German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her New Year's address this evening wished God's blessing on the citizens of Germany and pleaded with them not to follow the call of those who are organising demonstrations against immigration.
She was clearly referring to the recent PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes - Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident) the anti-Islam movement in Germany.
She also referred to the difficulties in Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak and the violence of ISIS.
The Chancellor again congratulated Joachim Löw's team and quoted an English person, who commented that the Germans had a team. She wished the women success in next year's World Cup Final.
She reminded her listeners of their great fortune in living in a united Germany in peace. Merkel spoke about a Kurd, who now lives in Germany, whose greatest ambition is that his son can live away from fear and terror.
How many brothers in the Order know that we have a Dominican priory in Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran? Who knows that this presence is old, that indeed the Order was present in Persia in the 14th century, with a priory in Tabriz, a city in the north of present-day Iran and then in Isfahan in the 17th century?
In modern times, in the early 1960s, a priory was founded in the center of Tehran, at the request of the Holy See and entrusted to the Dominican Province of Ireland who established there a community of 4 to 5 brothers. All had to leave at the time of the Revolution of Khomeini (1979) when the country was transformed into an Islamic Republic.
This priory, named under the patronage of St. Abraham, still exists due to the commitment of an Irish Dominican friar, fr. Paul Lawlor, who lived there in his youth and has returned fifteen years ago, to lead the parish attached to the priory. For many years, I wanted to visit Paul, who lives alone in Tehran, and finally I got the opportunity in October of this year. For me it was a fascinating experience, a journey full of discovery.
Contemporary Iran is a very important country for several reasons: its strong ancient culture (Darius, Cyrus, etc.) of which I could get an idea by visiting Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis; its oil resources and its location in the east of the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz; its role as leading country of the Shiite Islam, of which I got a glimpse being received at the University of Religions of Qom, a kind of "Vatican of Shiite world"; and above all its people, justifiably proud of its old culture, its mystics and poets (Hafez, Saadi, Attar).
I was very positively surprised by the cultural openness of contemporary Iran, where you can find, translated into Persian under their care, all of Western philosophy, and even the Catechism of the Catholic Church that a mullah in Qom was legitimately proud to offer me. Yes, this country is indeed a great country and is worth far more than the clichés that circulate about it in the West.
It is wonderful that our brother Paul Lawlor could reopen our house in Tehran. Its parish welcomes several dozen young Iranian Christians, born of foreign parents long settled in Iran. This is important in a country where the Catholic Church is reduced to very little. Paul welcomes also other people; students, scholars, neighbors, who, through him, have a chance to have at least one Christian friend.
Certainly, proselytism is excluded but Paul has an extraordinary gift for friendship, an ever-open door, which means the making of high quality human links, as I was able to see for myself. We can better understand his life by visiting the website he has created (www.irandoms.org), where we learn a lot about the history of the Order in Iran, the Catholic community of St. Abraham and Iranian culture.
Fr. Paul lives alone and is not sure that he will ever see other brothers coming to help him. However we can visit him. Sometimes he has brothers staying with him to learn Persian, as once fr. Cyprian Rice (1889-1966), from the Province of England studied the Persian world and language and who understood with great finesse the importance of a Dominican presence in this country. In the present great debate about Islam in our world, it would be very important that the Dominican Order could find ways to support and continue such a meaningful presence in Iran.
Fr. Jean Jacques Pérennès, op