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A Deacon's Journey Through Islam View Comments
By Deacon George Dardess

Last May at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York, Deacon George Dardess discussed the
book Reclaiming Beauty for the Good of the World.

Becoming a Roman Catholic deacon led me into Islam—not by embracing Islam itself, but by embracing it as a sign of the Other whom the deacon has come to serve. The path has been so full of surprises that I can truly say, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

Yet it’s not only as a deacon that I speak of Islam. I also speak of it as an ordinary American who one day realized that he knew nothing about this “foreign” religion: nothing of its holy book, the Quran, nothing of its teachings, the people who embraced it, their languages and cultures or even the countries where Muslims live. For example, I couldn’t at that time have found Iraq on the map.

The change began in February 1991. I had been watching with horror televised reports of our first Iraq war, “Desert Storm.” As a recently baptized (1983) Catholic Christian, I had absorbed Thomas Merton’s writings on nonviolence; I had been inspired by the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. I also felt deeply that Desert Storm was portrayed unjustly: as a triumphant exercise of American goodness over the darkest evil and a war that had been cleansed of its violence through “surgical strikes” and “smart bombs.”


Deacon George Dardess, a retired professor, holds a Ph.D. in English literature and an M.A. in theology. He has co-authored three books and written Meeting Islam as a Christian (Paraclete) and Do We Worship the Same God? (St. Anthony Messenger Press). Deacon Dardess is a consultant to the Diocese of Rochester, New York, on interfaith dialogue and on migrant ministry.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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