Thursday, April 06, 2006

Interviewing Iraqi Dominican Brother
Mohannad Al-Tawil

Q: At what age did you decide to become a Dominican brother?

A: My childhood wasn't the starting point of my vocation call. Even though I grew up in a faithful family, my desire to devote my life to God wasn't my main concern in life. I'm grateful to my family. Without them, I would have never made this decision, which is not easy indeed. My family let my faith grow gradually and they were aware of the church's role in educating the Christian youth. So, they encouraged me to go to church and engage in different activities to serve the church and its people. So, I started to spend most of my time at church to find not only purity. However, another thing attracted me and made me feel that my place is at church, each time I left church, I felt that I forgot something there. However, I didn't remember what exactly it was.

My church service progressed and I became the church librarian. Then I was given a second task, which was to teach the Bible to children and the youths.

Then the first Gulf War came in 1991. It motivated me to fulfill my vocation call. After I worked with Caritas as a volunteer distributing food to poor families and the starving, I saw my people's struggle in general and children especially. I asked God to show me his stand about the pain and suffering of my people. Between my country's destruction and the coffins that started to move here and there to their resting places. The answer didn't come easily. Slowly, I realized God was there with every tear dropping from a child's face, with every scream of a woman who lost her son or husband, with every old person looking for medicine to relieve his pain. God was suffering with us in every moment. He exists and never disappeared.

This fact attracted me more and more to God and let me make the decision to devote my life to God in 1995. Because of my university studies, I had to wait until 1996 to be accepted to the Dominican Brothers. They accepted me as a willing candidate for two years. In 2000, they sent me to France to officially start my journey at the Dominican Order of Friar Preachers.

Q: Why did you choose to become a Dominican brother instead of an ordinary priest?

A: Living with a group is very important for me. That's what distinguishes a friar's life from a priest's life. A monastery is a group of brothers. I gained my strength from that life. As for why I choose the Dominican order, I feel Dominican life permits me - more than others - to spread the word of God. It's a life that depends on prayer, living as a group member, apostolic service and study. These four concrete pillars make a Dominican a real brother and preacher.

Q: Can a Dominican Brother become a priest? If yes, what are the required steps to become a priest?

A: Yes of course he can. But in the starting year, the goal of a Dominican is to be a friar. He spends his first year working on the three vows of abstinence, obedience and poverty. The starting year is focused on deep reading of the Holy Bible and the explanation of spirituality of the order and its founder St. Dominic. Then the brother vows the same three vows for three straight years, or for one year and then renews them by the end of each year, or makes the decision to leave the order.

After the three years of temporary vowing or three years of renewing the vows yearly, the brother can vow the eternal vows for the rest of his life, or renew his vows another year while thinking of his decision. This way, he has three years to make the right decision. Afterward, the church decides to ordain him as a friar. He can be ordained a deacon at the beginning and later as a priest.

Q: As a young Dominican brother, how would you inspire young Catholics to become priests or nuns?

A: Devotional life is definitely not a forced lifestyle. A family can’t force a son or daughter to become devoted. Today, an aware young person can make his own decision and can consult his family indeed. This point is not new. Jesus himself says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

We say a person who wants to enter the vocational life is a person who posses a vocational call. Because of the advanced technology and science available for young people these days, the church has to follow this advancement to become closer to the young generation and for the young generation to feel the church is close to it. For example, the internet is very important in the lives of young people. Presence of church via the internet and preaching the good news that Jesus Christ spread among us will echo among young people.

Work with Boy- and Girl- Scouts is another example where the church can become close to the young. They won’t feel marginalized or left in a corner where the church doesn’t care about them. The more the church values work done by the young and shows interest in their thoughts, the closer it become to them and they to it. This makes them understand that vocational life wouldn’t prevent them from using their talents. Contrarily, their talents and hobbies can be used to serve the word of God.

Q: What’s the solution to the shortage of priests in the Catholic church?

A: This problem isn’t as new as we thought. But, what makes it special now is the spread of Christians around the world. Also, immigration has a big role is showing the urgent need for priests, monks or nuns. For example, the Iraqi church faces a big challenge now. The continuous migration of Iraqi Christians forces the church to send priests to serve the expatriate community wherever they go. At the same time, the church wishes to have workers in God’s field from the expatriate community too.

When we talk about vocations, we’re certainly talking about the young generation. I explained in the previous question the urgent need for the church to show its active presence among the young and its great interest in their talents and productivity.

Today, when we talk about the reduction in vocations, I call for three groups:

First group: The Christian family to deepen and be interested in its children’s faith so they can grow up with God’s grace and discover their role and call inside the Christian circle.

Second group: The priests to be the faithful shepherds to their vocation journey and word of God. That way they become a good example to every young person who wants to serve the church.

Third group: Today’s young generation to become involved in serving the church and discover the happiness that God fills in our hearts when we harvest the fruit of our work.

Q: How were you chosen to join the volunteer team at the Catholic radio station in South Africa?

A: I chose radio Veritas from among other radio stations around the world for many reasons:

First, its founder is a Dominican brother. He’s also manager of the radio station. Being a Dominican brother myself, my coming to the radio station was very well welcomed.

Second: Radio Veritas is the only Catholic radio station in South Africa. It means there’s a shared goal between what I’d like to do in Iraq and what exists in Johannesburg.

Third: Radio Veritas is a simple radio station that was built from scratch with simple efforts. This is exactly what I sought. The start of my project - if it ever sees light - will be definitely simple.

Forth: South Africa went through difficult times and its regime changed from dictatorship to democracy in a marvelous way. Being here will help me live the experience of that population with that great event. In return, I’ll try to apply what I lived and witnessed in my country of birth one day.

Fifth: Christian media was and still is the field I feel I can give all the energy I have for the word of God.

Q: How do you find the South African Catholic community? Is it a big or a small community?

A: The black Catholic church is very active, but the whites suffer a bit from the lack of commitment from the white Christians in South Africa. Sadly, it’s the case with many Christians in Europe, but we need to understand that South Africa is not a Catholic country. Instead, it's a Protestant and Anglican one. So, the presence of the Catholic church is limited despite the number of Catholics in this country, which is estimated at 5 million people. It’s a number we think is good, but it doesn’t allow the church to be the dominant church in South Africa while S.A. has a population of 44 million.

The Catholic church owns one free newspaper that isn’t under the bishop’s control. It’s called “The Southern Cross.”

In fact, radio Veritas is the only Catholic radio station in South Africa. The unique thing about the Catholic media here is its independence. The local church doesn’t control it and it has given it the freedom to work. This is the result of the high trust that was given to the Catholic media. That’s why it’s creative.

Q: Do South African and Iraqi Catholic communities have any traditions in common?

A: What distinguishes the Catholic community here is its love and respect for the priests. It’s similar to the Iraqi Christians' attitude toward priests. The high respect and dignity are shared characteristics between the two groups. The priests here have their word and everyone respects them and tries to consult them to solve problems. Therefore, priests have big responsibilities in this country - similar to Iraqi priests.

Q: How easy or hard it was for you to cope with life in countries other than Iraq?

A: I moved from the Middle East to the Europe at the start of my vocational journey. Then, I visited North America during my studies. Now, I’m in Africa. Changing countries wasn’t easy. I left Iraq after long wars and sanctions destroyed many parts of my country and separated the young generation from the outside world.

I didn’t know how the outside looked. I didn’t know the simplest advances in technology. But, thank God my Dominican friary and my determination to go forward to enrich myself with what my friary life provided me. I wanted to return to Iraq as soon as possible to serve my church and its people. Due to this, I was able to gain many successes in my studies and apostolic work.

Q: How do you see the future of Iraq in the next five years?

A: Iraq is going through a very difficult stage. It’s a stage of complete change in all corners of its life. It’s a fateful stage indeed. It needs everyone’s cooperation to build a country that embraces all Iraqis, a free and democratic country, and a peaceful country that wants peace.

Iraqis sacrificed a lot and they're sacrificing to reach this goal. But the road is very long before this dream becomes a reality. The next five years may be fateful to Iraq’s future. But, we’re full with hope and we pray to God for a safe and stable Iraq.

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Blogger Ash said...

'a country that embraces all Iraqis, a free and democratic country, and a peaceful country that wants peace'

Amen to that dream!

4/09/2006 10:29:00 PM  

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