Timothy Radcliffe on Hope from Dominican brothers and sisters in the Arab world

Timothy Radcliffe

On the second day of the European Assembly of Lay Dominican Fraternities Fr. Timothy Radcliffe o.p. talked about how our brothers and sisters in the Arab world teach us to hope.

‘In the ’60s of the previous century we had the feeling that we would change the world and that it would be a better place. But now, fifty years later, we are not so sure about that. We see enormous flows of migrations, war and terrorist attacks and a big financial crisis. Many young people cannot find a job and we are facing ecological catastrophe. How do we keep on hoping? And how do we transmit that hope to the young and how do the young give hope to us?’ Br Timothy has experienced that you can learn this in desperate places, where there is no hope any longer: ‘And yet if we go to those places, we can  sometimes  hear words of hope and tenderness.’ Timothy is full of stories of the people he meets during his travels around the world and he shared them with the Assembly. ‘You should think that rich people can help the poor and homeless people, but if you ask in a devastated area: “what do you need?” the persons in this neighborhood can always think of somebody who is in more need’. In this area Timothy met tenderness, humanity and hope.

He recently visited several countries In the Middle East. He loves to go there because the brothers and sisters who are living there, are teaching him hope. And Timothy tells the story that he was in Iraq for a fraternal visit in 1988 and on the radio he heard that there would be a bombing. That day he had breakfast with Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis OP and he asked him: ‘Are you not afraid?’ And Mirkis said: ‘Of course, but if you live with death every day, you live with the bigger question: will there be a resurrection?’ Not too long ago there was a survey among the youngest generation in Britain and it asked: what are your biggest concerns? The answer was: Britain might run out of prosecco and I might forget my password.  ‘But when you go into the desert, these small anxieties of life are relative. Then you have other questions’ Timothy tells us.

In Arabic there are two words for hope: ‘amal, this is hope in the sense of optimism and raja’, this is hope in the Lord. Timothy detects in Iraq the ‘amal is lost: the sisters and brothers are not optimistic about the future of Christianity in the middle east. But they have raja’ and that keeps them alive. ‘How do they keep their hope alive?’ Timothy wonders. First of all by prayer and by the Eucharist. ‘You should do that once: celebrate the Eucharist in a war zone: you will see clearly the meaning of the last supper. In the Eucharist hope shines out brightly. It is in these kinds of context of darkness and disaster, where everything is collapsing and where is no future, that Jesus gave us this sign of hope! The people in countries like Iraq and Syria know in a way what the Eucharist is, what we have forgotten’, Timothy tells to the Assembly.

‘Second: by singing; this is a manner of facing hope. Human beings sing! It is one of the ways we express our hope everywhere in the world. Music breaks down the barriers between people and the finality of death. Music and singing express the words of the hope for which we have no words, the hope that is beyond our articulation. Not only for Christians but for all people. It happens in ordinary life and it happens when terrible things happen, just think about that young man who took his piano to play in the square after the attack in the Bataclan, Paris’, he remembered.

Thirdly, Timothy discovered that we keep hope alive by staying. In Baghdad Timothy met Lay Dominicans who stayed in Baghdad despite the violence and the war. Just like Jesus, who said that He will be with us until the end of time (Matt. 28:20). Staying faithfully by people even when it becomes very difficult. ‘For whom must you stay? is the question that is rising. It can be for your loved ones, for the people in the parish or fraternity. But in the end you stay, because God remains with us. We stay not just as a physical presence, but because we are God’s face for others, and to see the face of God. We have to learn to read the faces of other people – even if they want to kill us – until we see the face of God’, Timothy teaches the participants in the Assembly.

And finally, hope is kept alive by doing the good things that have to be done that day: ‘by doing the good work that God prepared for us. Do what is coming on your path, what is given you to do. If it matters or if it makes a difference is not for you to decide, but for God. Doing good reminds us that we are human beings. So we hang on, doing the things we can do, learning that the fruit is in God’s hands. We don’t build the Kingdom of God, but we receive it and have to accept as a gift. And we have to teach ourselves and others to think. We want to think, because we believe that things make sense in the Lord, that ultimoately everything that is happening is in the hands of God and therefore it is valuable. In the end we will see and understand that everything we lived through has a meaning’

Timothy calls the Assembly to give hope to the young: ‘give them a reason to hope’. But the youngsters are giving us hope too. We are sometimes blind to what we do: we don’t realize what is precious and valuable, until we are in a devastated area.’ Divided by languages, the Assembly worked after the coffee break in groups. Based on the talk of Timothy they spoke with each other about the questions: What gives you hope? and: How do you think that we can give hope to the next generation.

After Mass and lunch but before we went on the outing, the President of the Council gave an additional explanation of the tractatus and the elections.

Then by bus we went to the Batalha Monastry, so we left the cool hotel and went into the hot afternoon sun for a half-hour drive. It’s beautiful to see something more of the Portuguese landscape. In Batalha we arrived at a big gothic church that recently had to be restored: it’s an amazingly beautiful building. Next to the church there is a big priory of the Dominicans, who have been here from the start in 1388. It’s a place of study for the Dominicans and it is the final resting place of King John I and his wife, who lived in the 15th century. The time was too short to see everything and quietly we finished our tour in the unfinished chapel with the sky as roof.

At the end of the day the list of nominees for the elections was made definitive and we prayed the rosary and Vespers in the chapel of the sisters.


(08 October 2017)