“Alive and dialoguing”. This is the way Father Federico Lombardi, former director of the Press Office of the Holy See, defined Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, Jesuit and founder of the monastic Catholic Syrian community Mar Musa, in Syria, disappeared almost 4 years ago in Raqqa, during the escalation of the Syrian conflict. The priest of the Society of Jesus was the central figure of the afternoon of 29 May in the Centro Astalli, where the journalist Riccardo Cristiano presented his book focusing precisely on Father Paolo and, especially, on his message of hope, titled “The silenced prophecy”. An expression that stimulated a long debate, between those who said they were convinced of the exemplary values of reconciliation and dialog of his experience and those who argued that still now is in act an attempt of turning away the eyes and the ears of the world from the story of the Jesuit and from his prophetic vision not only of the Syrian issue but, more generally, of the Middle East.
Positions wide apart
But what does the author mean with the word “prophecy”? What was really, the prophetic value of his priestly but also a social and, in a way, politic experience in the country of the Arabian Peninsula? From the desert of Mar Musa to the confrontation with the fundamentalism and, at the same time, with the negotiations for the reconciliation between Kurdish ethnic groups and the jihadists, the same figure of Father Dall’Oglio is prophetic, as explains to In Terris Riccardo Cristiano: “In him mystic and urgency of operate, joined. He was a man who followed a double path: the mystical one and the one of social commitment, simultaneously. It is clear that if we look only the one or the other we lose part of his prophecy that was, in essence, that the Syrian fate would not have remained in Syria. The wound of Syria would have been a wound on the rib cage of the whole humanity and especially of the Mediterranean Sea understood as a sea of dialog”. A wound that, today as never before, continues to pour a river of blood which, without realizing, we are not able to stem the flow. “We see that this wound is further separating the two shores, it is spreading the Mediterranean Sea and putting pressure on the two shores, obviously together with other emergencies. But the real big wound is that without the Syrian crisis we would not have had the Isis. And if we had addressed the Syrian affair in the way he suggested, with a humanitarian intervention to protect the population and the individual persons, we would not have found ourselves in this really epochal challenge for Syria and for all of us”.
But, in this context, it is also interesting to understand how the West moved to attempt a resolution of the Syrian crisis or if, on the contrary, so far it restrained from making concrete interventions: “The international community did nothing – said Cristiano – they just observed with hindrance, difficulties, and in some cases with a cynicism that affects Syria in particular but also us Europeans. They should realize that tragedies may occur and they are all very serious. But transforming Syria, that is the place where the word ‘Christians’ was born and where for the first time it was used, where Islam came to the rescue of the Armenians, where the populations always met, in a place of separation is a total disaster”.
Prospects for reconciliation
“Silencing”. An expression that says a lot about the need for attention and awareness that the whole Middle East issue requires. A mediatic spotlight that perhaps in too many occasions, went off leaving the field open to the forgetfulness of a vision that was yes prophetic, but also real and concrete, the fruit of a direct experience, built among the places and the people of Syria. But who is trying to silence what, first of all, is a tragedy to which we should all feel called not only as Christians but also as men? “There are so many ways to silence – explained Professor Gian Maria Piccinelli, of the University of the studies of Campania ‘Luigi Vanvitelli’ -. We do it ourselves, limiting a certain type of information or preferring a partial information… Clearly there is a political action, linked to international, geopolitical, strategic interests, where the position of Paolo was extremely awkward, because it involves directly the responsibilities of the politicians. It leads, in some way to exclude, to expel not only the person from the place, as they have done with Paolo in 2012, but from the memory”. What to do, therefore, in order not to turn off the light not only on the Syrian issue but also on other tragedies such as the one between Israel and Palestine? “The message carried by Paolo says that it is necessary to come all together again, even with our enemies, with a will of reconciliation and rebuild a democratic, pluralistic context, within the framework of a constitution that will be new for everyone. It is clear that this distorts the positions on the field, for all the economic, political and strategic interests. Paolo Dall’Oglio saw everything in a prospect of dialog, we are instead in a prospect of closure”.
The profoundness of the meeting
A message that is relevant today more than ever and that, in the context of the Middle East in which the construction of walls shows an attitude of closure, fear and consequently potential indifference toward scenarios that are considered far away, demonstrates how it is necessary to implement a dialog between peoples, probably the only real solution to get at least to a mutual awareness. A perspective often opposed by the international political framework that, in some way, does not facilitate the development of a relationship of understanding: “The lucidity with which he saw the development of the situation and the negative direction in which it was deed – underlined to in Terris Father Lombardi– it is impressive. So much that he went to Raqqa, where he disappeared, precisely because he was aware that the tragedy was following the direction of the depth of the conflicts, without being able (or wanting) to go in the direction of a democratic society and of the respect for human rights. He is therefore a person who sees things with the great spiritual freedom that was given to him by the fact of not being the representative of political or economic powers. The big problem of our world – he continued – is that there is a conflict of powers and interests: the perspective of the common good, of the respect for people and their freedom, does not become the central objective of the commitment of the international community and of the competent local politics”. The experience of Father Paolo opens however a road that could really be the key to demolish the reticence linked to the fear of the other: “These commitments, even if they do not always bring the results wanted, remain as a message to start a journey and a reconstruction. His witness of the spiritual, social and politic situation in Syria, may continue to bear fruits. From a religious point of view I am convinced that his profoundness and his searching the encounter between Christians and Muslims, at a very deep level of spirituality before God, is something that remains and that will continue to be valuable even if it is so deep and demanding that is not easily understandable at a surface level”.
Yet the message of the Father Dall’Oglio, despite the doubts about his fate, has crossed the boundaries of Syria, entering in the hearts and minds of those who want to receive it: “I read Paolo and his dialog with the Muslim world – concluded Father Lombardi – in the context of great believers who have tried to stand before God with an attitude of brotherhood and understanding of others, while paying in person the consequences of a vision refused by many, because they are afraid of diversity and they choose the temptation of hating more that the deep encounter”.