Mother Agnes-Mariam speaks reconciliation

Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross gave her first Canadian talk at the Centenary site on Sunday, December 1 at 2 pm. Her talk was sponsored by the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War. Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross is a Carmelite nun and mother superior of the Monastery of James the Mutilated in Qara, Syria, which has a community of three monks and twelve nuns. Born in Lebanon in a refugee camp 61 years ago, she is Palestinian on her father’s side and has worked in Syria for about 20 years.

Opponents identify Mother Agnes-Mariam with the Syrian regime. She offers no opinion on that, because she is not allied with any but those who seek non-violent resolutions to conflict, and she is willing to ally herself with anyone who genuinely does. She makes no bones, however, about being committed to the continued existence of the Syrian state. The state is not the regime. Without a state, she pointed out to the 100 plus audience at her stop in Hamilton on Sunday Dec 1, a person has no identity in the international community. Without the state, there is no passport. A person might as well not exist as far as the rest of the world is concerned. All the human rights, all the international laws are alienated from a person when they are stateless.

Mother Agnes Mariam speaks at the Centenary site on Sunday Dec 1 2013
Mother Agnes Mariam speaks at the Centenary site on Sunday Dec 1 2013

Statelessness is the very real possibility that motivates Mother Agnes-Mariam and thousands others as they seek to promote a non-violent resolution to the conflict in Syria. Outside military intervention offers no possibility of such a resolution; it will simply exacerbate the conflicts already in play. She stated emphatically and movingly that Syrians need to forgive each other. She said that only with the Holy Spirit will the Syrian people be able to have this come about. I did not not experience her claim for the power of the Holy Spirit as an ideological claim, but rather a faith claim.

Two things that Mother Agnes-Mariam said really stood out for me. She said that Islamists — radicals, extremists — are missing something inside of themselves that needs healing, not punishment, nor fear. She also described many of the so-called “jihadists” as “professional fighters” who needed to gussy up their self-description in order to continue to be “employed”. Hence they describe themselves as religious fighters etc. “But this is not Islam,” she said. One can see how that point relates to her belief that radicals are always missing something inside.

Her comments led me to recollect something from my own rather sheltered past. I recall studying a play called Faust by the English renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe. The story of Faust is the story of a man who makes a deal with the devil. In the course of classroom discussion of the play, the professor remarked that “heaven is an acquired taste.” 

Indeed. The world is awash with people who are intent on making a hell of right here, so sure that there is nothing more, and so certain misery they can inflict on others is a high calling.

But no.

Heaven. Or peace. Or justice. Is an acquired taste. We can acquire it.

Mother Agnes-Mariam said she would pray for One Main St. I said we would pray for her and all Syrians.

If you Google Mother Agnes-Mariam you will find much controversy. It is noteworthy that non-violence is so controversial.

Among some, that is.