On Ecumenism, Islam and the U.S. Image Abroad

Interview with Patriarch Ignatius IV Haze of Antioch

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BOSE, Italy, OCT. 25, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of Antioch stayed at the ecumenical monastery of Bose, Italy, before meeting this week with John Paul II, six months after the Pope´s historic trip to Syria.

“This visit is inserted in the context of contacts that the Church of Antioch has been engaged in for a long time with the Catholic world,” the patriarch said.

“The Pope´s visit to Syria, in addition to highlighting the Christian dimension of that country, also opened new horizons for the ecumenical dialogue,” he added. “[Now is] the moment to examine the ideas proposed on that occasion and to verify the application of the decisions made over the last years, which culminated in the 1993 Balamand Declaration.”

–Q: Antioch occupies a very special place within Orthodoxy as regards the dialogue with Rome.

–Patriarch Hazim: We believe that our first task as leaders is to seek dialogue with the other Churches. I think it is absurd to preach love if, then, we Christians don´t practice it among ourselves. We are not at all afraid to lose “privileges.” Moreover, no one will ever be able to deny the fact that Antioch represents the cradle of Christianity.

–Q: Does direct dialogue with Rome not represent a sort of “bridge” as regards the local Catholic Churches?

–Patriarch Hazim: Our dialogue with Catholics is carried out at various levels.

It is unthinkable to conceive of dialogue with Catholics without also talking with the Vatican. However, this does not mean giving up dialogue at other levels.

Eastern Catholic patriarchs always invite me to their meetings, and I hope to meet with Maronite Patriarch Sfeir during my stay in Rome. We are convinced that no Christian religious community can substitute for another.

–Q: Are Arab Christians anxious over the current world crisis?

–Patriarch Hazim: We share the fortune of our Muslim citizens. A Christian cannot give his blessing to violence or terrorism. We try to understand the reasons without justifying them. The image that the U.S. government projects, perhaps unconsciously, gives the impression that it seeks hegemony in the world.

We hear talk about U.S. interests, but almost never about the United Nations. We think something must change. Peoples go to war because there is an arms trade and poor distribution of wealth.

Then there is the problem of dictatorships, often supported by the West, which, even before being a world danger, terrorize their own people.

Terrorism must be suppressed wherever it is found, but the way of acting must change. For a long time there has been talk of the terrorism of the Iraqi regime, and this might be true, attributing responsibility to a specific individual.

However, we then see that the planes strike everything and everyone except that individual. We fear that the same thing will happen in other countries.

–Q: What do you think of those who place Islam and Christianity in opposition?

–Patriarch Hazim: It is a forcing of religion in a political sense. Needless to say, the West is not inspired in the Gospel in defining its policies. We must be able to distinguish between Islam and Muslim faithful, as well as between Christianity and Christian faithful.

Perhaps the remedy is in mutual knowledge. Islam should not be something foreign to Christians and vice versa. For example, in my patriarchate, Muslims and Christians together form one nation that is not, must not be, either a church or a mosque.

–Q: There is talk of a conflict that could last for years. Are you afraid that this will have negative repercussions on Eastern Christians, given that religious buildings have been attacked in some Lebanese cities?

–Patriarch Hazim: Every prolonged conflict becomes dangerous. If other Muslim countries are going to be attacked, it will be easy to convince Muslims that it is a war against Islam.

Instead of thinking of the Muslims who set fire to our churches, we think of those who ran to put it out. Violence is defeated by justice and love.

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