You may not think of Syria as a home of Christian monasteries, but I visited three today: Deir Mar Musa (Monastery of Moses), Deir Mar Takla (St. Thecla, an ancient Christian "hero," with lots of fun "holy legends"), and a monastery dedicated to SS. Sergius and Bachus (3rd c. Roman soldier martyrs), where the church is so old it still has a horseshoe-shaped "pagan" altar, forbidden by the Council of Nicea in 325.
Mar Musa was perhaps the liveliest: Refounded in the 1980s by an Italian Jesuit, Paolo Dell'Oglio, it is a community of both men and women dedicated to interreligious dialogue through the ministry of hospitality. Our hour-long conversation will appear in a future issue of U.S. Catholic, along with photos of the 11th and 12th c. frescoes in the monastery church--if my photos are good enough!
I'll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Father Paolo: When asked why it's important that the world's religions learn ot live in a "harmony of difference," as he puts it, he responded that it would be a real tragedy that when humanity begins its journey into outer space, it would be a real tragedy if we were still fighting about religion!
To learn more about Mar Musa: deirmarmusa.org/index1.html