Journey of Faith: Symposium of the German Initiative for the Middle East

His Beatitude walking with Dr. Reinhard Lettmann and Canon Martin Huelskamp

Journey of Faith

His Beatitude visits Muenster Germany for a

Symposium of the German Initiative for the Middle East

March 20-21, 2009

His Beatitude flew from Lebanon to Germany on 19 March to attend the Fourth Symposium of the German Initiative for the Middle East (DINO), entitled Syria and its Neighbours – Against one another or Together for Peace? On arrival, he was welcomed by members of DINO, Muenster.

On 20 March His Beatitude made a private visit to Saint Paul ‘s Cathedral and the Liebfrauenkirche in the early morning, then attended a Press Conference before going on to a meeting of the Initiative’s Committee later that afternoon. His Beatitude had reminded journalists that next to Lebanon , Syria had taken most Palestinian and Iraqi refugees and so was strongly involved in the peace process. That evening, His Beatitude attended a dinner for members of DINO and their guests, which was held at the Castle of a former Prince-Bishop of Muenster, now part of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität. The speaker at the dinner was Dr. Tono Eitel, former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, who gave a wide-ranging survey, with an historical perspective, of the Symposium theme.

The first day of the Symposium began with a formal reception of His Beatitude and other contributors to the Symposium by the Mayor of Muenster, Oberbürgermeister Dr. Berthold Tillmann, in the Council House’s Peace Hall, which commemorates the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War. His Beatitude and the Syrian Ambassador to Germany , Dr. Hussein Omran, as well as Lutheran Pastor Dr. Mitri Raheb from Bethlehem were among the distinguished visitors.

After lunch, the Symposium opened in the baroque surroundings of Muenster’s Erbdrostenhof, with a speech from Dr. Omran, in which he expressed himself pleased with recent recognition by Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister for Foreign Affairs, of the key role that Syria could play in the peace process in the Middle East and the mutual benefits that could result from closer contact between Syria and Europe. He also welcomed the greater attention given to the Middle East by the new government in Washington . The former German Parliamentary Speaker, Dr. Rita Süssmuth, warned that military solutions could not be imposed from without, but that peace must flow from within the inhabitants of the Middle East .

Melkite Patriarch delivering a speech at the DINO SymposiumHis Beatitude, in his speech, again emphasised that Syria was intimately involved in the peace process, sheltering over half a million Iraqi refugees and having a border contiguous with the state of Israel . Later, Dr, Mitri Raheb spoke of an initiative he was introducing in Bethlehem with support from German institutions, a school of media and art, which he hoped would prepare young people for a professional role in any future democracy. Although not optimistic about the opportunity for positive developments, he expressed himself nonetheless hopeful.

After the Symposium, which lasted four hours in all and included a discussion between distinguished journalists with extensive international experience, His Beatitude moved on to be the guest of Bishop (Emeritus now) Dr. Reinhard Lettmann at an informal supper in his home, together with Canon Martin Huelskamp. Bishop Lettmann is to visit Syria in April 2009 and Canon Huelskamp will go to Egypt .

Exterior of St. Paul's Cathedral, Muenster, Germany

On Sunday 22 March, His Beatitude, accompanied by Bishop Lettmann and Canon Huelskamp attended Terce and Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Muenster and took part in the Liturgy. His Beatitude had been struck by the cathedral’s dedication to Saint Paul and discussed the possibility of inviting to Syria , from around the world, representatives of cathedrals dedicated to Saint Paul , to visit Damascus in the Pauline Year. With Canon Huelskamp, His Beatitude visited the Domkammer, which houses many sacred relics from earlier Christian periods of Westphalia ‘s history.

His Beatitude was invited to lunch in Muenster by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Saadeh, long-standing and esteemed friends. Later that evening His Beatitude left for Berlin, where he was to make, on Monday 23 March, the final meeting on his brief visit to Germany, with Mr. Rolf Nikel, Deputy Director for Foreign Affairs in the Office of the German Chancellor, before flying back to Lebanon.

Report by V. Chamberlain