“ISIS has just ripped a community’s heart out”

On 21st August 2015 the Catholic Herald reported: ISIS bulldozes ancient Syrian monastery

Today, 27th August, Emma Loosley in the Catholic Heral reports: ISIS has just ripped a community’s heart out 

The Monastery of Mar Elian before and after its destruction by ISIS fighters

The Monastery of Mar Elian before and after its destruction by ISIS fighters

The monastery of Mar Elian, destroyed by ISIS, was a beacon of inter-faith co-operation

When I first moved to Dayr Mar Elian in the summer of 2001 I was slightly disconcerted when the Qurwani, as the people of Qaryatayn are known, kept asking me if I had met Mar Elian yet. Since he is believed to have died more than 1,500 years ago, I thought that they meant had I seen the sarcophagus, which of course I had. When I said this I was somewhat perplexed to realise that I had misunderstood the question (complicated, of course, by my faltering Arabic and their thick regional dialect).

What the Qurwani meant was: had I spoken to the saint personally? One man told me of walking in the vicinity when a stranger accompanied and blessed him, and he later realised that the man had been Mar Elian (St Julian). The site guardian told me that late at night in the chapel a voice had repeated “God give you health” three times – which he took to be Mar Elian praying for him as he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

I recount this story to try to impress on the reader how central the Monastery of Mar Elian was to the local populace. The saint was a much-loved figure in the town and treated more as a venerable uncle in most homes than a distant exemplar of the faith.

What is more, in the case of that first man who had seen Mar Elian, I don’t know whether he was Christian or Muslim. The Sunni townspeople named the saint Sheikh Ahmed Khoury (Sheikh Ahmed the Priest) and the Christians of the town allowed their Muslim neighbours to place the green satin shroud of a Muslim holy man over the Byzantine sarcophagus in the monastery church. There, on a Muslim satin shroud, rosaries and saints’ cards lay with votive candles lit by those of both faiths.

Much has been written in the last few days about the physical impact of the loss of the monastery. But little consideration has been given to the psychological trauma that currently affects those of us who knew and loved the shrine. Mar Elian, or Sheikh Ahmed, was a very tangible presence in the lives of all who knew the monastery.

Read the rest of the article here

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3 Responses to “ISIS has just ripped a community’s heart out”

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    A welcome article, one that I adumbrated recently in my call (only half in jest) for a Crusade. But fear not; monasteries and churches will always be rebuilt, so long as Christians exist, which means forever:

    These past couple of weeks, I’ve read obituaries about two heroic, driven people. The first was about the world’s greatest deep sea diver, a woman, Natalia Molchanova, aged 53, who drowned just over three weeks ago:

    “This was not the obvious pursuit for a scooter-riding Moscow housewife with two children and a divorce to worry about; but, at 40, she read about free diving in a magazine and decided to try it.”

    The other was about a Capuchin friar, Armando (Padre Pietro) Lavini, aged 88, who died almost three weeks ago:

    “When Padre Pietro…came for the first time to the ruined church of San Leonardo high in the Apennines…the stones seemed to say: ‘Why don’t you rebuild us?’ Pushed by some mysterious force, he found himself answering: ‘Why not?’ “

    The hermit took over three decades to rebuild this total wreck of Romanesque antiquity. By himself. By hand. Surviving on bread, water, salad from his garden, some cheese given to him by shepherds and (heh, heh) the occasional glass of self-brewed hermit grappa.
    Eremo di San Leonardo - Montefortino (FM)
    Which accomplishment would you rather see in your own death notice? Either is more than I will ever see in mine.

  2. johnhenrycn says:

    “A welcome article…”, in the sense of being on a topic important to us. Poor wording.

  3. Rushintuit says:

    There is a Catholic prophecy that tells of Saint Peter’s in Rome suffering a similar fate. It’s getting easier to believe by the week.

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