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My Friend David

A student of Judaism and a seminarian. A shared passion for music and dialogue about God. Excerpts from their correspondence until that tragic July 31st in Jerusalem.
Jonah Lynch

David was a young Frenchman, born of a Croatian Catholic mother and an American Jewish father, both non-practicing. We met six years ago at McGill University in Montreal, where he studied philosophy for a year. We became best friends immediately. At first, our mutual love for music united us; later, it was our mutual search for God. We asked how it was possible to believe in a good, omnipotent God in a world so full of evil. On my side, reading the Brothers Karamazov had shaken my Catholic tradition to the core, while David was agnostic. He said, “I don’t have enough evidence to say whether or not there is a God.” In 1997, I rediscovered the faith through my meeting with John Zucchi, a professor at McGill, who invited me to meet his friends in CL. This encounter eventually brought me to the seminary of the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo in Rome. David returned to France and our heated conversations continued through letters. He gradually became interested in the Jewish tradition after reading Levinas and others, and this fascination brought him to Jerusalem in 2002. There, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria of the Hebrew University on July 31st, killing him instantly. In his memory I offer you a few excerpts from our letters of the last two years. They are the testimony of David’s pure search for truth. This passion, even though it brought us down two very different paths, became within our friendship the possibility for profound dialogue.

Paris, December 2000
Thanks a lot for what you said about your experience of prayer. I think you’re right when you say that it is either an expression of joy for the discovery of the other or the cry consecutive to the grayness which invests us (although the grayness should not be the pretext for not acting with the other man in a way which respects his otherness–in theory, because in practice we pretty damn well forget about it; thus, Mercy). It would seem that prayer were more a horizontal link–or rather, the dimension in which the horizontal is redefined by an intrusion of the vertical. … I hope all went well with Fr Massimo’s operation. Either I don’t understand the coherence of a prayer if such a precise event is at stake, or I don’t know how to pray profoundly in such a way. But my hope, my deep hope, that I can give.

Paris, March 2001
I was rereading some of your letters last night, and there’s something beautiful and profoundly true you wrote: “A community occurs only where there is a waiting together (also a man and a woman who truly love each other have this ineradicable presentiment–otherwise they are not seriously together). This awaiting of an event–something where opening occurs–is the concrete inscription of God in our daily flesh?

Paris, May 2001
I hadn’t realized, when you were in Montreal, the extent of the engagement you were in the process of taking; I guess the idea of you being a seminarian got covered in my mind by the image of Rome and by the idea that given the amount of time preceding ordination, it was more reasonable to consider you were mainly going to be a student studying theology. As I now know, and there’s no blaming you for that, engagement concretely means that we are not as much on the same road–and at times I can feel egotistically hurt. More seriously, my annoyance can sometimes come from an idea I have, that you sometimes convey, on the nature of your engagement. As you told me once, God has not much impact on you if it isn’t through Christ. So when the eternal question rises–is Christ Messiah, yes or no–a negative answer concretely means chaos, or the “relativist swamp.”

Paris, February 8, 2002
And now the big news: I’ve been chosen for the scholarship in Jerusalem! I’ll study philosophy and the Biblical texts, exegesis… Obviously this project scares my mother (also my dad, but he’s quieter) and I’d be a hypocrite if I said it didn’t scare me. But I think it’s the right choice.

Rome, May 29, 2002
You accompany me everywhere: every time I hear news about Jerusalem I think of you. This is not the first time that my religion has been the motive for disagreement between us, but the present difficulty may be more radical since it is also true that until recently my position was not so solid, nor so total. I have been in the seminary for a little over two years, but it is only now that I am really starting to discover in what my life consists. I live in order to announce Christ, to live Christ, to love Christ. Can you understand what this means? The problem is partially that this announcement necessarily regards you as well–it is not possible for me to have our close friendship on the one hand and my faith on the other. Does this mean violence? I don’t think so. What I don’t understand very well, though, is in what manner this can take place between us. For this reason I hope you will read the text I gave you (on the Bible and the Hebrew scriptures). In that way I can cease to argue from hearsay and hastily assembled reasonings and you can see what it is that I accept when I say “I believe in the Catholic Church...” and accept or reject it yourself, with reasons. I guess the core is this: I believe that truth and love are one, and that in our relationship if either one of the terms is missing the other as well will wither.

An unfinished letter dated July 19, 2002
Sunset in Jerusalem: a sea of white stone buildings under the red sky, further above, the walls of the ancient city, down below, ahead, the Judean desert. The architecture is like the language of the Bible: this is here, that is there, and the link is merely suggested. Quite the opposite of classical Latin! On the lawn, quietly, people were praying, singing softly. Then there was a reading of the book of Lamentations and of Jeremiah 8:13-9:24. The harsh biblical words clash bizarrely with the serene atmosphere: “We hoped for peace, and no good came; and for a time of health, and behold terror! The snorting of his horses is heard from Dan: the whole land trembles at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it, the city and those who dwell therein.” Helicopters circling around the city remind us then of what people here call the “situation.” I suddenly felt afraid…

Two weeks after his arrival in Israel, news of his death reached me. I went together with some friends to the Oratory of St Joseph in order to pray a rosary together. What pain and joy together, that prayer of the joyful mysteries for the soul of a dead friend! That morning, I also called my superior, Fr Massimo Camisasca. He told me, “There is no longer a wall between you.” Then, hearing my fears, he added, “His search for God was so pure that I cannot believe he would have refused Him once he found himself facing Him.” My first reaction was this: “Now he knows the truth.” The peace I have tells me that my friend has not dissolved into nothingness. There was no rebellion or hate or violence in me, only purifying pain. I believed in the positivity of all things from the first moment. Life is not tragedy. From Montreal, I took a plane to Paris to go to the funeral. I spent a lot of time there with his parents, trying to carry some of their abyss of pain. They often asked me to play his violin, so I played some of the songs we always played together.