Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch
My speech is mainly based on living in an Arab Muslim-Christian mixed society in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. 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 thirty-two years has been living side by side with Islam, profoundly influenced by Islam and in turn influencing it. Primarily, this is a dialogue of life, about life, an everyday conversation, for every circumstance.
We learned that in the classrooms of the minor seminary, and in the major seminary of Holy Saviour, which this year is celebrating its third centenary. Then we learned this life conversation during the period of the parliamentary elections. The various groups came to us at Holy Saviour: we welcomed them. We also lived this life dialogue during the big national religious festivals for Muslims and Christians as common feasts for all. We exchanged congratulations.
We lived this life dialogue in circumstances of war, crises and sectarian disturbances, in circumstances of hunger and great calamity, as for example, during the First World War, when Holy Saviour gave daily food to all the poor people who came to it. In the end, the Economos said to the Superior General, “We have no more food even for ourselves. Shall we save what we have so that we can have something to eat?” The Superior General said, “No. Carry on giving to all the poor people here. We shall eat together or fast together.” On the day that the supplies were running out, mules came from the south, from the house of Zain, a big Shi’ite (we call them Metwalli) family, bringing grain to Holy Saviour. So Holy Saviour was able to continue feeding the poor. Some thirty years later, when the Zain family was in severe financial difficulties, Holy Saviour immediately intervened to save their financial situation. Similarly, in 1956, there was a big earthquake throughout the whole of Lebanon and some two hundred villages were destroyed. We went out into all the Christian and Muslim villages to help rebuild the houses.
Later, we learnt this vital, life conversation in our studies, both in Lebanon, where we studied Islam, and later, when we did our specialist studies in Rome.
We learnt this life dialogue at work, in the professions. Our workforce consists both of Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and Druze.
We experienced this in mixed schools and universities, where there are Christians and Muslims, and in our welfare and charitable institutions and in social work. In 1966 I founded the social centre in South Lebanon, a craft school and orphanage where all were welcome. They were all centres of meeting and life dialogue. In the Holy Land I founded four clinics where health care was given to some ninety thousand mostly Muslim people.
Further, we experienced this – and this is very important – through mutual trust, charity, service and giving. That is why I don’t use the word “tolerance” in speaking of Muslim-Christian dialogue. The term “tolerance” cannot give the meaning of real dialogue. I prefer to use the words, acceptance, trust, love, respect, solidarity.
Now, speaking of the current situation, what is really lacking in East-West dialogue is trust. People don’t trust the Arab world, and the Arab world doesn’t trust European society. That is why we always fall into mutual accusations: of crusades – from Muslims to Christians, and terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism - from Christians to Muslims. That is why we must overcome this dialectic of aggressive wars by Muslims on Christians, such as Muslims at Poitiers, the Umayyads in Spain, and the battles of Lepanto and Vienna, with the Turks at the gates of Vienna, for example; or Western crusades and colonisation, such as that of the French in Algeria, or the mandate over Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. We must go beyond this dialectic of war down the centuries to engage in real cultural dialogue. This is really important for intensifying Muslim-Christian dialogue, and working strenuously, powerfully and decisively to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has lasted for sixty-three years. That is why there is no longer any trust between the Muslim Arab world and a Europe, which does not do what is necessary to resolve this conflict. A opportunity is given to Europe: to recognize the State of Palestine alongside Israel. As two states they can resolve all problems later.
Now I would like to offer for your attention, some texts I have written in recent years about this topic:-
1. From a speech given at the Opening of the Liqaa Centre, Lebanon in May 2011
Dialogue has always been an object of very special concern to me. We were one of the first founders of the Al-Liqa Center in Jerusalem in 1983, together with its longstanding current Director, Dr. Geries Khoury, one of our faithful from Upper Galilee. We founded it together with a select group of Palestinian Christian and Muslim thinkers, university teachers. I was head of its board of trustees until my election as Patriarch in 2000. Palestine’s Al-Liqa Center remains to this day its dialogue centre par excellence.
One aspect of this dialogue is the newly inaugurated Liqaa centre for meeting between God and man, through faith, religion and belief. This wonderful new centre is due to the generosity of an open-minded Muslim, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman.
It is a place of meeting of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith, and moreover, of meeting with all sorts of convictions, even outside those of church, synagogue or mosque. It is an encounter in the vast sanctuary or temple of the world, a meeting of people with one another in the world which is both God’s and man’s; limited by neither time nor place, nor confined to an East-West theme, nor to the civilisation and culture of our Eastern Arab world, nor to the cultural and intellectual ambiance of the Mediterranean basin nor even that of Europe and the West. In fact our Middle East was and still remains the road to the Far East. The world is the purview for our Liqaa Centre, which will be an open academic centre and a global platform. It is an intellectual, academic centre of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Arab countries, emigration countries and throughout the whole world and through this Church, a platform for everyone. ...
God, may his name be praised, founded the first liqaa centre by creating man in his image and likeness, and by becoming incarnate he called the world, its people, humanity to meeting with him and his love. He called them to love and he made this love the condition for following him and the foundation of his commandments and the holy teachings of his Gospel. In fact, he said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. ”
“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace. ”
2. From a speech given at the First Muslim-Christian Congress, Damascus, December, 2010
We [Muslims and Christians] 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
- 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 [for the Middle East], 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.
3. From a Speech given on “A Common Word” and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement, at Cambridge, October 2008
That we have the Word in common is clear: let us maintain a dialogue of our beautiful faiths, 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.
4. From talks on “Church of the Arabs” given in Amman, Jordan (May 2005) and in the Sultanate of Oman (2006)
A new Way of Talking
What is required today is a deep encounter of thought between Christianity and Islam, a mutual discovery, a mutual understanding of the vocabulary of the Gospel and the Qur’an and the concepts of Christianity and Islam, of Christian and Muslim spirituality and language. We have need of a real grammar for understanding basic expressions, usage and way of thinking, theology, and logic in Islam and Christianity. All those are the basic elements for a new dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and for mutual acceptance.
Co-operation between East and West
With regard to these matters, we must create links of mutual help with our Christian brothers in the West, to collaborate on drawing our viewpoints closer together, theirs and ours, about Islam. We should help them discover the true face of Islam and also understand our role and mission in the Muslim Arab world, so that we can assist each other.
We cannot leave our European Christian brothers alone in their quest to understand Islam, in East-West dialogue and relations between the Western world and the Arab and Islamic Eastern world. So we must tell them, now more than ever, the meaning of our role in that direction and search, just as we must tell our Arab brothers here and show them besides the importance of our role, so that Muslims understand that we have a role with them and for them in their meeting with the Western world. This is the duty of all Christians and Christian citizens, but above all of us church leaders, who must have a very keen sense of this crucial role in our East-West relations. I became very aware of this during my twenty-six year service in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, where I gave hundreds of talks and participated in many world conferences and felt how important was our role vis-à-vis the Western world on the themes of dialogue, war, peace and justice, East-West relations and above all the Palestinian case, which has an extraordinary influence on all the other problems we must face in our Arab world and in the Muslim world.
Are not current Arab conditions an urgent, ceaseless call to put into action our unique role of seeking harmony? Current pressures are so strong against the Arab and Muslim world. Are they not a pressing call to increase interaction between Muslims and Christians in our region and to redouble our efforts towards future progress in the Christian Arab world and towards our common responsibility in the third millennium?
Just as Christians in the early period of Islam played a very important role especially in the realm of translation of the whole of Greek culture into the Arabic language, we too should play today the same civilizing role alongside our Muslim brothers. My hope and prayer and wishes are that there be an interaction of Muslims and Christians and what I am doing as Patriarch is the same as my brother Patriarchs and bishops and the monks and nuns in different institutions, for the preservation of the Christian presence in this region is a part of this reality. But it is also important that my Muslim brothers be in agreement with this role, with this project, let us say, of the preservation of the Christian presence in Arab countries.
Civilization of Love
When we say to Christians that Jesus tells you, “When someone strikes you on the right cheek offer him your left,” (Matt. 5:38) it does not mean that Muslims should be encouraged to strike Christians. In fact this commandment is the height of love and tolerance, but on the other hand it demands positive interaction between all who listen to this saying, so that society be converted, change and head towards more love, mutual respect and equality between rights and obligations. So this commandment is a call to the whole of society for the civilization of love to reign in it. That means and requires an education of deep faith in all citizens of all confessions and without this education there is no balance in society, neither religious, political or social and so we must return, unfortunately to the vicious circle of violence, religious persecution and apartheid in all its methods.
The civilization of love is that I love you and you love me. However, to place a condition, I love you if you love me, will tend to harm all sense of relations in society. But, I love you unconditionally, gratis, freely and hope that you love me, also unconditionally, is the true spirituality of the Sermon on the Mount and the spirituality of the Gospel. That is what I meant at the beginning of this talk when I spoke of the new creature, the new mentality, the new spirituality. (That is not what the politicians are talking about today, unfortunately, when they use the word “new”!) But it is what I mean by the new world order and the new Middle East. We have the real model of new living, but if faith is not the foundation of this new system it will be more perfidious, more unjust, more violent, more despotic and a greater apartheid than all the others. The mission that is placed on our shoulders in the Arab world is to challenge the Western world by an Eastern Christian-Muslim union of civilization of faiths.
What is important in talking of the Church and of Islam is the love which must really unite our hearts and make each brother a friend, close to our heart, a citizen who is a companion with us in life. The important thing is that the Church be able to engage in dialogue with the Muslim world and with Islam. What is required of the Church and its members is to love Muslims and Islam on the basis of our faith and not on the basis of a passing feeling, so that together, we Muslims and Christians may build in our Arab countries the civilization of love.