April 13, 2011

Muslim Albanians praying to The Virgin Mary?

AFP reported a miracle of sort that itself is a result of another miracle. 

I'm sure the Mufti of Perak will frown upon what is happening at a Serb Orthodox monastery and to be honest, I have my reservations about it too but we can't deny that what is going on there is heartening and encouraging.

Sokalica monastery in Kosovo
It's only slightly more than a decade ago, 1998 to 1999, that Christian Serbians and Muslim Albanians were slaughtering each other in what is now known infamously as the Kosovo Conflict. If you are too young to remember that, it was one of the darkest moment of humanity. Massacre and genocide. Many heart wrenching stories of family lost and atrocities done on civilians because of their race. 

Today, peace has returned to Kosovo, or at least a semblance of peace has returned (Kosovo has declared its independence from Serbia in 2008).  

Ethnic Serbians and Albanians are living side by side albeit in a tense atmosphere. However, it is heartening to know that ordinary folks are striving to reach out to each other and reconcile. A lesson that we Malaysians should study because eventhough we are in the era of 1Malaysia, there are rogue elements out there still beating their chests and shouting dangerous rhetorics. I am sure you know who they are but I won't name them here, that would only dignify these Neanderthals.   

The ethnic Serbians are largely Orthodox Christians and ethnic Albanians are largely Muslims, the latter forms 89.6% of the population. Kosovo was once part of the Ottoman Empire. 

AFP reported that nuns from the Sokolica monastery are learning the Albanian language so that they can talk to Muslim villagers who come to the monastery to pray to the Virgin Mary. 

The 14th century built monastery has long been famous for its cult of Sokalica Virgin. That is the veneration of the 14th century statue of the Virgin and Christ. Believers believe that praying to the Virgin Mary can cure deaf-mute children and help childless couples fall pregnant. 

Sculpture of The Virgin Mary with Christ
I am a Catholic and even I don't put much stoke into supernatural miracle cures ect. Not that I don't believe in miracles, I do! I have faith that some miracles did happen but... let's just say I have a healthy scepticism. Unlike some people who thinks that everything bad that happen to them is because of the devil or someone put a hex on them (bomoh)! 

AND, I'm also concerned that some ignoramus out there will take this opportunity to accuse, the prevailing accusation, Catholics/Christians/Orthodox Christians of idol worshiping! We are VENERATING the symbols of our faith, not WORSHIPING! It's like keeping a picture of your love ones in your wallet, you do that as a 'visual aid' when you need to remember them. 

I hope the nuns do explain to the Muslims the whole concept of veneration. Otherwise, it would be sad that they are actually worshiping the sculpture. The Devil is superb at lying and deception; The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

I am not commenting on whether it's wrong or right for the Muslims in Kosovo to be venerating The Virgin Mary but I am sure the Perak Mufti would ban it along with Poco Poco. If they objected to Poco Poco simply because dancers make cross formation, imagine what they would think about venerating Mary, the mother of Christ! You couldn't get more Christian elements than that!

But people are just people. If you strip religion, race and politic, you realize that we are all the same. We worry about our children just as much as the next Indian, Malay, Bisaya, Chinese, Serbians and Albanians worry about theirs. We all have bills to pay. Our needs, wants, fears and joys are all the same.    

We may look different because of our skin pigmentation and bone structure but that's because of evolution. Our diets and geographical location made us adapt to the environment and voila, after hundreds of years, we end up looking the way that we do today. But it's only skin deep! I have one heart that pumps blood, do you have two hearts that I don't know of? Granted, some people actually born with one kidney but that's another story for another time. 

My point is, these people who flock to the monastery have problems. Perhaps their children are not well. So desperate parents being desperate parents that they are, will hang on to any hope or try anything. People are free to believe anything they want and if they think this will help them, who are we to stop them. To each his own. You can judge all you want but who are you to judge?

Anyway, the thing that made me interested enough to share this is the solidarity of the nuns and the Muslims. The willingness to share and open one's door to the needy regardless of race and religion. Might I add also, the universal love and human kindness that transcends everything else.

The Abbess of the monastery, the 67 years old Mother Mati Makarija ordered her eight nuns to learn the Albanian language which is spoken by very few Serbians. No doubt the nuns took the task enthusiastically despite their reported tight schedule.
The Abbess of Sokolica monastery

Mother Makarija said;
"Speaking  languages of each other is a must, I don't want them (the nuns) to talk to the neighbours and Albanians who visit the monastery in English but in Albanian"
"Our door is open to them. If they think our sacred sculpture can help them, then they are welcome"
"When they ask how to pray, we tell them to pray in their own language and in the way they are taught to. We let them praise their Allah as we do our God" 
How great is that!? Unlike our media and certain high profile motivational speaker that constantly take every opportunity to trash other religions in Malaysia, Mother Makarija seem to say, "Look, your Allah is as real as my God. Pray to your Allah and in the ways that you are taught". There is no, "My God is the true God" "Christian engages in vices" ect. She isn't even trying to convert them!

For the benefit of those who do not know who and what The Virgin Mary is, she is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. In Malay, she is known as Mariam just as Jesus is known as Nabi Isa.

Apparently, Mother Makarija and the nuns are known for their bravery and standing up for the Albanians during the Kosovo conflict. Throughout the conflict, the monastery tried to remain neutral and today, the nuns and the Muslim villagers refused to be drawn into talking about politics.

Mother Makarija said:
"Politicians are occupied with politics, not us"   
An excerpt from AFP's report:

Villagers tell how she braved heavy fighting during the war to take a pregnant Boletin woman to the Serb-controlled hospital in Mitrovica to deliver her baby.
"It was dangerous even for her, despite the fact that she was a nun," said Besim Boletini, who lives next door to the monastery.
Muslim villager Mustafa Kelmendi, 67, said Makarija had saved his son Basri from Serb paramilitaries twice.
"The war brought chaos ... However she did not allow Serb forces to stay in the convent even when fighting was going on in the area," the pensioner told AFP.
Kelmendi is a regular visitor to the restored Sokolica monastery, built in the Middle Ages, decorated with neatly cut white stone tiles and considered one of the highlights of medieval orthodox architecture in Kosovo.
The famous sculpture, known as the Sokolac Virgin, is adorned with gold necklaces, bracelets and strings of pearls from grateful visitors -- Christians and Muslims.
"It cures not only their but also our people," Kelmendi said.

I pray for long lasting peace in Kosovo, especially in the village of Boljetin where the Sokolica monastery is, for the sake of the kind nuns and Muslim villagers. I also pray that 1Malaysia will truly live up to it's name and that the voice of the moderates among the Muslim and Non Muslim in Malaysia will eventually drown out the very few racist and religious bigots.


P.s/- Just in case. I've put a virtual Cross stamp on this post. I know it only applies to Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia but hey, one can never be too careful.

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