Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – on the streets of Damascus

G’day Fighter,

It’s Father Dave here and I’m actually now in London, having finished my week in Syria where we’ve been spending time with both politicians and refugees, sharing in the joys and sorrows of the Syrian people, and boxing with kids on the streets of Damascus, Lattakia and Homs!

I have so much to share – pictures, videos and stories – that it’s going to take me a little while to put them all in order, but I want to share something with you today so I’ve chosen one picture that has behind it one amazing story:

Mother Agnes with Sheikh Tahhan and a former FSA fighter

Mother Agnes with Sheikh Tahhan and a former FSA fighter

See the pic above (you can see a larger version of it if you click on it). On the left you will recognise our beloved leader, Mother Agnes. The man in the middle you are less likely to recognise. His name is Sheikh Tahhan.

Sheikh Tahhan is apparently the only man in Homs that the FSA fighters trust if they want to take advantage of the armistice offered by the government. He roams the streets of Homs and seeks out rebel fighters who want to hand in their guns and stop fighting. On the right of the Sheikh is one of these fighters who is no longer fighting. Two of his mates are at his side (out of picture).

Naturally Sheikh Tahhan is a prime target for those who want to keep the fire going, and he is very aware of the fate of Jesuit Priest, Father Frans Van Der Lugt, who was shot in Homs only last week. Father Frans was apparently also involved in this same work – mediating between the government and rebels who want to lay down their arms.

So why, you might wonder, are both the Sheikh and Mother Agnes smiling when they both have prices on their heads? The reason is because the Sheikh has been telling Mother about a high-level meeting between the rebel leaders of Homs and the government’s Ministry of Reconciliation in Damascus. Apparently there is talk that the entire FSA contingent in Homs will hand in their arms and seek reconciliation with their fellow Syrians. If this happens it will mark the beginning of the end of the violence!

So many commentators are saying that there’s no end in sight to the Syrian catastrophe. If what the Sheikh has told Mother is correct though it could all be over within a couple of months! As I see it, if the Syrian rebels of Homs successfully take advantage of the armistice, other FSA fighters will follow quickly. Of course this won’t affect the more powerful rebel groups such as ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra, who are made up mainly of foreign fighters on jihad. But if the Syrian members of the rebellion stop fighting the government there is every chance that many of them will join with Assad’s forces to expel the foreigners! Once this happens the violence will wind up very quickly as the foreign backers who are funding the conflict will quickly cut their losses and pull out.

Of course nothing is certain and there are still many things that could become road-blocks on this path to peace. The Americans are still training rebel fighters in Jordan and graduating them at the rate of around 150 per month (see this excellent first-hand account by Sara Williams if you haven’t read it yet) and the Canadians have apparently been making preparations to enter Syria themselves, all guns blazing (see here)! Beyond this insanity though the victory of government forces seems inevitable. Moreover, if there ever really was any common ground between those Syrian rebels who were fighting for democracy and freedom and the foreign takfiri (who now make up the greater part of the rebel ‘alliance’) it has by now completely evaporated.

That’s enough from me today. You can see where my heart and my prayers are. I am hoping that the next time I am in Syria it will be to celebrate peace and to participate in the rebuilding of this shattered country. So many people have suffered and it will require a massive amount of sustained energy to reestablish the infrastructure of the country. Even so, my respect for the strength and determination of the Syrian people gives me every confidence in a bright future for this wonderful land and I look forward to joining hands with the Syrian people to do what I can to share in that rebuilding.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see some of the media coverage we had in Syria, check out these Arabic and Farsi language articles (using your brower’s translator):

P.P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – April 9th, 2014

G’day Fighter,

It’s Father Dave here back with you and I’m still in Iran – all ready for the flight into Damascus!

The team is fully assembled and we’ve bought up more than $20,000 USD worth of medical supplies, ready to take in with us and distribute to hospitals and medical centres where they are most needed. Of that 20k I’m proud to say that $2,800 AUD was contributed by Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, the Imam Husain Islamic Centre of Earlwood and members of our Fighting Fighters online community.

In addition to the medicines we are also taking in a stockpile of toys for Syrian children, donated separately by a generous soul here in Tehran.

So many wonderful things have happened since I last posted that I don’t know where to start. Even so, I’ve been warned that my posts are a bit long so I will abbreviate my experience over the last week to a series of dot points.

Meeting up again with dear Mairead in Tehran
at the Peace Museum of Tehran
After speaking at the Armenian Church
The hat seems to have a alluring power over Iranian women!
at our 'Pilgrimage of Peace' press conference
at our 'Pilgrimage of Peace' press conference
at the Armenian Church in Esfahan
Christians and Muslims united for peace
Religions United for Peace conference

We’ve covered plenty of territory across Iran over the last few days, moving between Tehran, Esfahan and Qom. Personal highlights for me have included:

  • Catching up with some people who are very special to me, including dear Mairead Maguire and and Mother Agnes. These women are both my heroes and mentors.
  • Visiting the Peace Museum in Tehran – a place where the main exhibits were the living survivors of gas attacks in the Iran-Iraq war! These amazing men shared their experiences of living with chronic illness resulting from exposure to mustard gas and gave me a far deeper appreciation of the horrors of gas warfare.
  • Visiting ‘The Tower’ in Tehran, and finding that no less than eight girls there asked me whether they could have their picture taken with me!  Of course, being a gracious soul, I agreed, and went to take off my hat. On each occasion though the girls would ask shyly, “Oh … would you mind leaving the hat on?” Evidently my Confederate battle-hat has strange magnetic powers!
  • Praying with the Armenian Church of Esfahan – one of a number of thriving churches we’ve seen in Iran. I had the privilege of speaking to the assembled guests there on the subject of “the role of religion in bringing peace to the world” (though I would have liked more than half an hour’s notice that I had been scheduled to speak).
  • Meeting with the President of the ‘University of Religions’ in Qom and hearing how they try to engage in creative dialogue between different religions and religious sects in an attempt to model peaceful coexistence to the world!
  • Participating in a series of peace gatherings organised by our Iranian hosts that featured not only great speakers but also children displaying their artworks!

And without wanting to detract from the wonder of all those experiences in Iran, I must confess that I missed one really special event that took place back in Sydney last Saturday that I did not want to miss – the fifth birthday party of my youngest daughter, Francesa.

Francesca turns 5

Francesca turns 5

Happy birthday, baby girl. Dad is looking forward to seeing you again very soon.

We are ready to leave for Damascus. For security reasons I can’t give the exact details of when that will happen but be assured that you’ll be receiving images and other updates from me as soon as I’m able to send them to you. Until then, I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see a video of some coverage given to our visit by Press TV, click here.

P.P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – April 4, 2014

Hi Fighter,

lighting a candle for Syria
sharing the light
Imogen lets her light shine 🙂
Imogen and Soren help lead the prayers
a great Aussie BBQ followed

our ‘Prayers for Syria’ service and farewell BBQ

Father Dave here, speaking to you from sunny Tehran, and despite what you might have heard, it is a beautiful city and seems to be filled with gracious and hospitable people!

I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest historical movie drama – 300 II – the Battle of Salamis. It’s part two of what I assume will be a trilogy covering the three great battles between the Greeks and the Persians in the 4th Century B.C.

Like its predecessor that covered the epic battle of Thermopylae, I expected 300 II to be more drama than history. Even so, I hadn’t expected the Iranians/Persians to be portrayed quite so inhumanly!

While the Greeks were depicted as the authors and upholders of democracy, the Iranians were bizarre creatures led by demons! Their religion was thoroughly irrational. Their leaders were merciless. And they even had ancient versions of suicide bombers!

Perhaps that was all just intended as good theatre (and I confess that I did enjoy the movie at that level). Even so, I was left with a deep degree of suspicion about the underlying motives of the author and director. This is, after all, how many in the West envisage Iran – as a dark and scary place led by irrational religious fanatics. It only takes a day in the capital to discover that Iran, like every other country in the world, is filled with ordinary people like you and me.

Indeed, the chief cultural difference that confronts you in Tehran is that everybody seems more comfortable being outdoors! The parks are filled with families just lounging around.  Girls are playing badminton and boys are playing table-tennis or kicking a football around. Admittedly, it’s a public holiday, and Mansour tells me that all Iranians are strangely driven to seek out green-space during public holidays!

Oh, did I mention that I caught up with Sheikh Mansour?

A friendly face on arrival! 🙂
three amigos!
at the lecture hall of Ayatollah Khomeini
at the adjacent Khomeini museum

The poor man met Sam and I at the airport, spent the day with us, and then headed back to his home-town of Esfahan overnight!

I hadn’t envisaged it this way. I knew he was scheduled to leave on a flight to the USA the day after we arrived but I had assumed that his flight was leaving from Tehran and so I thought it would be convenient for him to meet up with us before he left.

On the contrary, his flight left from Esfahan (more than four hours away by car), and so he caught a bus overnight to Tehran on the Monday, spent Tuesday with us, and then caught another bus back home overnight so that he could fly out from Esfahan in the morning! When I told him this was too much to expect of him he said “Hey, in the olden days I would have had to do it by camel!”

We had a great day with Mansour. We visited both the former palace of the Shah of Iran and the former home of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The contrast could not have been more stark! The Shah’s palace (or rather, complex of palaces) were the epitome of luxury and indulgence, reflecting a particular penchant for French art and culture (which was something I hadn’t expected). The Ayatollah, on the other hand, had lived in a two-room flat! He entertained guests in one room and ate and slept in the other!

I evidently need to do some proper research on this figure – a man I’ve known nothing about but who always looked alien and scary to me with his long beard and black hat. Could there really have been something of a Ghandi-figure behind that stern expression?

I’ll do more research before I say more. My immediate concern is to get the rest of my team safely into Iran.  Most of them are due to arrive in the next couple of hours. Unfortunately we had one member (Sheikh Ali) almost barred from entry at Sydney and another member – our dear boxing champion, Solomon Egberime – stopped in Perth!

Apparently one of the Qantas staff mucked up his ticketing in Sydney and he wasn’t able to board the connecting flights. He’ll be stuck in Perth for a night and then in Doha for another night during transit!  And the worst part of it is that (thus far) Qantas have expected us to foot the bill for re-booking the flight. Indeed, as I understand it, they haven’t even given him a hotel room to stay in while he waits!

As I always say, ‘if you’re not getting shot at you’re not in the front line’. Perhaps these mishaps are all a part of the greater spiritual battle that we’re engaged in here. Either way, I am confident that none of us will buckle under the pressure. We have a job to do in Syria and we are assembling quite a team to make sure that job is done right!   I’ll update you more on the team in my next post as they should all be assembled by then.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

Please follow and like us:

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four