Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
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.
 
His Beatitude Gregorios III

attends the Lambeth Conference

July 22, 23 and 24, 2008

The Big Top IMGP0403.jpg (62160 bytes) With Archbishop Paul Sayyah IMGP0404.jpg (64559 bytes) With Patriarch Theophilos II, Bishop Michael Langrish and Bishop AristarchosIMGP0407.jpg (60973 bytes) Archbishop Rowan Williams IMGP0408.jpg (71622 bytes) Ivan, Cardinal Diaz IMGP0411.jpg (58474 bytes)

His Beatitude

With Archbishop Paul Sayyah

With Patriarch Theophilos II, Bishop Michael Langrish and Bishop Aristarchos

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Ivan, Cardinal Diaz

Canterbury Cathedral Gate IMGP0418.jpg (98633 bytes) At the site of the Martyrdom of St. Thomas IMGP0426.jpg (66932 bytes) Chancel Steps IMGP0422.jpg (86391 bytes) His Beatitude with Cardinal Diaz IMGP0433.jpg (68909 bytes) Leading the Session on the Middle East IMGP0434.jpg (68803 bytes)

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

Pilgrimage to St. Thomas Becket

His Beatitude at Chancel Steps

His Beatitude with Cardinal Diaz

Leading the Session on the Middle East

Remarks of the Patriarch

His Beatitude was delighted to accept the invitation of His Grace, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, to attend the decennial Lambeth Conference held at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Interrupting his summer vacation, His Beatitude arrived from Munich at Heathrow, whence His Grace's driver brought him to his destination in the early afternoon of Tuesday, 22 July.

Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter accompanied His Beatitude from the time of his arrival, helping him to familiarize himself quickly with the campus and the location of events. There was the opportunity to meet old friends among the ecumenical visitors (see photographs) and to forge new ecumenical relationships from among the hundreds of bishops present from the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Evening worship was in Portuguese, with prayers and music being led by Igreja Episcopal do Brasil. After dinner, the speaker of the evening was Cardinal Ivan Diaz, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, whose talk on "Mission, Social Justice and Evangelization" has been widely reported elsewhere. (For the full text of his talk see Zenit: http://www.zenit.org/article-23314?l=english )

In the morning of Wednesday, 23 July, after attending morning prayers, His Beatitude made a personal pilgrimage into the nearby city to visit Canterbury Cathedral and to pray at the site of the martyrdom (1170) of Saint Thomas a Becket. (See photographs.) His Beatitude was most impressed, and overjoyed to make this first visit to a site associated with the earliest period of Christianity in England, which received the Gospel from the Middle East in the second century or earlier. Canterbury has been the senior see of the Church of England since the Synod of Hertford in 672 confirmed the status of the Archbishopric founded by Saint Augustine in 597.

That afternoon, His Beatitude led a Session on the work of the Church in the Middle East. (See separate article: Contribution of His Beatitude Gregorios III to the Session of 23 July 2008 and photograph.) Also speaking at this Session were Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Rabbi Jonathan Gorsky, Education Officer for the Council of Christians and Jews. The Session was facilitated by Rev. Timothy J. Woods, Middle East Desk Officer at USPG.

Evening prayers, led by the Episcopal Church, focused on the theme of the Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and its mission to "transform unjust structures of society." His Beatitude was then among a group of guests invited to a reception at the Old Palace, Canterbury, by His Grace, Archbishop Rowan Williams and his wife, Jane and family. Afterwards, His Beatitude gave a short interview to a journalist from a German newspaper.

Thursday, 24 July was a London day, with the bishops assembling in the morning at Whitehall Place for a Walk of Witness to Lambeth Palace, where both Archbishop Williams and Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to the assembly. His Beatitude was seated at the front and afterwards had the opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister on the subject of the need for peace and justice in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, matters on which Mr. Brown had himself spoken a few days earlier in Jerusalem. He also met Cardinal Murphy O'Connor and other eminent prelates. After lunch at Lambeth Palace, guests traveled by coach to Buckingham Palace, where a garden party was held in their honor. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth attended and His Beatitude was able to speak to her about the situation in the Holy Land and the Middle East. She indicated that her Prime Minister had spoken of these very matters in the Knesset on 21 July - when he had touched on a shared future for Jerusalem, a viable Palestinian State and a just and agreed settlement of refugees.

His Beatitude went directly from the garden party on the Heathrow Express to the airport, flying back to Bavaria to resume his vacation. He expressed himself very satisfied with all aspects of his visit to England and very grateful for the invitation from Archbishop Rowan Williams. Before leaving, His Beatitude warmly and insistently invited his host to make a pilgrimage to Damascus as his guest in the Year of Saint Paul 28 June 2008-29 June 2009.

text and photos by Valerie Chamberlain

 
Patriarch Gregory sitting in a chair on a porchContribution of His Beatitude Gregorios III

to the Middle East Session of the

Lambeth Conference

July 23, 2008

"An update on the principal issues that concern the Church in the Holy Land and specifically the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, some reflections on the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, and inter faith dimensions. Discussion about how the rest of the Anglican Communion can work alongside the Diocese of Jerusalem in their work for reconciliation and justice in the Holy Land."

Thanks to His Grace for his kind invitation to attend this conference: it is a great joy to be here. My presence is a symbol of a spiritual communion of our Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchal Church with the beloved Anglican sister Church.

I would like to express my great appreciation for the work done by the Anglican Church in Jerusalem. I had personal experience of brotherly friendship with the Anglican bishops in Jerusalem from 1974 to 2000, the period of my service as Patriarchal Vicar there.

I would like to emphasize that the most important factor in preserving the Christian presence in the Middle East is the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. European Churches and especially the Anglican Church have a special role in that regard. We Christians of the Middle East expect these Churches to exercise their influence on their own governments to help Israelis and Palestinians progress further towards a just and lasting peace. Let us not forget the responsibility of the British government towards the realization of a Palestinian state, as a British government once played a decisive role in creating a homeland for Jewish people. The Anglican Communion could support the Anglican diocese and all other Churches in the Holy Land in working for justice and reconciliation.

I would like to say a word about the phenomenon of so-called Christian Zionism, although that phrase seems incongruous to me, as Zionism is a secular ideology in the context of the life of the Jewish people. "Christian," on the other hand, has a connotation of the vision of Christ towards the whole world. However, Christian Zionism seeks to limit the second coming of the Lord to the framework of a secular political and social event: the return of Jews to Israel. It is a distortion of Christian understanding of the real role of Israel. That is why all Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have repeatedly rejected the presence of the so-called International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

An understanding more in keeping with Christian tradition would be to link the return of the Lord to his economy, that the Gospel be preached as a sign of salvation of the whole world, as Simeon sang, when he encountered the Lord in the Temple: "For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel." (Luke2:30-32) In the same way, Saint Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 11:15-16)," For if the casting away of them (Jews) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?"

+ Gregorios III

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

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