May 21, 2017.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, May 21, 2017 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

For the last 5 weeks Christians have been invited by the Church to reflect on the powerful Mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. It is said in the Christian scriptures that Jesus appeared over a period of forty days to his disciples instructing them on how to be a disciple of his message of love for the world. It is then that he disappears from them on the feast day that we call the Ascension. Before leaving he tells them to go to Jerusalem where they are to wait for the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit that he will send to them. We wait with them for the Feast of Pentecost when they, and we, will be given the gift of the Spirit, providing us with the courage and the strength to become witnesses of God's love for all of humanity through our Christian discipleship. The Ascension that will be celebrated in the next week is a spiritual connection that we share with our Muslim friends.

We have spoken many times of the significance of the use of the number forty in days or years in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as a time of preparation, of preparing hearts and minds for spiritual and physical challenges that are to come.

Reflecting on the extraordinary experience of the emotionally and spiritually challenging events of Holy Week each year gives us an opportunity not only to renew our faith in the power and mystery of the Divine but to review the whole Christian story from the Incarnation of Jesus, to His Passion and death, to the miracle of His Resurrection. Here I am inviting us to highlight the place of Mary, the Mother of Jesus both at the beginning of his life and at the end of his life on earth. We are speaking of a visit by an angel, a messenger of God to a young Jewish woman whose "Yes" to God changed the course of human history. Both Muslims and Christians honor her. She is a woman who represents all of humanity as a model of the great joy and the great suffering that we all face in life. The Gospel according to St. John tells us that she stands with the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross as her son is dying. Jesus said to his mother," Woman, Behold your son" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother" And from that hour the disciple took her into his home."

Let us now turn to another view of her that is highlighted in the experience described by Louis Massignon in his passionate efforts to find the sources for true connections between all three Abrahamic faith traditions. Not only did he envision the young Jewish Mary's "Yes" to accepting the words of the Angel of God that she would be the mother of the long awaited Jewish Messiah who would bring salvation to all of humanity, but she also fulfills Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son out of faith and obedience to God, because she witnesses her beloved son, Jesus sacrificing his life out of love for all of us. In Massignon's extensive research of the Qur'an, the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and the traditions in the different Islamic denominations he discovered the many lines of connection between Mary, the mother of Jesus and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet. He dedicates a very long article included in volume 1 of the Opera Minora, his minor works, to his findings of multiple correspondences. These are too long to detail here but for our reflections here is a short summary of some of his findings.

In the Qur'an, Jerusalem is where the sterile Saint Anne prays to bear a child and vows that this child will be raised in the Temple. Mary therefore, was raised as a virgin in the Temple and overseen by the prophet Zechariah. It is said that Khadija, Prophet Muhammad's first and only wife for twenty years, became pregnant with their beloved daughter Fatima just following the Night Journey of Prophet Muhammad to Jerusalem. When the al-Aqça was built commemorating the Night Journey, the second Khalife, Omar added an Oratory, or chapel called the Oratory of Zechariah that became a place where women would pray to conceive a child. This chapel in the mosque is a Marian sanctuary where Christians at one time were allowed access to pray.

In the Shi'ite tradition, the future return of Jesus with the Mahdi, the messianic figure in Islam, at the Last Judgment is called "fatimite". Massignon wrote: "The devotional link of Fatima with Mary through the oriental Oratory of Zechariah at the al-Aqça in Jerusalem along with the Nocturnal Ascension [becomes] a collective psychological link. ...[the] conception and pure birth of Fatima is traced to the Oratory of Zachariah and to the conception and birth of Mary, identified with Fatima. As such {here are] two successive figures of the Perfect Woman, one appearing in the Gospel cycle and the other in the Qur'anic cycle."

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 6 Marian apparitions seen by three shepherd children in the Cova da Iria near their home village of Fatima, Portugal between May 13th and October 13, 1917. Today one of the largest Marian Shrines is built on the site, called the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. Today Pilgrimages to the site take place year round. Massignon wrote of four connections that are further links between Islam and Christianity. For our members of the Badaliya the one that seems most significant is the connection between the Icon that depicts a vision seen in Constantinople shortly after the Council of Ephesus of The Virgin opening her Cloak as protection over the world, known as Our Lady of the Veil, and the message of Our Lady at Fatima asking the children to pray for Russia. This vision at Fatima took place just before the Bolshevik revolution that prevented Christian worship in Russia for years to come. The Icon spread throughout the Slavic countries under the Soviet regime and Louis Massignon dedicated his original Badaliya prayer to this image of Our Lady in concern for the persecuted Church.

As we await the coming of the Holy Spirit once again into our spiritual lives let us pray with the Virgin Mary in her many manifestations for all persecuted people and religious believers throughout the world, especially in the Middle East and the Holy Land, that the promises of Peace with Justice will be fulfilled.

Peace to you during these Holy Days and always,

(Quotation is from Louis Massignon, Écrits Mémorable. vol.1. Robert Laffont 2009. p 277-287)

(See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)