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"Father Antoine Daniel was a man of great courage and endurance, whose gentle kindness was conspicuous among his great virtues. […] Verily, he burned with a zeal for God more intense than any flame that consumed his body." — Fr. Paul Ragueneau
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One may not condemn the congregation to worthless music or songs of the cheapest type under the pretext of “pastoral need.” Only a music which attracts the congregation through the power of its beauty, sanctity and general appeal will be pastorally effective. Otherwise the people will turn away in disgust (“a liturgia abhorrebit”) because the music used in the liturgy is inappropriate and banal (“ratione deformitatis seu inanitatis”). Unfortunately, he concluded, this is often enough the case at present.
— Archbishop Nicodemo, speaking during Vatican II (Translation by Dr. Robert Skeris)
Making of the Massabki Brothers: Arrival
published 21 June 2010 by Corpus Christi Watershed

As soon as I arrived in the Middle East, the first thing I did was rush to Damascus, where the story in my movie takes place. I didn’t plan on doing any heavy-duty production work. I just wanted to absorb the Old City where the Massabki brothers and Abd El-Kader lived, walk through the streets, meet the people, and discover.

It was my first time in the Middle East and I attempted to empty my mind of all my preconceptions about this part of the world. This is surprisingly easy to do since everywhere you go you find the opposite of what CNN shows you. Here are some of the most striking things I found:

First of all: the absence of bombs and explosions. There are horrible, sad things happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. But most places are actually very safe.

Second: wonderful, beautiful, hospitable people. I asked a man at a convenience shop for directions and he sent his son to take me through the neighborhood and drop me off where I was going. I was a complete stranger!

Third: Muslims and Christians getting along as friends. All the Christians I have met in the Middle East have Muslim friends and vice versa. There is more to be said about the complex history of Christianity and Islam in the region that I will talk about in a future blog post.

Fourth: The presence of Christians! I know Americans that are not even aware that there are Christians in the Middle East, despite the fact that this is where Christianity started!

On that note, I happened to arrive in Damascus during holy week, and it was spectacular. There are several Christian sects in a very small space (the Old City of Damascus). There are literally Christian churches right next door to each other. For example, the Maronite Catholic Church is next door to the Latin rite Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church is right around the corner. Not for from this are the Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox etc… The members of each church process through the streets with their own particular spectacle (floats of Christ crucified, scout bands etc…).

Check out a short film I made of the processions:

I’ll have more on Holy Week and the things I found in Damascus in my next post, and maybe another treat or two for you!