Melkite Greek Catholic Church

First International Congress in Syria: Muslim-Christian Brotherhood

The Synod for the Middle East and Arab countries

Opening Remarks of Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III

Speech of His Beatitude - December 15, 2010

Opening Remarks of Patriarch Gregorios III - Umayyas Palace, Damascus, December 12, 2010

"Blessed be the God ... who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love ...unto the praise of his glory... For we are his workmanship, created ... unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (cf. Ephesians 1: 3-4, 2: 10)

"For he ... hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, ... for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; ... and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh... Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets..." (Ephesians 2: 14-15, 17-20a)

The Lord Jesus said, "...Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18: 20)

This verse: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." (Acts 4: 32) explains the harmony and unity of the faithful, and was the inspirational idea for the acts of the Synod for the Middle East. This spirit characterised the first Christian community at Antioch in Syria.

And the Qur'an says, "Say, People of the Book! Come now to a common word between us and you." (Aal ‘Imran 3: 64)

In this ambiance full of faith and spirit, we are meeting, dear brothers and sisters, Your Beatitudes, the Patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, muftis, ministers of cults, ulemas, imams and dear fellow-citizens.

We are meeting with the blessing of Almighty God, guided by his Holy Spirit, and under the patronage of the leader, defender and president of this country, H. E. Dr. Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic. We thank him for his patronage and presence amongst us, not in the flesh, but through his vision and mind. Without him, this congress, the first of its kind, could not have taken place.

This noble leader gave Syria one of its finest epithets during the visit of Pope John Paul II in May 2001, "Syria, cradle of Christianity, origin and crossroads of religions and cultures." Syria was the first to welcome Christianity. It is the melting-pot of Aramean, Syriac, Greek and their respective patrimonies, besides Arabic. It is the country of Churches and rites...There they were born, grew up and prospered and thence they spread out into the whole world, bringing the good news contained in Holy Scripture, the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an...Holy Books! Humane, global faith values!

Our dear President epitomises Syria and Syria reflects its President. He is its messenger to the world and Syria is completely devoted to the Arab world's causes. He is a young, cultivated, open, vigilant, smiling, compassionate president, attentive to the problems and worries of his people.

He is a clear-thinking leader, determined, astute and tenacious, a skilled politician, who is faithful to Syria's values, vocation, history, present and future.

As Patriarch of an ancient Syrian Church, I thank him most warmly, as do all the Churches of this country and of the Arab East, represented by the hierarchs and faithful assembled here. I should like to thanks His Excellency the President in the name of the universal Church represented by the Vatican delegation sent by Pope Benedict XVI, a great man of peace, dialogue and faith; the Apostolic Nuncio; the Congregation for Oriental Churches; the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Synod of Bishops; and the representatives of the Orthodox Churches in the world.

So, after having gained the attention of the Catholic Church during the Synod for the Middle East, the Eastern Churches now hold that of the Arab world through Syria.

A big thank-you to the Honourable Minister of Cults, Muhammad Abd as-Sattar as-Sayyed! He it is who, from the beginning, adopted the idea of this congress with great enthusiasm, and organised it with great professionalism, but also with conviction, faith and spirituality.

Holding such a congress, with all its national, social, Arab, religious and international dimensions, is evidence of the values that animate Syria, and particularly, of the respect that its citizens enjoy, whatever their religious beliefs may be.

We ask the Lord to bless our country and our Arab countries with all their wealth of heritage and dialogue initiatives. We hope that this kind of initiative will continue to grow, so that we can give to our future generations living models of faith, hope, charity, mutual respect, living together, tolerance, collaboration and progress.

"Come now to a common word." A common word between Islam and Christianity has great power and will help us to love each other and not merely to tolerate one another. It will help us collaborate to build together a society of love and a genuinely humane culture. If we Christians and Muslims love one another, love will conquer the world. On the other hand, if we live in mutual hostility, that spreads into all the world. And if we hate each other, we shall sink into the hell of hatred. And if we refuse to accept one another, the world will certainly be ravaged by war. That is what Fairuz sang after the fall of Jerusalem, city of love, faith and resurrection, saying, "When the Holy City fell, the flame of love was extinguished and in men's hearts, war took up its abode." So our world will be a world at war and cease being a world of peace and love.

We need a common word if we are not to disappoint the ambitions and hopes of our young Arab generation, that represents sixty per cent of our nations.

A common word is a genuine word of faith that will help us Christians and Muslims protect our Arab world from fundamentalism, terrorism, violence, hatred and hostility.

A common word is the best warranty for Christians and Muslims. Christianity and Islam are called to agree upon a common word, and not to make war on each other and kill one another. We have the best faith values. They are an inexhaustible wealth for all humanity.

So, let us agree upon a common word, in order to safeguard it and live by its precepts.

Thank you to you all. Long live our Arab countries! Long live Syria! Long live our President!

As we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, the apostle of love and peace, let us take up the hymn of the Angels of Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill towards men."

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain

Speech of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III - Damascus, Syria December 15, 2010

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings to you all! I particularly want to thank Muslim brothers, especially the muftis, ulemas, imams and preachers who have come from all Syrian regions, for being here. Special greetings to the university students here present!

Greetings and thanks also go to their Excellencies the Ministers of the Awqaf, the muftis and imams who have come from different Arab countries, as well as different countries' ambassadors to Syria. To them I dedicate this talk about the Synod for the Middle East, which was an Eastern Christian event, an historic event being the first of its kind.

I thank Their Holinesses and Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and their representatives, as well as His Excellency the representative of the Holy Father, His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, Their Excellencies the Metropolitans and Bishops who have come from Arab countries and Europe, especially Eastern Europe (Russia, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey). I greet them all, together with the priests, monks and nuns and all the faithful from our Churches who have come from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt.

A beautiful saying of His Holiness John Paul II, who so loved our Arab countries and visited them, comes to mind, a phrase from his last Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2005, and I quote: "Can an individual find complete fulfilment without taking account of his social nature, that is, his being ‘with' and ‘for' others?1"

Our Lord is described thus in the Gospel: "Lo, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel; which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1: 23) God is with and for us, for as Saint Irenaeus says, "the glory of God is living man2."

This is the faith of all Christians. They repeat it every time they say the Creed: "I believe in one God, Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son of God… who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man…" On the basis of this spiritual conviction, I named this congress, "The Synod for the Middle East and Arab countries." That was with the aim of highlighting the relationship between the Synod and Arab countries as well as between the Synod and the Muslim world.

A simple calculation shows us the following state of affairs: the Middle East is made up of Arab countries, together with Turkey and Iran. The majority of its population is Muslim; 350 million inhabitants, of whom there are 15 million Arab Christians. So, the Synod for the Middle East is a Synod for Arab countries, for Arabs, a Synod for Arab Christians in symbiosis with their Arab society. It is a Synod for the "Church of the Arabs" and"Church of Islam," that is, the Church existing in a Muslim setting. Lastly it is a Synod for Christians and Muslims living together in the Arab East!

This was an important event, of a unique kind. Thanks are due to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who called for this Synod to be held as the most important synodal event since the Second Vatican Council brought the Eastern Churches to prominence!

In this Synod, the platform was given to Eastern Churches: there were patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and lay faithful too.

It is evident that in this Synod, the causes of the Middle East and the Christian presence in the Muslim Arab East took first place. That is why I addressed to Their Majesties, Their Highnesses and Excellencies, the Kings, Emirs and Presidents of Arab countries, a letter explaining to them the topic and goal of the Synod – the situation of Christians in Arab countries. And I ended by telling them that the only guarantee of the Christian presence in the Arab East is that of their Muslim brothers.

Indeed, the Arab world, the presence of Christians in the Arab world, Christian Arab identity and the challenges that face the Christian presence in this Arab world were the subject of different speeches, discussions and recommendations.

After this, I addressed a second letter to Arab leaders in which I set out the most important issues discussed by the Synod that concerned our Arab world.

Extracts from the Letter addressed to Kings and Presidents

Of Arab countries after the Synod in Rome

I had the honour of addressing a letter to you (dated June 18, 2010) on the subject of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops entitled The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.

At the end of this Synod, it is my pleasure to communicate the following reflections to you in this letter:

  1. The Arabic language was an official language of the Synod alongside other languages. A resolution requested that it be adopted again in the Vatican's Roman Dicasteries. It is a gift due to the concern of the Arab Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops for the Arab world! Indeed it is the language of our culture, faith and societies. It is the great common denominator among Arab countries. This represents a great achievement!
  2. The Arab Middle East, together with Turkey and Iran, was the most important topic before the Synod.
  3. To speak more precisely, the following themes were the special subject of the Synod: living together, life together, citizenship, modernity, faithful laity, human rights, including those of women, religious freedom of worship and conscience, the construction of churches and places of worship, especially in Saudi Arabia, respect for others and their beliefs, plurality, diversity, rejection of fanaticism, violence, negative fundamentalism, extremism, terrorism, exploitation of others, especially weaker folk and minorities…
  4. Featuring in all the discussions of all members of Synod (about 200 persons), was especially Islamic-Christian dialogue in all its dimensions and modalities, significance and urgent necessity, and the support to be brought to its development and animation by all Christians and Muslims.
  5. The Synod members or Fathers dealt with the challenges that Christians have to cope with, which include: emigration, insecurity, economic, social and political crises, and the consecutive wars in the region. These challenges have increased, especially because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are the cause of many misfortunes and calamities in our societies. They have sown hatred and enmity among Christian and Muslim citizens locally, regionally and globally. Also resulting from them are fundamentalism and terrorism, represented in the media as though Muslim and Christian Arabs were born terrorists and fundamentalists! This might make people think that religion is the cause of terrorism, violence and fundamentalism, though religion is not to blame for all that. As a result of this state of affairs our whole society has become "abused," with these disasters mainly striking our young generations!
  1. The Fathers and members of Synod sought remedies for these calamities: they found that the most efficacious remedy is principally Islamic-Christian dialogue. In the Arab world, it must be our daily bread. In any case that dialogue was the experience of our living together throughout our shared history of the last 1432 [Islamic] years, despite dark centuries, when problems, tensions and even massacres whose victims can be counted in thousands, caused loss of trust in living together, in others and their values… And in its place crept in hatred and enmity and the traditional virtues of pity, compassion, love and fellowship became stunted…
  2. The Fathers and members of Synod stressed the need to overcome crises! We must continue the journey together. Furthermore they considered that the success of our singular and difficult experiment in living together is the guarantee of the success of dialogue between followers of different faiths. What is more, it became clear to all, as was remarked on and reported often in the press, that any failure and lack of success of our experience of living as Christians and Muslims together in the East will have a destructive effect on all possibilities for dialogue, and will be a bad harbinger of the fact that all dialogue among people, civilisations and religions in East and West, will be doomed to failure.
  3. So we shall have the following result: the East, symbol of plurality and dialogue becomes void of Christians. So the Arab East becomes Muslim without Christians. On the other hand, the West is considered Christian (even if only through baptism). This Christian West supports Israel, in its turn considered the enemy of Islam and Muslims. So the final, terrifying equation is this: the Christian West supports Israel and Jews, the enemies of Islam and Muslims! So Christian Europe is the enemy of Islam and Muslims! And that is precisely the great misfortune, the dark and terrifying future that awaits us! God grant it may not happen!
  4. Peace was a basic topic of the Synod's deliberations, speeches and proposals. For peace is both the greatest good and a lost possession! Peace is the great challenge! Peace is most desired by all sides! That is also why bringing it about is the responsibility of all: East and West, Arabs, Europeans and Americans. The Synod members strongly emphasised the role of the Vatican and the Pope or Popes, because of the global influence they exercise. The members of Synod, Patriarchs, Cardinals, and Bishops, emphasised their own responsibility to work for peace. Yet we think that peace is an Arab responsibility! We think that if Arab countries were united in fellowship and concord, and nobly, boldly and firmly decisive, they could impose on the Israelis, with the United States of America, and Europeans, a complete just and lasting peace. For this bold peace is the great jihad (struggle) and the great challenge, which can give an answer to all other challenges, issues, fears, apprehensions that afflict our Middle East. [End of the letter.]

Having said this, I am speaking with unshakeable faith and conviction to my Christian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, and remembering words that our dear President Dr. Bashar al-Assad said, explaining the relational dimensions between people, "In Syria, we are united. We are a natural model for society, for humanity, and for interreligious relations. We ought not only to provide a model for relations between religions and citizenry, but also do this for a more noble and universal reality - humanity!"

God has created us in this holy land of the East. It was a Holy Land for Jews, before us, and subsequently for us and for Muslims. It is an important common spiritual heritage, which we do not value enough. This comprises the holiness of the land, of the Scriptures and many common religious values. This was described by the Second Vatican Council in its declaration, Nostra Aetate, dedicated to the Catholic Church's relations with Jews and Muslims.

The existence of these three religions in the region is unique, important and vital. This state of affairs has significance in the life of Christians, on the spiritual, national and cultural level… Christians must acknowledge this fact despite the circumstances; the multiplicity of nationalities and the different intellectual and religious trends.

We have to look for common Islamic-Christian values and make them the subject of studies, conferences, congresses and Muslim-Christian meetings. There should result from that a programme of joint academic and spiritual work for Christians and Muslims.

The Synod for the Middle East inspired in me the idea of an important project: holding a Synod for the Middle East in the Middle East, gathering Churches together: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.

Another idea came to my mind of organising a Muslim-Christian assembly in the Middle East, which would study all the topics touched on by the Roman Synod's documents: the Instruction, the Instrumentum Laboris, the Lineamenta, then the discussions and speeches during the Synod;the recommendations and finally the Message to the People of God.

All these documents speak of the Christian presence in correlation with Muslim society.

Here are some paragraphs from the final Nuntius3 directly to do with the subject of this congress:

I. The Church in the Middle East: communion and witness through history
3.2. The second challenge comes from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism.
We have evaluated the social situation and the public security in all our countries in the Middle East. We have taken account of the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees. We have reflected on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live. We have meditated on the situation of the holy city of Jerusalem. We are anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance. With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples.
3.4. We have extensively treated relations between Christians and Muslims. All of us share a common citizenship in our countries. Here we want to affirm, according to our Christian vision, a fundamental principle which ought to govern our relations, namely, God wants us to be Christians in and for our Middle Eastern societies. This is God's plan for us. This is our mission and vocation - to live as Christians and Muslims together. Our actions in this area will be guided by the commandment of love and by the power of the Spirit within us.
The second principle which governs our relations is the fact that we are an integral part of our societies. Our mission, based on our faith and our duty to our home countries, obliges us to contribute to the construction of our countries as fellow-citizens, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
V. Co-operation and dialogue with our fellow-citizens, the Muslims
9. We are united by the faith in one God and by the commandment that says: do good and avoid evil. The words of the Second Vatican Council on the relations with other religions offer the basis for the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Muslims,"The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living…; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men." (Nostra Aetate 3)
We say to our Muslim fellow-citizens: we are brothers and sisters; God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour. Together we will construct our civil societies on the basis of citizenship, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Together we will work for the promotion of justice, peace, the rights of persons and the values of life and of the family. The construction of our countries is our common responsibility. We wish to offer to the East and to the West a model of coexistence between different religions and of positive collaboration between different civilisations for the good of our countries and that of all humanity.
Since the appearance of Islam in the seventh century and to the present, we have lived together and we have collaborated in the creation of our common civilisation. As in the past and still existent today, some imbalances are present in our relations. Through dialogue we must avoid all imbalances and misunderstandings. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that our dialogue must not be a passing reality. It is rather a vital necessity on which our future depends (Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Representatives from the Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005). Our duty then is to educate believers concerning interreligious dialogue, the acceptance of pluralism and mutual esteem.
VI. Our Participation in Public Life: An Appeal to the Governments and to the Political Leadership in Our Countries
10. We appreciate the efforts which have been expended for the common good and the service to our societies. You are in our prayers and we ask God to guide your steps. We address you regarding the importance of equality among all citizens. Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties towards their country. It is natural that they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.
We appeal to you to redouble your efforts to establish a just and lasting peace throughout the region and to stop the arms race, which will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the haemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its vital forces. Peace is a precious gift entrusted by God to human family, whose members are to be "peacemakers who will be called children of God." (Mt 5:9)
VII. Appeal to the International Community
11. The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council's resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.

The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.

Iraq will be able to put an end to the consequences of its deadly war and re-establish a secure way of life which will protect all its citizens with all their social structures, both religious and national.

Lebanon will be able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, strengthen its national unity and carry on in its vocation to be the model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, of dialogue between different cultures and religions, and of the promotion of basic public freedoms.

We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations in our region and in the entire world.

Dear brothers and sisters, friends,

We are called to academic and prophetic advances, in all sincerity, friendship and mutual respect: for the uninterrupted growth of fundamentalism and extremist movements are geared up and capable of leading the Eastern Arab world into disasters, of which young Christians and Muslims – who form 60% of the Arab population - will be the chief victims.

That underlines the vital and capital importance for the future of opening ourselves to each other, Christians to Muslims and Muslims to Christians. This openness will define the dynamics of our Arab world's evolution in respect of:

  • The concept of state and of religion and their interaction
  • Modernity
  • Rights of man and woman
  • Freedom of worship and of conscience
  • The idea of "better religion"

We, Christians and Muslims, must reach joint positions about the danger of the growth of various fundamentalist concepts, whether Christian, Muslim (or Jewish). It is up to us to safeguard righteous religious, spiritual and humane values, and especially the values of human dignity and freedom.

That is what will guarantee a better future for our societies and for all our Arab countries together. I dare say that the evolution of our Arab Christian and Muslim society conditions the success of all the efforts that the Churches are making in the pastoral, cultural, social and economic fields; for young people; and for halting emigration. This evolution, linked to the promotion of values mentioned above, is a joint responsibility for Christians and Muslims.

The realisation of our objectives will be proportionate to our efforts, carried out together, for adopting these values and putting them into practice.

On all that our future, our existence, our presence, our communion, our witness and the future of our Arab society depend.

I will also venture to say that, internally, the success of all our pastoral, apostolic, catechetical, academic, pedagogical, clerical and monastic activity depends on the evolution of the common Muslim-Christian journey.

In other words, the religious development of our society depends on the religious evolution of our Christian society which is dependent upon the religious evolution of Muslim society. And the preservation of our Christian values depends largely on the evolution of Muslim society.

That was all highlighted throughout the course of the Synod, whose recommendations must be applied in our Churches, in collaboration with our Muslim fellow-citizens. Since people are the product of their social environment, the different components of that environment were invited to take part in this Synod, including Muslims and a rabbi.

There should not be forgotten the existence of a major obstacle lying in the way of this journey and evolution: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace must be made in the Arab region: peace that will have a great influence of the evolution of the above-mentioned values and will halt Arab Christian emigration.

Allow me to add an intuition which, over days, has become a certainty for me:

  1. I believe that it is most important to examine in depth the ideology behind the religious fundamentalism, terrorism and increasing violence perpetrated here and there against Christians.
  2. Genuine Islam is foreign to that ideology.
  3. That ideology is the biggest danger to Islam. It can destroy that religion showing a hideous image of it.
  4. There is a big danger to the Arab world with its Muslim majority, tending to show Arabs in general and Muslims in particular as fundamentalist terrorists and assassins. This makes it permissible to refuse any legitimate claim, especially coming from Palestinians. That explains the refusal of the international community to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recognize an independent Palestinian State.
  5. Another component of this danger is the increasing harassment of Christians; the prohibition which is made, in some countries, against their building churches; the denial of freedom of conscience, most recently in Egypt and Iraq.
  6. All those things are so many aces in the hands of Israel for establishing a State exclusively for Jews. The argument put forward by Israel in that regard is as follows,"See how Muslims treat Christians and other minorities! How could we live with them in this country? And if we allowed the creation of a Palestinian State, it too would become an Islamic, fundamentalist, terrorist State."
  7. It is in the aim and intention of Israel, as an exclusively Jewish State, of creating in the Middle East a dust of confessional statelets: Sunni, Shi'a, Druze, Kurd.

That is the dreadful danger menacing the Arab world and Islam and even Christianity.

I conclude with the closing section of my letter to Arab Kings, Emirs and Presidents:

In our preceding letter (18 June 2010), we spoke to you as follows: "You are the guarantee of the Christian presence in the Middle East!" You are indeed our warranty! We said it again in the Synod, a prominent platform for the Arab cause, as we faced the media from all over the world! ...

Today at the Synod's end, we say to you, dear, most esteemed friends: you are the guarantee of the success of the Synod held in Rome. You are the warranty of the decisions, proposals and hopes of this Synod being followed up and put into action in our Arab countries!

The sessions of the Synod were preceded by prayers according to the different liturgical rites and languages of our Eastern Churches, whose main language is Arabic.

We shall continue our prayers, in our churches and monasteries for peace, for all our fellow-citizens and for you personally! You have care for the sons and daughters of our parishes! Care for our many churches, monasteries, institutions, which are at the service of our Arab countries that we love and for which we have laboured and will continue to give our all in the service of their prosperity and development, with the Blessing of God and through your vigilance!

We are praying to Almighty and Merciful God, for our Arab homelands, and for Christians and Muslims to remain together and together be salt, light and the leaven of faith, hope and love!

We put our hope in God, for the Synod to be the beginning of a Arab national way of faith and dialogue, common to Christians and Muslims, for a better future for all of us, in Syria, our dear country, and in all our dear Arab countries.


Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from French: V. Chamberlain

Middle East from Space

Speech of H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III

During the Synod of Bishops:

Special Assembly for the Middle East

Rome October 10-24, 2010

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Islamic-Christian Dialogue

From the early period of his pontificate, during his first apostolic visit to Germany and his meeting with young Muslims in Cologne, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has underlined the importance of Islamic-Christian dialogue, in the same way as did Vatican II.

The experience of our Churches shows us that this dialogue is necessary and vital, and of course that it is possible, contrary to what some are saying.

This dialogue is taking place on two very distinct levels. There is the properly doctrinal and intellectual level, that can be found for example in the regular meetings of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and the University of Al Azharor in the teaching and publications of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) and other study centres in several of our countries. Then there is the existential level, that of the everyday life of our faithful living in Muslim majority countries.

The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue is familiar with and encourages the centres, groups, institutions and initiatives of Christian inspiration which practise and favour this dialogue, in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jerusalem, Jordan and Iraq.

It is important to point out, since this fact is virtually unknown outside the Middle East, that there are also dialogue initiatives of Islamic inspiration, mainly in Jordan, but also in Lebanon, Syria, Qatar and Turkey.

This existential dialogue is that of everyday life in society, in its different aspects and various dimensions: exchanging good wishes for the major feasts of both religions, neighbourly relation in cities from which formerly completely Christian districts have by now vanished, professional relations and relations in schools and universities attended by Christians and Muslims. This dialogue is going on in all our countries, except Saudi Arabia, the only country in the region where Christianity is still outlawed.

The pursuit of this dialogue is therefore an element of great weight to slow the emigration of Christians. If they disappear from the region, what would become of this dialogue, equally important for preventing a conflict between a predominantly Muslim Middle East and a reputedly Christian West?

This Synodal Assembly ought therefore explicitly to encourage the pursuit of this dialogue, at all levels.

Gregorios III

Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain

Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East

Photograph of Melkite Patriarch Gregorius

Patriarch Gregorios III attends the Conference of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs

Meeting in Cairo, Egypt

from 22 to 25 February 2010

Patriarch Gregorios III has been pleased to accept an invitation to attend the 22nd. Conference of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, on the theme of "The objectives of Islamic Sharia and the great questions of our time." More than eighty countries have so far sent representatives to participate in the work of the conference, which has received a message of encouragement from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who himself expects to attend the conference.

On the fringes of the conference, talks between Muslim and non-Muslim thinkers from East and West will be held on the relationship of Islam with other religions, in an attempt to rebuild trust and to draw together perspectives between different civilizations, with a view to reaching a common basis for that positive co-existence, which is in the interest of all humanity.

It should be noted that from 22 to 26 February 2010, there will be held the annual talks between the Vatican and Al Azhar University, presided over by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and Grand Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi.

News item with acknowledgement to Le progrès égyptien. Le Caïre 17 February 2010.
His Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III

Conference on

A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement

University of Cambridge, England

Sunday 12 October

Having flown from Muenster, Germany, in response to a most appreciated invitation from His Grace, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, His Beatitude went directly to Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, to attend the Conference on A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement, which was held from 12 to 15 October 2008AD/1429AH. Patriarch Gregorios was one of a number of leading Christian and Islamic scholars to address the distinguished assembly.

His Grace had convened the conference in partnership with the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and the Royal Academy of Al Al-Bayt Institute (Jordan). Both Lambeth Palace and the Colleges and University of Cambridge generously offered hospitality and facilities for the conference.

The conference marked the first anniversary of the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You, a letter from 138 (now 228) Islamic scholars, clerics and intellectuals promoting understanding and tolerance between Christians and Muslims. Addressed to Pope Benedict XVI after his Regensburg lecture, and to other Christian leaders, the letter warned that the survival of the world could be at stake if Muslims and Christians could not make peace with each other.

Having participated in the Third International Conference on Coexistence and Peace-Making in Amman, Jordan from January 22-23rd, 2008, organized by The Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Centre (JICRC), His Beatitude was keen to follow the further developments of this laudable initiative in Britain. He had known since 2006 of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and had been hoping for some time to contribute to its work and offered the following paper (in Arabic and English) as his contribution to the Cambridge conference:

We Arab Christians are in a very deep relationship with Muslim Arabs in our Arab countries: we are of their flesh and blood, tribe, society, civilization, culture and traditions. We constitute a Church which daily, for the last fourteen hundred and twenty-nine years has been living side by side with Islam, profoundly influenced by Islam and in turn influencing it.

Emmanuel - God with us

The Eastern Church is really in the school of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel God, Love God, Redeemer God, Saviour God. Christ defined the goal of his incarnation by saying, "The Son of God came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for the redemption of many." (Mark 10:45) So we Christians must go out from all that can form an obstacle between ourselves and others, in order to meet them and be ourselves Emmanuel people, "with and for."

The Church is Emmanuel Church, with and for Arab society. The Church has a mission in the Arab world, which is in its vast majority the world of Islam. The Church constitutes fifteen million out of 300 million people. This Church of the Arabs, of the Arab world and society, is a Church of Islam, which is in interaction with it, suffers and rejoices with it, builds, hopes and grows with it, loves and serves alongside it: it is truly Emmanuel Church, a Church with and for this world.

A Church with Islam

So the Church is a society of Christian faithful, who excel in their relations with Muslims. Each one of its members stands shoulder to shoulder with his brothers and fellow-citizens in Arab countries and throughout the world, so as to work with them for basic, existential values, especially everything to do with East-West dialogue, human rights, freedom of religion and conscience, and pluralism of political thought and systems in Arab countries.

I am absolutely convinced that our Christian and Muslim faith is our greatest asset both now and for the future in helping us realize the different aspects of our holy mission and for preserving the values of our common, holy faith.

Dialogue between Christians and Muslims

That we have the Word in common is clear: let us maintain a dialogue of our beautiful faith, for the Word that was given to me by God in my Christian faith is truly mine, but not only for me; it is for my society, for my fellow-men and I must bring it to them as a light of love and as a call to love, a sign of hope for others, that they may grow in their religion and beliefs.

It is of very great importance for people to love their religion and the Word of God for mankind, and know it in ever greater depth, preserving and defending it. But they should also be open to other people's convictions and faith.

There is no monopoly on the Word of God. It is just as much the other person's as it is mine. We require our Muslim fellow-citizens to acknowledge our freedom to bring the good news to others, with love and respect for their faith, but we do not oblige anyone else to embrace our faith. It is enough if people can find out about it and come to esteem and love it.

Let us love the Word of God, for the Word of God is for us all. Let us share these words, proclaiming them in song and loving them. Let us so act that our human words be changed into words divine.

Our zeal for the Word of God should be a means of sanctification for us and for deepening our faith. We must not allow our zeal for the Word to become a weapon to exploit others, judging, persecuting and compelling them to embrace our faith, any more than we can allow the Word of God to become the cause of conflicts, disputes and confrontations between our faithful and those holding different religious convictions. The Word of God (not we ourselves) is the true judge between us and those who are not of our faith.

A Common Word

Our Arab countries need this common word to meet the aspirations, wishes and prospects of the young generations; who make up sixty per cent of their three hundred million (mostly Muslim) inhabitants.

This common word is the warranty that will allow us to preserve our (Muslim and Christian) Arab world from fundamentalism, terrorism, violence, hatred and aggression.

This common word is at one and the same time the future of both Christians and Muslims.

The common word, in Christianity and Islam, has an extraordinary power; it is capable of helping us to love one another, to cooperate and to build together in fellowship a civilization of love, an authentically humane culture. If we Christians and Muslims love one another, love will spread throughout the whole world.

Yet, if we live in hostility, the whole world will live in hostility too; if we hate each other, the world will be smothered in the hell of hatred. If we reject each other, the world will be torn apart and consumed by the fire of wars. The world would then be the abode of war, rather than being the earth of Love and peace.

However, it is up to us, through our fellowship and love, to build for the whole world a model of living together, dialogue and encounter.

Our countries were the cradle of religions. We are called, in this Arab world, to provide society with a blueprint for the finest kind of life in the fairest kind of setting.

This then is our common word, spoken to our Muslim brothers throughout the whole world.

Gregorios III
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain

In the conference's closing communiqué, published at Lambeth Palace on 15 October, the participants note:

We are conscious that our meeting represented the most significant gathering of international Muslim leaders ever to take place in the United Kingdom, matched by a similarly wide diversity of traditions and geographical backgrounds amongst the Christian participants. We were greatly stimulated by the opening addresses to the conference by the Archbishop and His Excellency Dr Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and the responses to their addresses by His Eminence Dr Mustafa Cerić, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina and His Beatitude Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch & All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem...

Looking towards the future, mindful of the crucial importance of education and inspired by our presence in a great seat of learning, we have also been keen to identify specific ways in which our encounter might be broadened and deepened. We have, therefore, committed ourselves to the following over the coming year:

  • To identify and promote the use of educational materials, for all age-groups and in the widest possible range of languages, that we accept as providing a fair reflection of our faiths
  • To build a network of academic institutions, linking scholars, students and academic resources, with various committees and teams which can work on shared values
  • To identify funds to facilitate exchanges between those training for roles of leadership within our religious communities
  • To translate significant texts from our two traditions for the use of the other.

statement adopted by the

Standing Conference of

Middle Eastern Christian & Muslim Religious Leaders

Meeting in Englewood, New Jersey on Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Signed by:

The Most Reverend Metropolitan PHILIP, Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The Right Reverend Bishop Stephen Doueihi Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn

The Most Reverend Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America

Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani Imam AI-Khoei Islamic Center, Jamaica, NY

The Most Reverend John A. Elya Eparch of Newton, Melkite Diocese of Newton

Very Reverend Chorepiscopus ]ohn Meno, For The Most Reverend Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim - Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States

Sheikh Sami T. Merhi, Chairman The Druze Council of North America

Sheikh Hamad Ahmad Chebli Islamic Society of Central New Jersey

The recent wave of violence in the Middle East is of grave concern. We condemn the violence, especially the excessive use of force by Israeli forces that has resulted in the killing of over 150 and the injury of 3,000 Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including Jerusalem.

The demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, represent the collective expression by the Palestinian people against the long years of occupation and the difficulties of their daily lives under Israeli occupation. The protests have been an expression of deep frustration with the failure of the peace process to bring about better living conditions and a final peace settlement, including the long-awaited establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

They have been an expression of their determination to protect their holy places. They have been an expression in defense of their inalienable rights and their land.

Regrettably, the Palestinian people continue to be denied the ability to restore even their minimum rights as a people, including the right to self-determination. We express our solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have been the victims of a long and unjust military occupation, and we call for the realization of their rights.

We express our deep concern and strong feelings regarding the sacred religious sites in Occupied East Jerusalem. We stress the importance of Jerusalem and the need to ensure respect for all holy sites. Any final solution must ensure the freedom of access and of worship for all believers of the three monotheistic religions. Any solution must also ensure Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

We believe that what is required now is an immediate cessation by Israel of the excessive, indiscriminate and unjustified use of force against the Palestinian people. The Israeli siege on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian land must be terminated. To restore calm, the understanding reached at the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit must be implemented. Only then can there be any true resumption of the peace process between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. Such a process must require a sincere desire for peace and a full commitment on the part of all parties to its realization.

We believe that in order to resolve this tragic conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 (concerning the farmlands of Shib'aa Lebanon) must be fully implemented because they express the will of the international community. In addition, we strongly believe that Resolution 194 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, namely Article IV, give the Palestinian refugees, whether they are in Lebanon or Syria, etc. the right to return to their homes and land which they have inhabited from time immemorial. The right of refugees to return home is a most sacred right and it should be respected.

As for the role of the United States in the Middle East peace process, we stress our disappointment with the adoption by our American Congress of the very unfair and very biased resolution //426 against the leadership of the Palestinian people. We demand a more balanced American position reflective of American traditions and the wishes of more than five million Arab-Americans in support of human rights, justice and international law. Such a position would enable the United States to play a truly objective and supportive role as a sponsor of the peace process.

In conclusion, our support for the Middle East peace process is unwavering. Our support for the rights of the Palestinian people and their efforts to realize those rights, including their right to an independent state, is unwavering as well. The time has come for justice and peace to prevail in the Holy Land and the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people as well as security for all states in the region.

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Philip, Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The Right Reverend Bishop Stephen Doueihi Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn

The Most Reverend Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America

Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani Imam AI-Khoei Islamic Center, Jamaica, NY

The Most Reverend John A. Elya Eparch of Newton, Melkite Diocese of Newton

Very Reverend Chorepiscopus ]ohn Meno, For The Most Reverend Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim - Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States

Sheikh Sami T. Merhi, Chairman The Druze Council of North America

Sheikh Hamad Ahmad Chebli Islamic Society of Central New Jersey

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