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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, Syria, Muslims, Christians and More

   I remember very well where I was on September 11, 2001.  I was preaching a retreat to a small group of priests from the Stigmatine Order at their vacation house on Cape Cod.  As the news poured in that day I asked them to pray especially for Fr. Mychal Judge, a member of my province.  I knew that Mychal, fire chaplain for the FDNY, always had to be where the action was.  And indeed that was true as later that day I received an e-mail that he had perished while trying to assist firefighters and others on that day.  We friars were both saddened and proud because of the role that he played on that terrible day.

   It is now 12 years later and we are not even close to being done with the consequences of that act of terror.  I offer some thoughts on where we might go from here, thoughts not based on politics, but rather, as a Franciscan, on where the Gospel calls us to go.

   I am on Facebook, as many of you know, and that social medium today is rightly filled with "Let us never forget" messages.  I have no problem with that.  We should not forget.  At the same time as we look back to that horrible day we need to ask, "Where do we go from here?" I believe that this is an important question to ask if we are not to be mired in decades of attempts to put out every fire that gets lit in the Middle East.

  In his recent calls for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria (a word on that below) His Holiness has also called for  dialogue.  Every time that I have mentioned dialogue with Muslims I get some people suggesting that I am naive.  To be sure there is probably little chance of dialogue with extreme Islamic terrorists..  I am talking however about serious dialogue between those Muslims and Christians who desire peace.   Pope Francis has set a shining example with things like his Ramadan message to Muslims.  By finding common ground with moderate members of that religion I think that the extremists will become more isolated.  One of the friars from my province, Michael Calabria, OFM is engaged in Muslim and Arabic studies and often offers very insightful thoughts on his Facebook Page.

   We are now concerned about Syria.  I am finding a lot of knee-jerk reactions to that situation from both the left and the right.  While I do not agree at all with president Obama we need to understand that a boots on the ground war is not being proposed.  Also complicating the debate is the fact that not all or even most opponents of Assad are also Al-Queda.  The real issue is the use of chemical weapons and the real question is what is the best way to denounce that?   Missile strikes could trigger a wider war, as many have pointed out, and still leave WMD's in place.  For the world (not just the US) to say nothing about the atrocity is unconscionable.  The fact that Russia and France have stepped in with plans to have Syria turn over those weapons in an international forum (perhaps the UN) offers hope that Pope Francis' day of prayer is having its effect.

   Finding a way for the world to strongly oppose the recent use of  chemical weapons without using further violence might provide us with a way forward in the Middle East in general. I am certainly no expert on these matters.  I am simply a Franciscan Friar who in the spirit of our founder who dialogued with the Sultan 8 centuries ago, desires peace and an end to violence.

  Indeed let us never forget 9/11 and let us honor the fallen by seeking to build bridges of peace even as we defend ourselves from further terrorism.

 

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