March 20, 2022.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday March 20, 2022 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. 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, especially in the Holy Land, an end to the pandemic, and recovery of health for the world.

Christians are entering the third week of the Lenten Season today, a midpoint in this journey of fasting, prayer and alms-giving in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. This is a time to step back from our daily distractions and pay attention to the inner transformation that we are called to. The liturgical readings begin with a scene from the Book of Exodus. On Mt. Horeb, Moses sees a burning bush that is not being consumed by the fire. On taking a closer look he hears God speak to him, "Remove the sandals from your feet for the place where you stand is holy ground." Moses is told that God has seen the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt and will save them. Moses asks who he is to say has sent him to the Israelites. God answers, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." (Exodus 3: 13-15) Jesus' parable in the Gospel according to Luke (13:1-9) is in response to a vital question that he asks the disciples when he is told of the great suffering of some Galileans, "Do you think that because the Galileans suffered in this way that they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!" These two readings tell us a great deal about how God was experienced by the ancient Israelites but also who they were and who we are in the eyes of that same God. We all stand on holy ground, this beautiful, and, so far as we yet know, the only planet in the Universe teeming with life. I AM sends all of us, breathes life into all of us, that we may give that extraordinary gift to others. This is our moment to take in, and act, out of the mercy and compassion of God for the suffering that both of these readings highlight.

Today, the suffering of a worldwide pandemic for these past two years has been overshadowed by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. For those of us old enough to remember a time when Europe was overwhelmed and threatened by World Wars, it is a tragic reversal of what we thought had been accomplished in the struggle for peaceful national relationships and an increasingly global economy. It was not an easy transition, as the end of World War II saw the years that we called the Cold War escalate the tensions between the Soviet Union and the West. Having witnessed the horror and after-effects of the only time in world history that nuclear weapons had ever been used in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, access to nuclear weapons increased the fear and anxiety of that Cold War era. In the 1950's colonized nations challenged the colonial powers with wars for freedom and independence. This was the environment when Louis Massignon advocated for the independence of Algeria from Colonial France. He prayed the Fatiha on the steps of the Grand Mosque in Paris in solidarity with the Muslim workers in France and those imprisoned who he regularly visited and to whom he taught the French language and math. He provided a Muslim burial for those shot and abandoned. The Soviet Union suppressed all religious celebrations and the Russian Catholic Church was forced to go underground. In the end that suppression lasted for seventy years. It was during this time that Massignon dedicated the Badaliya Prayer movement to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Church's devotion to Our Lady of Pokrov, or Our Lady of the Veil.

On October 1st in the year 911CE, at 4am during an all-night vigil in the crowded Blachernae Church dedicated to the Mother of God in Constantinople, the Theotokos, or Mother of God, appeared above the people. She had in her hands a long veil. St. Andrew, the Fool for Christ was standing in the back. He said to his disciple Epiphanius,"Do you see how the Queen and Lady of all is praying for the whole world?" Epiphanius replied, "Yes, Father, I see it and stand in dread." This appearance of the Virgin spreading her veil out in protection over the whole world is celebrated to this day annually as a feast day on October 1st in the Eastern Orthodox churches. Massignon's choice to seek the protective veil of Our Lady by dedicating the Badaliya to this Icon on behalf of all those whose free religious expression is being suppressed by authoritarian regimes speaks volumes to us at this very moment in time. Ukrainians are fighting valiantly to maintain their independence from that old-style authoritarian Soviet Union Satellite model, or a new Russian Empire. The suffering in Ukraine and in Russia and its effect on the world is heartbreaking.

Our fasting may take on a deeper meaning when we fast from greed for power and control, from oppression of other people, from arrogance and false pride, racial bias, xenophobia and violent solutions to human conflict. Our prayers may take on a different focus when we open our hearts to letting the eyes of Divine Love, I AM, pray from within us and inform how we see our world and all others in it. Our alms giving a movement toward action to offer our help in whatever way we can to all those fleeing the Ukraine and those who are staying.

Let us turn to Our Lady of Pokrov, as Massignon did, to spread her protective veil over the Ukrainian people and the whole world. May She change the hearts and minds of those who occupy and oppress others rather than attend to the survival of our planet by coming together in our common need as human beings made in the image and likeness of God, the Creator of the Universe, I AM.

Peace to you,

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