Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem,
at the Conference for Members of the European Parliament and others
at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon, 18-19 November, 2011
The Future of Christians in the Middle East: a Step Forward to Religious Freedom
I am happy to be taking part in this conference! Thank you for this initiative.
I am going to put forward some papers I’ve produced, relating to the events that have been shaking the Arab world since the beginning of this year, 2011. I have given a copy of them to Dr Catherine Vierling.
As I don’t have to give a talk, I shall limit myself to making some observations.
1- I understand the title given to this conference not as an expression of fear for the future of Christians in the Middle East, but rather as a call to the Christians of the Muslim-majority Arab world to understand better their role and mission in their society, their Arab world! They constitute the Church of the Arabs! The Church of Islam! They have the duty of working for ʺa step forward to religious freedom.˝
This conference shouldn’t be understood as arising from concern for Christians straying beyond their religious and socio-demographic context! Nor is it due to a wish to cocoon them! Indeed, their lot in this Arab spring is the same as that of their fellow-citizens.
We should be promoting changes to this Arab world, our world, and also helping our brothers and sisters in their faith!
2- In the papers I’ve given to Dr. Catherine Vierling, I’ve drawn up a broad list of reforms expected by the Arab world, especially those to do with democracy and development.
3- The Arab world, due to its socio-religious structure, is not prepared for real or, at any rate, European- or American-style democracy.
4- Islam in particular is able only with great difficulty to relinquish the application and treatment of Shari’a law as the principal or a chief source of law, as Shari’a is Islamic doctrine!
5- The application of Shari’a, correctly understood according to pure Qur’anic reasoning, makes ample provision for Christians to live their faith freely (freedom of worship). We have some practical (at times difficult) experience of that. Shari’a is principally law for Muslims.
6- We should be, are and have been able to live out our faith in the Islamic world (for 1432 years since the Hijrah), despite all difficulties…
7- I think it’s time, not to be asking for privileges and rights, but to be citizens of this Arab world, to which we have given much and are ready to give more. It’s time to show our solidarity with our Arab world.
8- Dear friends! Help seriously and effectively to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you will be helping to solve half the problems of the Arab world and all its “isms:” fundamentalism, Islamism, Salafism, terrorism …
9- Europe ought to have an independent, creative, bold and clear policy on this matter! Recognize unambiguously and without delay the Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel (not the Jewish State). You missed an historic opportunity to do this last September, 2011!
10- You may have good intentions with NATO interventions (as in Libya)! But they will be inscribed in Arab history and society, and in Muslim Arab history and memory under the heading: crusades and crusaders! In that way you will make our relations (and your own) more difficult with Islam!
11- Trust us: Muslim and Christian Arabs in this Muslim Arab world! Help us to settle our problems among ourselves!
12- On the topic of the so-called “Arab spring,” there are three simultaneously interlinked components: Revolution! Evolution! Vision!
Without growth and vision, revolution is merely destructive, deadly and bloody, hateful and vengeful …
That is unfortunately the case with so-called revolution in the Arab world!
13- Yet, however it may turn out, our Arab countries have to change following the tragic events of 2011.
14- I suggested and asked the Arab world to listen attentively and positively to the slogans of the demonstrators in the major Arab capitals, and to make them into “a Modern Arab Human Rights Charter.” That is what Arab Christians should be tackling with their fellow-citizens! That is what Europe should be asking from Arab leaders, and not simply calling for their downfall… That is what the rest of the world is expecting from the Arab world’s Christians and Muslims!
Ask for that, dear friends! That is the real spring!
15- Topic: fear!
Fear has nothing to do with the future of Christians and Muslim-Christian relations! We are not afraid! We call upon our faithful to be unafraid! We are not a target or quarry, for we represent no competition or threat to anyone! We are instead a valuable asset for everyone!
16- Different Muslim denominations are rather afraid of one another, as there is a bloody history between them, due to very deep religious and long-standing political conflicts!
17- That is why we ask our brothers in Europe, the Church, the Pope, States, don’t talk of Christian fear! Call for dialogue, living together, solidarity…
18- If Europe fails to define its Christian roots, how and on what pretext can it protect Christians? We are Arab Christian citizens. Help us and help all citizens! Our destiny, like our past history, is the same, and our future will be a common future and shared destiny!
19- Yet we may still sometimes be victims of Muslim-on-Muslim conflict, victims of Muslim conflicts, though not of Islam!
20- Yet we are especially victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has lasted for 63 years! After every war and crisis caused by this conflict, we have witnessed a new wave of emigration of Christians, and of Muslims too!
21- A Christian, a real Christian, can never think only of his own fate, but must think of others’ too, never forgetting that our destinies are linked…
22- Yet it is apparently evident that Europe and the United States are more preoccupied and concerned with bringing Iran to heel than with the plight and future of Christians.
23- I don’t understand how Europe, (in principle Christian by baptism, and which moved towards the secular State after the French revolution) wanting to be secular and preaching secularism to the Arab world, could unflinchingly, without any qualms, accept Israel as a Jewish State. How can Europe, that did so much to bring down the Berlin Wall, accept the Wall separating the Palestinian territories from the State of Israel?
24- Does Europe want the various Muslim communities and us Christians too, to live in ghetto-like, religious Statelets?
25- Blessed Pope John Paul II gave a definition of man’s social nature, in his last Message for the World Day of Peace, 2005: “that is, his being ‘with’ and ‘for’ others! ”
This applies especially to us Christians of the Middle East and therefore we put into practice what Jesus told us about himself: “I am come that they might have life and might have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10)
That is the meaning of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’s teaching, addressed to us all: “Be light! Be salt! Be leaven!”
That is the “little flock’s” role and mission.
As long as Christians fail to understand this (and I am quite sure on the basis of my experience that it is very difficult for them to understand), they will all be candidates for emigration.
Christians’ faith is their future, in the Middle East as in Europe!
26- The great challenge for Christians is either to change their society, with a great deal of patience, solidarity, friendship, and courage… or to emigrate!
I prefer, we prefer, to continue to be Christian in solidarity with this Arab world of ours, and continue to be Light! Salt! Leaven! as Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ commanded and asked us to be.
Members of the European Parliament, with the collaboration of Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and Members of Parliament from Lebanon and the Middle East, with the support of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), organize a conference on “The Future of Christians in the Middle East: A step forward to religious freedom”