A Jesuit priest who revived an ancient monastery in Syria and who has campaigned for peace talks said on Wednesday he was being expelled from the country. "I leave Syria at the request of the Church and civil authorities," Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, who heads the monastery of Deir Mar Musa some 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Damascus, told AFP. On Tuesday, Vatican Radio reported that Dall'Oglio who has urged dialogue and rejected foreign military intervention since the start of the conflict was departing in a few days at the request of the Syrian Catholic bishop.
"I am leaving but the monastery is open," said the Italian priest, who has lived in Syria for 30 years. Dall'Oglio founded his community in 1992 in the ruins of the Mar Musa monastery, which dates back to the 7th century. Christians and Muslims pray side by side at the monastery, which also hosts interfaith seminars.
What is happening in Syria is a "Muslim tragedy" in which Christians are involved, Dall'Oglio told Vatican Radio. Dall'Oglio was ordered expelled from Syria last November but managed to stay in the country. Syria has a small, but influential Christian minority that has traditionally enjoyed harmonious relations with the Muslim majority and with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor, Hafez. It now lives in fear that the violence surrounding the uprising against al-Assad could degenerate into attacks on it by more radical elements among the Muslim population.
Mar Musa monastery, also known as Al-Habashi (the "Ethiopian") monastery, was "visited" twice in recent months by masked men who said they were looking for hidden weapons.