the charism of Mar Mousa in Homs, the vocation to welcome and dialogue

Tomorrow the episcopal ordination and the inauguration of the Archbishop of Syrian Catholics will take place. An area that has been without a pastor or permanent priests for years, but that knew how to stay alive as a community. He was kidnapped by Isis and shared captivity with dozens of faithful for months. The “renewal of theological and biblical formation” of priests.

Homs () – The mission? Bring the charism and experience “of the Mar Mousa Monastery” and nourish “the vocation to welcome, to hospitality, to prayer” that “was lacking” in this diocese in recent years. The new Archbishop of Homs, Jacques Mourad, whose episcopal ordination will be celebrated tomorrow with a community party for all Syrian Christians, has a calm and reflective tone, but determined. The territory must “relive as a family, as a nucleus of prayer”, an arduous task for a city that “was abandoned for years” and deprived of “permanent priests” because “only three out of 12 were celibate”, while the rest are married priests who “go home at night.” Today “we are four of us who live permanently” in the bishopric, organizing the structure and preparing rooms to “accommodate guests”, as is the case these days.

Last January, Father Mourad, a 54-year-old Syrian Catholic monk, was elected Archbishop of the Diocese of Homs, Hama and Nebek, in Syria. The ordination and investiture will take place tomorrow in the presence of ecclesiastical dignitaries and faithful. He relates it to the kidnapping he suffered in 2015 at the hands of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) along with a large group of parishioners. He was born in Aleppo and liturgically trained in Lebanon; After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, he entered the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, and was ordained a priest there in 1993. From 2000 to 2015, he was in charge of the Mar Elian Monastery (not far from Mar Musa, the community founded by Father Paolo Dall ‘Oglio) and the parish of Qaryatayn, where his kidnapping took place. He recounted his five months of captivity and his “brave” release in the book “A kidnapped monk. The fight for peace of a jihadist prisoner”: an escape after weeks of threats, violence, conversion attempts and a mock execution .

The p. Mourad spends these days of “confusion” approaching ordination with great “inner peace”, even though the appointment represents “a great change and a great responsibility”. Homs is a “complex” diocese, affected by the years of war, but despite the difficulties “the majority of Christians” remain, which guarantees “stability”. The parishioners “are peasants”, he added, “with a deep bond with their land” that helps them face “fears, pressures, poverty: in this there is great loyalty”, a feeling “that I myself experienced during my imprisonment”. With dozens of them he lived the months that he spent in the hands of Isis “running the risk of being killed”; “This courage” that all of them showed to “bear witness to the faith is a strong sign”, which makes one think of being “truly children of the first Christians” even in the face of martyrdom.

After two and a half years of waiting, Homs once again has a full-time pastor and there is an “air of renewed hope” after feeling “abandoned for a long time”. The bishop is “the very symbol of the presence of the Church” at the pastoral level, of help, of humanitarian support, of the celebration of the sacraments and of a value linked “to tradition”. “I can say that I am lucky”, he continued, “because the priests are young, their contribution to the mission is great, we can organize the work in a spirit of synodality”, as requested by Pope Francis. One of the priorities is precisely the “renewal of their theological and biblical formation”, to strengthen them “in their pastoral journey” while helping families “to live with dignity, when even today the pressure of poverty is unbearable”.

In these days, the Church of Homs is mobilizing to send aid to the victims of the earthquake on February 6 in the most affected centers, such as Latakya and Aleppo. “In this sense, there is a beautiful collaboration between the Churches, an ecumenism in fact with Orthodox and Protestants,” said Fr. Mourad. Even in the most dramatic moments, he warned, there is the hand of “providence” that fuels “our action.” She favors the encounter and the relationship with the Muslim world, especially in this land where part of the mission is to “open up to other religious communities” in the spirit and according to the dictates of Fr. Dall’Oglio, who will be missing for ten years in July. . “We must be at the service of coexistence, dialogue and become an example for all of Syria,” he concluded.

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