Father Domenico carries on the 2000 year old tradition of the house church in Antioch where followers of the Way were first called Christians. A Franciscan, he has served as parish pastor 25 years, following a 20 year ministry in Smyrna at the Church of St Polycarp. 

He opens the courtyard doors to welcome all to explore the Christian story through paintings on the wall: Jesus died and rose again; we celebrate The Lord's supper in remembrance of Jesus' death; and the annunciation (also in the Quran) tells of the word of God, and giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God. 

It's his joy to tell the Christian story in a majority Muslim country. "Dialogue and respect is the fountain of peace."

Against convention his Catholic Church has Vatican dispensation to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Orthodox Church. Both churches coordinate mass so believers can attend both. Icons are hung on the wall out of respect for the eastern traditions.

They are just a sliver of the population: 1,000 out of 200,000. "The Christians must stay united in Antioch," he told us.

Sometimes it's very clear you are in the presence of someone who is in the presence of God.

Antioch is where Barnabas came as a scout for the apostles in Jerusalem and found the grace of God at work. Paul, Barnabas and Mark were sent on first missionary journey and set sail for Cyprus (Barnabas' home country) from Seleucia.

We stood on the sand where there was a first century harbor and read of Barnabas as the son of encouragement. He came to Tarsus to recruit Paul for this new ministry in Antioch with Jewish and Gentile believers. Mark went with them, and though it resulted in disagreement, John Mark became a trusted and helpful partner to Paul in his later years.The church expanded from Antioch: new vision, territory, communities, and converts.

It was the Spirit-led community that God used to shape Paul for ministry. Ananias welcomed and healed; Barnabas vouched and invited, and Peter and James challenged and sharpened. 

We walked through the bazaar, or market place, in Antioch, something Paul would have done in every city he visited. I wondered about the beautiful faces of children--do they know Paul? How does this significant city in the new testament, and faithful community, presently impact their lives? 

Community shapes our experience of pilgrimage. It's the conversations, insights, prayer and scripture that forms our experience and deepens our understanding of scripture.

Peter and Paul sharply disagreed, but it seemed right to the brothers in Jerusalem and to the Holy Spirit that they continue to support Paul and Barnabas in their radical ministry to the Gentiles.

Peter moved to Antioch and led a church in a cave at the foot of a sheer rock face. I love the icon in Domenico's church with Peter and Paul kissing. 

May their community inspire our community and Christ-communities all over the world.


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