village. There will be a nice square in which the children can play games, large and light to allow games even in winter. It will be also be a sociable space where families can meet. The rent will be adapted to the financial possibilities of the families, and will finance our small Arabic publishing house. Three small apartments (60m²) outside the square will be rented out, also financing the publishing house.

Soon the basement of the apartment will be ready and a family of friends  wishes to leave Damascus and live there, having waited for an apartment to be ready. They have two children: a lovely little boy who suffers from health problems and a small, very dynamic little girl. They are very close to us spiritually and it will be a joy to have them near us. It is interesting to note that an important part of the funds was received from local donors who understood our intention to save the inter-community pluralism of the Nebek village. This is essential to keep the value of Islamic Christian identity.

Dâr an-Nashr: The Publishing House

The publishing house is now a reality although still in its infancy. Some German friends of ours understood the importance of such an initiative and so have supported it financially. Adib, the director, spends most of his time preparing the texts of our annual interreligious seminars and also some Arabic translations of particularly relevant texts. Perhaps one day we will use other broadcasting channels as well such as radio and television. The latest publication is Spiritual Experience and Social Evolution. Soon a book will be ready on Father Charles de Foucauld and his Directoire for Christians who choose a Nazarene way of life. If anyone is interested in these books written in Arabic, a website in Arabic is available (www.al-khalil.org), or you can contact Adib via email (in French, Arabic or simple English) at ahlawsahla@al-khalil.org .

A word from Abuna Jihad:

I would like to say that we have reduced everything just into objects, even God! Man who with technology is concerned with dominating everything always finds new ways to dominate his brother. With technology we explain and dominate everything. In this way we lose the need for God who had always explained to us the inexplicable. We now live in a prison of technology from which only a God can free us. He is the Unique One who always comes. Without hostility He will make even technology spiritual. God is no longer the well of premade answers; He is the source of original wonder that still surprises us in our children. Our reflection must guard against falling into the temptation of reducing into objects God, prayers, dogma, even the Christ who comes. On the contrary, let us be guided by our ability to be amazed with ourselves; by the wonderful sweetness of the Family of Nazareth and by the surprising logic of the parables of the Gospel that lift our souls to new understanding. The ‘new evangelization’ does not say new things but expresses the same things in a new way.

Maranatha, Come Our Lord Jesus

Thank you for having read with patience and warm thoughts to all of you.

The Community of AL KHALIL

For donations