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Toronto Dominican Family Holds Prayer Service
on September 21st

TORONTO, CANADA-- September 21, 2006--the Dominican Community of Toronto organized a prayer service for the Dominican Family at the Newman Centre on the campus of the University of Toronto.

Bro. Darren Dias, OP of St. Dominic province preached.

(Here is a Word version of the homily below)

May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23

This short one-liner comes near the end of Paul’s first letter to the community at Thessalonica. The letter written about 20 years after the Ascension is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Pauline texts. Thessalonica was a cosmopolitan, quasi-independent city within the Roman Empire. The community Paul is addressing seems to have been a flourishing community made up principally of Gentiles that demonstrated strong bonds of love, charity and hope. There does not seem to have been too many internal problems; but, it was a community rejected by the Jewish community and probably even suffered hostility and persecution from external forces because of their faith. In their tribulations, the church at Thessalonica- not unlike many apostolic communities- expected the immanent return of Jesus Christ, the parousia, and this expectation was a source of courage, patience and hope. Far from being scared or freaked out at the thought of the second coming, this community longed to see Christ face to face (for this they must have been pretty confident).

In tonight’s reading we find Paul’s blessing on a community suffering persecution of some sort, longing for the fullness of the realization of God’s reign: a reign that places God at the source of salvation; a reign that is both the will and the work of God; a reign that makes creation both sacred and whole; a reign inaugurated by Jesus Christ and to be completed by him at his second coming. And the church at Thessalonica expectantly, faithfully, longingly waited and waited and waited…

Many communities still await God’s blessing of peace today. I am referring particularly to Christian communities in the Middle East. These very ancient Christians communities make up but a tiny percentage of the mid east population (highest in Lebanon with about 30% followed by Syria with about 10% but generally 1-3% of the population in most countries in the region). The Middle East— a cradle of ancient civilization and culture; the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism— is today rife with violence and instability. This the result of an “official” colonialism of the recent past whose heritage is poverty and political instability and a Western neo-imperialism of the present that attempts continued control the region through international institutions (like the IMF), Western foreign and economic policies and military interventions that plunder the rich resources of the area with great human environmental costs. In the mid- east situation today Christian communities are doubly vulnerable to attack as Arabs at the hands of Western invaders and at the hands of fellow citizens who perceive Christians as traitors colluding with the Christian imperial powers of the West.

Now I am not going to even try to describe what’s going on in those communities. You’ve probably all seen news footage of Iraq, or Afghanistan, Lebanon, or the Palestinian territory. You’ve seen the mass destruction of once vibrant cities like Beirut or Baghdad. You’ve seen images of families suffering, weeping and angry. The recent burning of churches sparked by the Pope’s comments made in Germany illustrates the injustices that the already fragile and vulnerable Christian communities face constantly. In our Dominican Priory in Baghdad the friars, who like the sisters are themselves Iraqi and not foreign missionaries, are under constant threat of kidnapping and violence against them and their associates and employees because of their perceived collusion and connexion with the West. But I can neither speak for the Christians of the Middle East nor is it my place, they have their own voice, a quick visit to any number of websites and you can find their stories posted there. I cannot even begin to imagine what its like to live under constant bombardment, threat of violence, I don’t have to accompany my female colleagues to school for fear of them being violated, I don’t have to find guns to protect my home, I don’t have to wait in line for meagre food supplies, I don’t have to watch as strangers wage war to determine my future. The most I can do is to try to be empathetic toward the reality of people who live in a terrible situation that I have never experienced and probably never will.

So why this prayer for peace? What have we to do here? What role have we to play?

First, I think that we who benefit from our socio-political situation and enjoy our North American lifestyle have to face the fact that we live this way at the expense of places like the Middle East. We are a society of affluence and excess because we have societies of poverty and subsistence to exploit. We can go to the store and pick up fruit imported from around the world or can get a pair of pants when we need them; we can walk safely to school or work and home again; we can sleep soundly without being woken up by bombs exploding; we don’t have to keep vigil at night to ensure that this Newman Centre is not burned; we travel where we want; we fill our cars up with gas; and as winter approaches we turn off the air conditioning and turn up the heat. And I am not suggesting that any of these things are bad. However, we have to admit that there is a correlation between our North American Western lifestyle and the insecurity and poverty that much of the world pays for us to enjoy it. We in Canada benefit from Western imperialism and because of that we ought to pause and reflect.

Secondly, we in Canada often think that its countries like the USA or England that are guilty of western imperialism/colonialism; however, our role in the Middle East is nowhere near the peace keeping missions of yesteryear. In a recent visit to Canada Condoleeza Rice called Canada’s participation in the so-called war on terror “absolutely critical.” Our country is currently involved in massive aggressive missions in Afghanistan. In early September the Canadian led “Operation Medusa” resulted in the “successful” killing of 1500 Taliban fighters, or should I say 1500 Afghani citizens, or perhaps is better to say 1500 human persons. The situation in the Middle East is complex and critical, but is the course of action that has been undertaken recently in which our country participates, which albeit maintains our lifestyles, really a good way to restore right relations between nations and between religious believers, with the earth and with God?

Thirdly, we are here because a lot of us here are part of the university community, we are many of us quite educated, we fancy ourselves aware of the world around us and when things don’t make sense, we stop and scratch our heads and try to figure things out. So we must question what kind of world we live in that spends over 300 billion American dollars (about the equivalent of the debt of the entire continent of Africa) on a war in search of weapons of mass destruction that we know do not and never have existed. We need to demand why 45 000+ Iraqi citizen have been killed since the invasion of coalition forces purportedly sent to liberate them. The numbers are really ridiculous, they expose the utter irrationality of the situation. We as Christians need not only ask what kind of crazy and wicked world we live in but what role we want to have in creating a world that makes a little more sense, that’s a little more sane, that does not think its okay that 45 000+ Iraqis are dead, 19 000+ young Americans are wounded or that is acceptable to wage war in Iraq for what experts estimate will eventually cost 1 to 2 trillion US dollars while AIDS sweeps through poverty reduced Africa.

Lastly, we are here because we have all baptized into the life and body of Christ who is its head. Currently parts of our body are seriously ailing and we play a part in its cure. Again, if we are the body of Christ, really and truly united as one body, then the current functioning of our body does not make sense. The heart does not just pump out blood to benefit one part of the body at the expense of another, the right hand does not receive more nutrients than the left. How shall we be a properly functioning body? What kind of exercises do we need to do to promote good circulation and a vibrant and health body?

The early Christian communities, like the one at Thessalonica, were soon disabused of their notion of the immanent return of Jesus Christ, but since then the longing for peace and liberation has not ceased. Two thousand years later we know that the reign established by Jesus is in constant need of building up as we await its fulfilment at the parousia; and we, the Christian community, in our role as mediator of Jesus Christ in our world have a pivotal role to play in making present, here and now, the will and the work of the God of peace.

Friar Darren Dias, OP
Newman Centre,
Toronto, Canada
September 21, 2006

Visit the website of the University of Toronto Newman Center.

Related Links

More Photos of the March in Rome

Full text of letter from the Master General

Letter from International
Co-Promoters of Justice and Peace

United Nations International Day of Peace website

Suggested Prayers and ways to participate

Recent Messages from Dominicans in Iraq

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