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    Author Speaks of Love at Ignatian Values Lecture

    Stephanie Saldaña, the author of “The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith,” presented the Ignatian Values in Action Lecture at The University of Scranton on Sept. 19. Her book, The Bread of Angels, was part of the class of 2023 Royal Reads Program. From left: Julee Meketa, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Brian Conniff, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Saldaña and Christian Krokus, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Theology/Religious Studies Department.
    October 7, 2019
    By: Catherine Johnson ’20, student correspondent

    Writer Stephanie Soldaña, author of The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith, and A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, spoke at The University of Scranton’s 8th annual Ignatian Values in Action Lecture in September.

    Soldaña’s memoir, The Bread of Angels, was the Royal Read’s book for the University’s class of 2023.

    “Tonight I’m gonna talk about falling in love,” Soldaña began, “Because what I hope is that your arrival here at The University of Scranton is the beginning of a love story that will continue for the rest of your lives.”

    Soldaña’s love story with the Middle East began with a broken heart, “the kind that makes you move to Syria.” In her final year of college she applied for a fellowship that allowed her to spend the following year in the Middle East. A girl from Texas, Soldaña knew nothing more about the Middle East than that it was the place where the Bible took place. “We didn’t even have hummus at the grocery store,” she joked.

    Once in the Middle East, Soldaña was overwhelmed with the culture of hospitality that welcomed her. As strangers opened their homes, beds, and hearts to her, she felt what she called a “holy envy” for their type of love.

    In her travels, she visited a monastery outside Damascus where she met Rev. Paulo Dall’Oglio, S.J., who had founded a religious community dedicated to interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Fr. Paulo was the Ignatian Values in Action Lecture speaker in 2011.

    Under Fr. Paulo’s guidance, Soldaña, embarked on the 30 day Ignatian Spiritual retreat in the desert. While contemplating the incarnation, Soldaña said, she realized that she didn’t believe that God became man and was terrified. She spoke to Fr. Paulo that night who reminded her that “the presence of God in our lives is scary,” but that Mary said yes to God, and so must we.

    Soldaña said yes in the desert, and fell in love with Christ.

    Soldaña also spoke of her relationship with a female sheikh, who taught her about Islam. She said her relationship with this muslim teacher made her love her own christianity more. The interactions between the women of different faiths, she said was like the Visitation from the Gospel of Luke. “Something in me leapt up and something in her leapt up.”

    Soldaña also told about falling in love with her now husband, Frederik, who at the time was a novice monk.

    About half-way through the lecture, the Soldaña’s tone and content changed. While The Bread of Angels, she said, was a story about how she fell in love, the Syrian civil war that followed the book’s publication was about staying in love. Fr. Paulo, she said, had stressed in his teaching the importance of fidelity after falling in love. After war broke out, Fr. Paulo and Soldaña’s sheikh were exiled from Syria. Fr. Paulo returned illegally in 2013, was kidnapped, and is presumed dead. In war, Jesuits “stayed in love.”

    Soldaña continued to share stories of “hidden saints” who, in the spirit of Middle Eastern hospitality, continued to open their doors to strangers and were shot for it. She told of a family who opened a pharmacy in their garage where they became famous for sharing medicine for the soul as well medicine for the body. She told of people who looked around the destruction of war, and made new and beautiful things out of the rubble.

    At the conclusion of the talk, Soldaña called the students from Scranton to be witnesses. “Learning to see,” she said “is probably the most important thing in your life.” She called listeners to notice beauty in a world that seems to have lost its way; to “look into the broken world with the eyes of creation;” to build, from the destruction we find, something better and to “fall in love every day.”

    “Fall in love, stay in love, let all of your lives be love stories,” she said.

    Catherine Johnson ’20, Scranton, is an English and philosophy double major and member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Scranton.
    Catherine Johnson ’20, Scranton, is an English and philosophy double major and member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Scranton.
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