A Syrian Call


The 18th of July 2011

Very dear friends,

In this letter we ask, by increasing importance, for money, commitment and prayer.

Let’s describe the whole situation, first.

Climbing up to the monastery, last night, a monk was carrying on his shoulders, like a Saint Christoph, holding his hands, a two-and-a-half year child. He came to settle in our monastery together with his pregnant mother and three little sisters: It is like winning the lottery, although the cats’ life has become rather uneasy! This is one of the effects of the current situation in the country. So many families are in difficulty at the moment!

There are worries about security, including our monks and nuns’ own families. And there is also anguish about the deep economic crisis. The tourism sector is already completely paralyzed.

Until Easter, the monastery was brimming with hundreds of visitors… But tonight, there is only one tourist, a Chinese woman, and we look at her as if she had come from Mars. However, many young people, sometimes very poor, come and share our life, in order to fight, through work and prayer, against the risk of depression and stress that affects us all.

The political situation is bogged down. A part of the population has clearly lined up for change. They are counting their victims and are sometimes forced into exile. Another part is supporting at least passively from a moral point of view the repressive slide. They are mourning their dead and deploring their wounded, as well as a situation that is more and more hopeless. Non-violence does not run in the blood of this society and, obviously, it is not through Gandhi-like methods that the power system lasted for forty years. A peaceful path towards change would require a miracle… and we are many, here in Syria, to implore God for this miracle, in two different ways: conservative or innovative. But the two meet in this religious-nationalist feeling that leads to the slogan: “Syria, it is God who protects her”.

Space is opening for a mediation: opposition meetings have been authorized and a debate is taking shape, backed by the popular will of not falling into civil war and loss of national unity. Carrying on with normal life is our way of resisting, of crossing the ford towards a more human society.


We are currently connecting to the sewer network and adjusting the access road for people in difficulty, thus we will soon be able to welcome the charity communities of handicapped persons “Faith and Light”.

In the two monasteries of Mar Musa and Mar Elian, our projects of development, of dialogue, etc., financed by various organizations, are either entering their final phase, or blocked because of the political situation, or going forward with difficulties. Generally speaking, we are quite good in spending more than forecasted, despite trying to spare on every item!

The monastic community is growing: sixteen people, including postulants. In the men sector, we are completing five individual rooms and a cemented water tank. Counting on the return of tourists, when the political atmosphere will calm down, we would thus have more available space for individual spiritual retreats and for the community members.

On the lighter side, we filled our little dam with water and went out to rescue some fish that were dying in an artificial lake, hoping to include more phosphor in our daily diet, soon.

We are developing a modernized infrastructure for cheese production and also striving to go forward in our environmental projects, with the encouraging support of the local population.

But the simple reality is that the absence of tourists is putting us at risk of bankruptcy. If things continue in this direction, within a few weeks we will be unable to pay the salaries of our lay collaborators. That would constitute a tragedy, from a human point of view of course, but also in terms of capacities and knowledge accumulated over the years. Soon, the life of the monastic community itself would become problematic. This without mentioning families in need that we regularly help…

Cheese sales, even in case of an immediate commercial success, itself rather improbable in this situation of recession, would fall short of covering our expenses.

Besides, be it at a slower pace, we wish to carry on in building houses for young families of Nebek parish, in order to send a counter-tendency sign of hope, and to address the need of a future felt by the young generation.

Finally, we want to underline our commitment to found a new monastery in Sulaymanye, in Iraqi Kurdistan… but even going back and forth to launch the project is not free.

From which, in simple terms, our request for money. Please, when sending your contributions to the Italian Jesuits’ Magis Foundation, do not forget to mention the motive: Deir Mar Musa.


What can the world do for the success of the 2011 Arabic movement’s? True, the situations are diverse, and well as possibilities of intervention. But if NGOs count only on public money, either national or European, there will not be enough resources to cover the needs. The participation of private citizens who can afford it should be encouraged. Attachment to unnecessary objects, in our homes, is often exaggerated… a training in frugality, with a view towards solidarity, would be very healthy for our hearts.

The perspective that deserves support is the maturation of a well-balanced and charitable civil society (microcredit, small service cooperatives, transformation of agriculture from exploitation of the terrain to friendship with the Earth, etc.). The stability of democracy will need renewable sources of energy… In that field, the equipment of one of our wells with solar electricity has a meaning that goes well beyond sparing on the electricity bill.


Obviously, there is also a more political way of committing oneself, varying according to individual backgrounds and situations. But what should be stressed is the importance of a Mediterranean solidarity, by cooperation between local administrations. The success of revolutions will also depend on our success in caring for one another.

At the level of public opinion, two extremes should be avoided. The first is a sort of democratic extremism, ignoring the slowness of local evolutions, with the danger of encouraging violence, and discovering, but too late, that it has objectively favored slides towards confessional authoritarianism, Islamic or other. The second is a kind of political relativism that excuses the most shocking backwardness, and the business profits that go with it.

On the contrary, “hope for good” could foster virtuous spirals of evolution, in a logic that has to become Mediterranean and international. We hope that Italy, freeing itself from its TV-cratic populism, will be able to produce a good-will diplomacy – which is ultimately the one ensuring the most lasting and universal well-being.

For Syria’s sake, we need diplomats on the ground, with ideas, projects, examples and experience, to catalyze the creation of a highly consensual democracy, where religious, ethnic and ideological minorities’ rights would be preserved, without humiliating majorities. For that, the reference to majority needs not to be univocal, so that it does not lead to dictatorship of the main group. Italian politics and diplomacy should also avoid transposing on Arabic-Islamic societies the desire of a secularized society that, even at home, is sometimes not satisfied.


Money, commitment and… prayer! So that, precisely in the most difficult times, the world’s transparency, its lightness, does not vanish, pushing us into logics of superficiality and appearance. It is at times of great crisis that pious life shows its consistency.

We therefore suggest pulling forward together, with the spiritual ropes of desire for good, the barge of history, between the banks of this canal of meanings and civilizations that is constituted by the Mediterranean valley. Let’s all work together in order to push the world’s evolution according to divine-human expectations. By joining in prayer and fasting, by taking part in the soon-to-come Ramadan, by looking for one of the last early morning masses, by not renouncing easily the Sunday service, by displaying the Gospel, and reading it together at home…

God, who wants to protect Syria, certainly needs this cooperation. Spiritual people have always known this: elevating one’s own soul in communion with the Saints does move, in a very concrete manner, the equilibriums of a generation, in a given time and space, at the horizon of the Kingdom.

Last comment: in a letter to his paralyzed sister Marguerite, the father Teilhard de Chardin recognized a superior efficiency in the spiritual evolution of the cosmos, never separated from physical matter. This, in order to ask, for those who are wounded in their bodies and souls, the grace of forging chains of patient solidarities that will pull the current tragedy towards its good outcome.

Friendship and gratitude in the Lord,

al-Khalil Community


For bank transfers:

CIN: Y - ABI: 03069 - CAB: 03200 - C/C: 100000509259
IBAN: IT07 Y030 6903 2001 0000 0509 259
Addressed to: MAGIS Movimento e Azione Gesuiti Italiani per lo Sviluppo, presso INTESA-SANPAOLO SPA
Via della Stamperia, 64 - ROMA, Italy
Please clearly mention the transfer’s motive: “Deir Mar Musa”



Thank you for sharing this story..... I will encourage others to spread this letter around - and I hope it will lead to more help for Mar Musa. Wishing your community the best, and I hope to visit someday soon.

- Sincerely,

Zenobia Baalbaki

Dear friends, dear father Paolo.

Last day I got a phonecall from Harald Olsen, who told me about the situation at Deir Mar Musa.I will immidiately write to my friends, and to friends of Deir Mar Musa asking for help. You are in my prayers, and so is Syria. I hope to see you soon.

Rev. Oddvar Tveito