Syrian Prelate Offers West a Hint for Mideast Peace

Says Roots of Problem Should Be Tackled

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By Inmaculada Álvarez



VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If Europe and the United States want to build and maintain a climate of peace in the Middle East, they should ensure the presence of Christians there, says an archbishop from the region.

Greek-Melchite Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch in Syria affirmed this to L'Osservatore Romano in today's edition. He stated that the current exodus of Christians from the Holy Land is "a hemorrhage that is slowing bleeding the people of peace in the land of peace." The patriarch said he spoke especially of the Holy Land, but also of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq and the Arab Emirates.

The difficult situation faced by Christians of this area because they are a minority is being aggravated "by the ever stronger threats and the episodes of violence, which are more and more frequent," the prelate affirmed.

If the exodus continues, he affirmed, "separate blocks could be created, and it will be ever more difficult to speak of coexistence between a Christian-majority Europe, a totally Islamic Arab world, and a small totally Hebrew territory."

"This would truly suppose the risk of a clash of civilizations that do not know each other, cultures that do not communicate, religions that do not mutually respect each other," Patriarch Gregory III continued.

Thus, he contended, if the Western world "wants peace and truly want to put an end to terrorism, if they want to maintain a constructive relationship with the Islamic world, they should concern themselves with keeping alive the presence and testimony of the Christian communities in these lands. […] If they want to prevent fundamentalism taking flight with the pretext of the pureness of the faith and fuel terrorism, the problem must be taken on at the root level."

The Greek-Melchite patriarch has taken advantage of his stay in Rome for the world Synod of Bishops to urge his fellow prelates to "to everything in their power to ask peace for Jerusalem, as we pray in the Psalms. Peace for Jerusalem means peace for the whole world, but above all, that they help so that Christians would continue giving their testimony in the Middle East."

Synod experience

Patriarch Gregory III said he will return to his country "enriched" and with the desire to transmit what he has lived at the synod to the Christians of his country, but "also to the Muslims: That God loves the whole world, that he loves all men."

Christians of the Middle East, he added, should bring the Word of God to Muslims and Hebrews: "We should find ways that help us to make everyone converge on a point of encounter. This is our mission."

In this sense, the patriarch said, the synod "has shown the necessity of dialogue with the Hebrew and Islamic worlds, even though there has also been some hesitation."

"My impression is that many bishops still are not very aware of the importance that Islam is acquiring in the world, and they don't concern themselves too much with knowing it more deeply," he said.

Finally, the archbishop expressed his hope that from the synod flows "a stronger Word, full of renewed confidence and hope. This message faithfully responds to the enthusiasm of Paul, the apostle under whose guidance the synod has been placed. To find in this message a great power to face dialogue with everyone in a Christian sense, in the clarity of Christian light, which is truly the light of the world."