Modern-Day Pilgrims Find Interfaith Bond In Ancient Syrian Monastery

January 18, 2010

Author: Robert F. Worth

Source: The New York Times

As darkness falls over the vast Syrian desert and the first winter stars emerge, a trail of modern-day pilgrims is slowly climbing the stone steps of this remote cliff-top monastery.

They are a motley crew of religious seekers and backpackers from a dozen countries, some hoping for divine wisdom, others merely curious. But all are hoping to meet the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, the burly and dedicated Jesuit priest who has made this ancient sanctuary a center of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“Some say this church looks like a mosque,” said Father Dall’Oglio, as his guests warmed their frost-stiffened hands over a wood-burning stove. “We are very proud of that.”

Father Paolo, as he is known here, presides over a group of 10 monks, nuns, and volunteers who welcome guests year-round and struggle to build harmony around a religious fault line that has only grown more volatile since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. His passion for interfaith dialogue — he recently published a memoir titled “Believing in Jesus, Loving Islam” — has helped draw ever-larger flocks of visitors up the mountain to sleep in the monastery’s stone huts and take part in its multilingual prayer services.