Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Pope Benedict

Papal Visit to Cyprus and Appeal for Christians in the Middle East

June 4-6, 2010

Background to and purpose of the visit

Pope Benedict XVI, in his weekly public audience on June 9, summarised his trip the previous weekend to Cyprus, the first trip of his pontificate to a predominantly Orthodox country, and the first trip of any Pope to the island, adding a look forward to the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which will discuss the Middle East.

The Pope's trip had fulfilled three purposes:

  • encouraging the small Catholic community of Cyprus,
  • encouraging ecumenical progress,
  • and reaching out to all the peoples of the Middle East.

He praised the vigour of the local Catholic Churches and thanked the Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II for his hospitality, saying that the latter was living proof that "rootedness in tradition does not prevent the Orthodox community from being firmly committed to ecumenical dialogue together with the Catholic community." Catholics and Orthodox are drawn together by their common reliance on the Scriptures, the Christian tradition, and the "profession of faith drawn up by the ancient councils."

In choosing to accept Archbishop Chysostomos' invitation to visit Cyprus as the site for the release of the working document, the instrumentum laboris, for this October's Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, the Pope indicated that the Eastern Churches are an essential part of any initiative in the region. His visit was "a religious message," which "should prepare more souls to find an opening for peace."

He underlined the importance of preserving a vigorous Christian presence in that troubled region. During his trip to Cyprus, he had said, "I made a heartfelt appeal to all the Catholics of the Middle East, despite their great trials and the difficulties they notoriously face, not to give in to discouragement and the temptation to emigrate, because their presence in the region represents an irreplaceable sign of hope."

The October Synod will take up the same question, the Pope said, reminding all the world's Christians that the Middle East "occupies a special place" for believers, as the place "where God made Himself known to our fathers in the faith." The Synod, he continued, would also address the "situations of suffering and conflict" that still plague the region and would also be an occasion to bring public attention to the Christian presence in the region, "so the world can see that there is a great and ancient Christianity in the Middle East." He spoke of the importance of dialogue among the different Christian Churches of the region - including the different rites of the Catholic Church - and continuing efforts to promote peaceful coexistence with Islam.

In divided Cyprus, Pope's theme was unity

On Friday, June 4," following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Sts. Paul and Barnabas," Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cyprus, to be greeted by President Demetris Christofias, Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir and a number of other Catholic prelates. On arrival, the Pope said: "Cyprus stands at the crossroads of cultures and religions, of histories both proud and ancient but which still retain a strong and visible impact upon the life of your country."

Later that day, at an ecumenical service in the church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa, the Pope stressed the ties that bind together all Christians. Christians should pray for a renewal of that original unity, he said, noting that "it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today's world...The Church of Cyprus, which serves as a bridge between East and West, has contributed much to this process of reconciliation." The Christians of Cyprus are mostly Orthodox, and during his visit the Pope spoke frequently of the need for Orthodox and Catholics, in view of their common concerns, to join together in common witness.

During a June 5 meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus in St. John's Cathedral, Pope Benedict shed some light on his choice of the island nation as the spot for the release of the instrumentum laboris. "Cyprus," he observed, "is traditionally considered part of the Holy Land, and the situation of continuing conflict in the Middle East must be a source of concern to all Christ's followers. No one can remain indifferent to the need to support in every way possible the Christians of that troubled region, so that its ancient churches can live in peace and flourish."

Patriarch Gregorios III, who had arrived on this day from Beirut, accompanied by Archbishop Joseph Jules Zerey, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, Archbishop Elias Rahhal of Baalbek and Chancellor Archimandrite Tony Dib, also took the opportunity to talk with Archbishop Chrysostomos, with whom he has a cordial relationship since the latter's visit to him in Damascus in May 2009.

Although Cyprus is a divided nation, with its own difficulties, mirroring some of the region's persistent conflicts, some are working to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Thus the Pope had an unscheduled encounter with Sheikh Mehmet Nazim Adil Al-Haqqani, the 89-year-old head of the Islamic Naqshbandi sect based in the Turkish-controlled north of Cyprus, who had come to visit him at the apostolic nunciature in Nicosia. Before separating, they exchanged gifts and embraced. The sheikh asked the Pope to pray for him, and the latter replied: "Of course I will: we will pray for one another." SheikhNazim told reporters, "May Allah grant him a good life here and hereafter."

That evening, Patriarch Gregorios III was among the concelebrating Patriarchs and bishops as the Pope presided at Mass in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, which is administered by Franciscans. The Latin Patriarch welcomed the Pope in the name of all the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs expressing his hope that suffering Christians in the Middle East might receive support from His Holiness and an experience of resurrection. In his sermon, the Pope offered special encouragement to the assembled congregation of consecrated persons, reflecting on the meaning of the Cross: "an instrument of torture, suffering and defeat, but at the same time it expresses the complete transformation, the definitive reversal of these evils: that is what makes it the most eloquent symbol of hope that the world has ever seen."

Papal trip highlights crisis facing Christians in the Middle East

On Sunday June 6 Patriarch Gregorios III together with the other Patriarchs and over fifty bishops of the many different Catholic communities in the Middle East were among some 6,000 people, attending the Papal Mass for Corpus Domini in the Elevtheria arena in Nicosia. Also attending the Mass were Archbishop Chrysostomos with several other Orthodox bishops of the island. "It is well known that some of you suffer great trials due to the current situation in the region," the Pope said before switching from English into Polish to announce the beatification of Polish martyr, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko.

At lunch, Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Chrysostomos II dined together in company with the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and clergy both Catholic and Orthodox and other guests.

Afterwards the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops received from the Pope the document, the instrumentum laboris, that will form the basis for discussion at their October Synod meeting. The Synod will be "an opportunity for Christians of the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East," Pope Benedict XVI said. The Pope offered a prayer that "just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship."

His Holiness' last visit was to the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces and to the Maronite school, where he was welcomed by Patriarch Sfeir and Archbishop Youssef Soueif, who played a key role in organising the papal visit to the island.

As he prepared to leave Cyprus the Pope made one final appeal for international "efforts to build a real and lasting peace for all the peoples of the region." He assured the participants in an airport farewell ceremony that "Cyprus can play a particular role in promoting dialogue and cooperation." He promised to pray for the people of Cyprus, who have lived in an ethnically divided state for 36 years. "I have seen for myself something of the sad division of the island, as well as learning of the loss of a significant part of a cultural heritage which belongs to all humanity. I have also listened to Cypriots from the north, who wish to return in peace to their homes and places of worship, and I have been deeply moved by their pleas," he said.

Sources: CatholicCulture.org; CW News.com; VOA News.com; http://www.asianews.it/ and HB. Patriarch Gregorios III.

Ed. V. Chamberlain

Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East

 
His Beatitude Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Address entitled:
Peace, Living Together and the
Christian Presence in the Middle East


October 12, 2010

Peace, living together and the Christian presence in the Arab world are linked together in a strong, existential way. Peace in the Middle East is the key to the welfare of the whole region.

We have always insisted upon the importance of the Christian presence in the Arab world. This unique presence is unfortunately threatened by the cycle of wars, crises and calamities that assail this region, which is the cradle of Christianity.

We consider that the calamities, crises, wars and depredations of the Middle East are the products and results of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fundamentalist movements are similarly the results and products of this conflict, as are the discords inside Arab countries, the slowness of their development and prosperity and the growth of hatred, enmity, hopelessness and disappointment among the youth, who make up sixty per cent of their inhabitants.

The brain-drain, the emigration of thinkers, young people, moderate Muslims and especially Christians: all that weakens progress and its future; the Arab world's freedom, democracy and openness.

Christian emigration represents a continual haemorrhage, causing Arab society to become monochrome, an entirely Muslim Middle East, over against a European society called Christian, although Europe and America are rather secularized than believing. If it were to happen that the East were emptied of its Christians, it would mean that any occasion would be propitious for a new clash of cultures, civilizations and even of religions, culminating in a destructive confrontation between the Arab and Muslim East and the Christian West, a conflict between Islam and Christianity.

Faced with what we see every day in the media about the growth of fundamentalism and religious, ethnic and social tensions in human relations, we feel that there is a great lack of trust between East and West, between Arab countries, in the majority Muslim, and the European and American West.

The role of Christians is to work, to harness themselves to creating an atmosphere of trust between the West on the one hand and the Arab and Muslim world on the other.

That is why we Arab Eastern Christians are telling European and American societies, "Don't try to divide Arab countries through pacts, but rather help the Arab world realize its unity and solidarity. We tell you frankly, if you succeed in dividing the Arab world and Christians and Muslims from each other, each into their own groups, you will always live in fear of the Arab and Muslim world."

Appeal to our Muslim Brethren and Fellow Citizens

In seeking to convince our Christian faithful to stay in their homelands, where God has planted them, we find we absolutely must talk to our Muslim brethren and tell them frankly the nature of the fears that haunt us and the kind of fearful attitudes that impel some of us to emigrate. They are not just purely religious reasons, but rather have a social, ethical and cultural aspect.

So when we are talking about living together and citizenship, we are speaking of separation between religion and state, Arabism, democracy, the Arab or Muslim nation, and human rights. Laws which are based on Islam as sole or chief source of legislation and application are a source of division and quasi racial distinction between citizens on the basis of religion and are an obstacle to equality before the law, diminishing equality of citizenship. One could say the same about exploitation of fellow-citizens on the basis of religion, while the perpetrators rely on the fact of being in the majority, to humiliate their neighbours and workmates.

Those and many other such things ought to be the subject of study circles, congresses, conferences and meetings in the Arab and Muslim world. Christians and Muslims together should identify the real wound underlying the haemorrhage of Christian emigration.

We propose that the Synod Fathers launch an urgent prophetic appeal for Peace. Peace-making is the great challenge!

Peace today is the great challenge: it is the great jihad for the greatest good. It is true victory and the true guarantee for future freedom, progress, prosperity and security for our young generations, our Christian and Muslim youth, who are the future of our countries and who can really make their history, carrying the banner of faith and values in their homelands.

Gregorios III

Patriarch

Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East

 
Middle East from Space

Matter of Concern for Special Synod for the Middle East - a Contribution from His Beatitude

PPCrest

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate

of Antioch and All the East

of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Prot. /2010D Damascus, 1 March 2010

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican City

Most Holy Father,

The decision of Your Holiness to convoke a Special Assembly of Bishops for the Middle East is one of the tokens of your deep, fatherly love for the Christian communities of the Holy Land and the countries of this region, which was the first to be evangelised by the Apostles.

I have already had the opportunity of thanking you personally for this during your meeting with my brother Patriarchs and Major Archbishops at Castel Gandolfo on 19 September, 2009.

But, without waiting for the holding of this Special Assembly next October, I feel it my duty to tell Your Holiness the concern I feel at the way the regional situation is developing and becoming increasingly dangerous for everyone, but particularly for Christians in our countries.

There is a diffuse but sure rise of Islamic extremism, provoked by the threats of the Israeli government against Palestinians, Lebanon, Syria (and Iran), which is spreading throughout all the countries in the region. Even in Syria, where such extremism has been up to now very limited, its advance has become more and more evident, despite efforts from the government against it.

This extremism does not hesitate to use terrorist methods, especially against Christians (in Iraq and in Egypt particularly), provoking a new wave of emigration of the latter.

But Christians, though they are the primary victims, are not the only ones. Once more we find ourselves facing a new danger of outburst across the whole region, which may well degenerate on a wider scale.

I beg Your Holiness, humbly but insistently, most insistently (instanter et instantius), that besides ardent prayer and outside the context of public speeches, which can only be limited, like the most recent appeal of Your Holiness to the highest authorities in Iraq, the Holy See's diplomacy redouble its efforts to persuade the Tel Aviv government, despite the views of its most intransigent wing – probably via the United States and those European countries which, having sponsored the birth of the State of Israel and supported it ever since, should be able to exert effective pressure on it – of the grave danger of this development which in the medium and perhaps short term, runs against the interests and future of the State of Israel itself, which needs peace in the region just as much as Arab countries, to be able eventually to live normally all together.

Having delivered to Your Holiness these thoughts, which have haunted me during this Lent, and trusting in the power of your prayer and the effectiveness of your directives, I can only assure you once more, Most Holy Father, of my filial devotion and deep respect in the Lord.

+ Gregorios III, Patriarch


pppCrest

SECRETARIAT OF STATE

_________

SECTION FOR GENERAL AFFAIRS

From the Vatican, 21 April 2010

N. 146.277

Beatitude,

You recently wrote to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to share your thoughts about developments of the situation in the Middle East, for which His Holiness thanks you warmly.

The Holy Father is particularly aware of the situation of the Christian Communities in the region. He sends his strong encouragement to the faithful and their pastors in the ordeals they are undergoing, as he desires their legitimate rights to live in peace and security on their land and for them to be able to participate fully in national life.

The Pope also wishes the special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which will be held next October, to contribute to tightening the bonds of communion between the Eastern Catholic communities, so that they carry out their mission with vigour, in a spirit of ecumenical and inter-religious openness. May it be an opportunity for faithful the world over to continue to show genuine, concrete solidarity towards their brothers and sisters from this region!

As the whole Church is in the joy of Paschaltide, the Holy Father, entrusting you to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, sends to you and to all the Bishops, priests and faithful of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an affectionate apostolic Blessing.

Please accept, Beatitude, my warmly devoted regards in the Lord.

Tarcisio Card. Bertone

Secretary of State to His Holiness


Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East

 
Meeting about the impact
on Arab Countries of the
Special Assembly for the Middle East
of the Synod of Bishops

Damascus

March 22, 2011

H.B. Patriarch Gregorios III's invitation to a lunch hour meeting on 22 March 2011 about the impact on Arab countries of the Synod of Catholic Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East was accepted by several ambassadors.

Participating were their Excellencies:

  • Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See;
  • Dr. Maria Kunz, Ambassador of Austria;
  • Mrs. Françoise Gustin, Ambassador of Belgium;
  • Mr. Mark Bailey, Ambassador of Canada;
  • Dr. Eric Chevallier, Ambassador of France;
  • Dr. Andreas Reinicke, Ambassador of Germany;
  • Mr. Achille Franco Luigi Amerio, Ambassador of Italy;
  • Mr. Rolf Willy Hansen, Ambassador of Norway;
  • Mr. Michał Murkociński, Ambassador of Poland;
  • Mr. Niklas Kebbon, Ambassador of Sweden;
  • Mr. Martin Aeschbacher, Ambassador of Switzerland;
  • as were Mrs. Sydma Aguiar Damasceno, First Secretary of the Brazilian Embassy and Mr. José María Davó Cabra, Secretary of the Spanish Embassy.

The Patriarch opened the meeting with a presentation on the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Christian presence in Syria which goes back to the time of Saints Ananias and Paul, immediately after Pentecost, and which occasioned President Bashar al Assad's remark that Syria is the cradle of Christianity, as the Church of Antioch was indeed the first after Jerusalem's to receive the message of Jesus.

The Patriarch went on to explain the meaning of the three names of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church:

  • Melkite was the name given by the opponents of the Council of Chalcedon (451) to the Byzantine Christians of the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, a name adopted and made official by Arabs from the time of Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem
  • Greek (or Roman) since its original language was Greek, which gave way to Syriac and then Arabic; Greek is Rūm in Arabic, because the first members of the Church were subjects of the Roman Empire
  • Catholic, due to being in communion with Rome from 1724 onwards.

Thanks to this triple title, the ecumenical role of the Church can be seen both on the religious level and with regard to relations with Arab countries.

Then the Patriarch illustrated this role during the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), on the topic of papal infallibility: Patriarch Gregorios II sought to put forward an Orthodox perspective on this new doctrine. At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), one of the main members of Council speaking on collegiality was Patriarch Maximos IV. Recently, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (October 2010) emphasised the relation of the region's Christians with the Arab world. This Synodal Assembly could be said to have been for the Arab world and Islam in the Arab world.

As a member of that Assembly, Patriarch Gregorios III was very concerned to draw attention to this situation through writing two letters to Arab Heads of State before and after the sitting of the Synod, to explain its purpose and the propositions relating to Arab countries.

The Patriarch also gave a series of explanatory talks in Beirut, Saida and especially in Damascus, in the context of the International Congress held there on 15 December, 2010, organised in conjunction with the Syrian Ministry of the Awqaf (Islamic endowments), in order to show the impact of the Synodal Assembly on the Eastern Churches in Arab countries and with regard to the future of the Christian presence in the region.

Similarly, the Patriarch also wrote a letter to the Latin Cardinals, bishops and theologians who participated in the Synodal Assembly, and another to the Heads of State of several European and American countries, to tell them about the importance of the Christian presence and its preservation for the region and for the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If this conflict is not resolved, there is great danger for this Christian presence, threatened by demographic (lower birth rate) and political factors, particularly as a result of tensions weighing on the small Christian communities: hence the importance of peace, especially for the countries of the Middle East and particularly for Syria, where all the country's inhabitants really do live together.

It is important for European and American countries to put pressure on Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace.

Certain European and American Heads of State had replied positively to the Patriarch's letter.

The Patriarch's talk was followed by a discussion and exchange of views. The French Ambassador, H.E. Dr. Eric Chevallier, emphasised that the country's Christians, and the Patriarch, through his influence, should make Syria's importance better known, in the context of the current unrest; and he supported the wish, voiced by the Patriarch, for the international media not to adopt a hostile tone towards Syria but rather help Syria to surmount and move beyond this turmoil in order to safeguard its pattern of living together.

The Ambassadors for their part, had also voiced the wish for a conference in the near future to make better known the situation of Syria's Christian Churches and were keen to affirm that the Syrian model of living together that they had observed, ought to be preserved and supported. They wanted the Patriarch to make his voice heard to that purpose.

The Patriarch was very grateful for that stance and in turn asked the Ambassadors to make this known to their governments. Rather than pursuing the way of discord, dissent and violence, leading to the clash of civilizations, dialogue between religions should continue to be fostered in order to build peace on strong foundations.

The Patriarch spoke to the media to ask them to immunise Syria against revolutionary contagion, as Syria, whilst realising that there still remains much to be done, has already given plenty of evidence of development, and since President Bashar al Assad is ready to go much further along the road that he has embarked upon, towards openness, greater freedom (of ideas and movement) and more employment opportunities.

The Patriarch spoke to the European countries represented in Damascus and asked them to lend their support to the Syrian model and allow the crisis, which has begun to penetrate Syria, to subside, so that this model which he characterised as "faithful, positive, democratic secularism" can be protected as a pattern for Syria's future and that of the Middle East as a region.

At the end of the meeting, the Patriarch led a brief tour of the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and then hosted a meal for his guests.

 

Appeal for Prayer for Arab Countries

To All Bishops, Priests and Faithful of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Throughout the World

From H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III

Patriarch Gregory seated

At this very difficult moment for Arab countries, we ask all Christian people to be mindful that, in the body of Christ, "whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." (1 Corinthians 12: 26) The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us further of the solidarity of Christians with their fellows,

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds. (Gaudium et Spes 1, 1965)

For all these reasons, we appeal to all bishops, priests and people to pray on the First Sunday of Lent for peace, understanding, solidarity, healing, justice and liberty, by introducing a specially extended litany for peace, using the prayer from the Paraklesis to the Holy Virgin, "Again we pray for the safekeeping of this holy church and this city, and of all cities and towns from pestilence, famine, earthquake, flood, fire and the sword, from invasion of enemies, civil war, and unforeseen death; and that our good God, who loveth mankind, will be graciously favourable and easily entreated, and will turn away from us all the wrath stirred up against us, and deliver us from all his righteous chastisement which impendeth against us, and have mercy on us," and that of St. Basil, "Deliver, Lord, this city, and every city, town and village, from famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, invasion by enemies and from civil war." (Prayer following the consecration from the Liturgy of Saint Basil)

In this way, we shall not be merely passively following events on the media, but actively praying for justice, social peace, unity and liberty. Every Arab is brother to his fellow, just as my fellow Arab is brother to me. Every Arab Christian is brother or sister to other Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters.

We are all linked in this world of ours which is God's world, and we are all linked in Christ who loves mankind. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3: 16)

Patriarch Gregorios III

Of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


English language editor V.C.

 

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.

GregoriosIII

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

Translation from French: V. Chamberlain

 
Last Updated - Current Status and Action Plan to Assist Middle Eastern Christians

CHRISTIANITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: ANCIENT YET EVER NEW

Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together (CAMECT) and Telelumiere/Noursat, the largest Arabic broadcasting Christian I television network, jointly organized a Symposium "Christianity in the Middle East: Ancient Yet Ever New" on February 20-22, 2009, hosted by the Chaldean Catholic Church of Detroit. The Symposium focused on the Christian contribution to the life of the Middle East, especially, schools, monasteries, hospitals, social charities, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and work for peace and justice.

Press Release Reprinted from Sophia, Winter 2009

A bell of warning was tolled that the Middle Eastern Christians are now only about 7 percent of the total population of the region. The majority lives in Egypt and Lebanon while some live in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian territories. In almost all places in the Middle East they are minorities.

Most of the Middle Eastern Churches have dioceses or sister churches in the United States and throughout the world. In this connection, the participants expressed the opinion that the religions of the Middle East are not only Judaism and Islam. For that reason, participants pointed out that there is a great need to inform the American public that Middle Eastern Christians continue to exist as one of the important religious communities of that region, that despite their sufferings, the Holy Spirit helps them survive and witness to Christ. Participants appealed to all to support the continuing presence of Christians in the region and their efforts to live and prosper in peace.

Christians have made and continue to make important contributions to the development of Middle Eastern culture; they promote a significant spiritual climate through monasticism, they provide through schools and universities a good education, they care for the sick through hospitals and clinics and they render generous service to the poor, Christians and non Christians alike, and in the 20th Century, they promoted the movement of Christian Unity, which became a sign of hope for the unity of all peoples and nations.

At one point, the participants addressed the present politico-religious challenges making many Middle East Christians leave the Middle East because they are losing hope in the future. Nonetheless, it was recognized that the Christians want to continue to live in their motherland and witness to the region where Jesus was born and where Christianity has been rooted for the last 2000 years. To be able to promote love and peace between all peo­ples, they want to find with Jews and Muslims a formula that is neither secular, nor ethnocentric, nor theocratic, but respects religion and guarantees plurality, equality and freedom.

Middle East Christians are increasingly focusing on inter-religious collaboration in promoting dialogue instead of conflict and in finding with others, the proper solution to the present ideological and spiritual crises in their region. Their hope is also to promote peace in order to secure common living between all human beings who have been created in "the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:27).

At the end of the Symposium, the panelists agreed that all efforts in the United States as well as abroad should focus on four areas of support of the Christians of the Middle East:

Developmental Aid:

US officials, organizations and individuals should financially support Christian institutions, churches, and monasteries. They should invest in the Middle East to create jobs that will keep young people from emi­grating overseas. Expatriates should do more to assist their relatives and fellow Christians in their countries of origin.

Media Backing:

US Christians are reminded that spreading the Good News is the sacred mission of every Christian. By supporting Noursat, they support the efforts to share the light of Christ in the Middle East. Active collaboration in establishing "Media City" in Lebanon with its three satellite stations, its different offices representing all the Churches of the region, and its extensive archives and media resources will help enhance the attachment of Christians of all nationalities to their homeland.

Political Help:

By petitioning their representatives and officials, Americans can play an active role in influencing their government's positions in defense of minority rights in the Middle East as well as their human rights.

Spiritual Assistance:

Christians of the world are encouraged to offer prayer and sacrifice to alleviate the sufferings and hardship their brothers and sisters endure in the Middle East. They should come to a greater appreciation of the fact that Christianity, which began in the Middle East, continues to exist there. A day of prayer for the Christians in the Middle East, perhaps on the Visitation Feast Day (March 25th), may be chosen. Likewise, organizing pilgrimages to the land where Jesus was born will definitely bring together the two wings of Christianity, East and West. Ultimately, Christians must realize that the Bible is not only the printed book but also the way this book is being lived in this world.

 
Patriarch Gregory sitting on a chair on a porch

To their Majesties the Kings and their Excellencies the Presidents of Arab Countries in the Middle East

by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III

Rome October 24, 2010

Closure of the Special Assembly for the Middle East

Protocol 456/2010R


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

Prot. 456/2010 Rome October 24, 2010

Majesties!

Excellencies!

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 consequence of this state of affairs our whole society has become"abused," with these disasters mainly striking our young people!

  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.

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!

  1. 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.

Dear Friends, Kings, Presidents, Princes!

We confide this brave peace like a precious treasure to your hearts, thoughts and decisions!

  1. 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!

With my respect and friendship

Gregorios IIISignature

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from French: V. Chamberlain


 
Patriarch Gregory sitting on a chair on a porch

The Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria

Meeting at Aleppo

15-17 November 2010

The Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria met at Aleppo under the presidency of Patriarch Gregorios III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, to discuss matters arising from the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

The Assembly was first concerned with the problems of Caritas trying to deal with the difficulties of Iraqi refugees in Syria.

It went on to consider the matter of the personal statute in legislation.

The Assembly also discussed the Syrian President's initiative to hold an international Christian-Muslim Congress in December 2010 to examine the impact of the Synod's recommendations on Middle Eastern countries.

The Assembly also discussed the date of Pascha, when next year (as this year) once again Eastern and Western calendars coincide. There was a desire among the participants to continue to work, in order to have in future unified Christian witness in the Middle East's predominantly Muslim countries.

On the final day, the Synod was attended by representatives of other Churches, including the Greek Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox, and the Armenian Orthodox Churches and Protestant Churches. They also support the unification of the date for celebrating Pascha.

V. C.

 

Special Assembly for the Middle East

of the Synod of Bishops

October 10-24, 2010

Presented from Most Recent to Oldest

Presented In Chronologic Order

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