Today, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin brings glad tidings to the universe. My prayer is for joy to fill the hearts of millions of people in our Arab countries, which are so filled with worries, fears, suffering and tragedy that impact lives both in public and in private.
While spreading hope and joy in Christian Valley I could not help noticing the profound suffering of displaced persons. Though they are safe where they are, they are labouring under the weight of cares, afflictions and very painful memories concerning their homes, relatives, possessions and their own and their children’s future.
Today my fellow Patriarchs and I are flying to Washington on this gruelling journey to the United States.
My feelings are mixed! On the one hand I am content to be on the way of the cross along with our countries, parishes and fellow-citizens. We bear the sufferings and expectations of them all as the Second Vatican Council affirms, and as Saint Paul said so eloquently. All are pinning all their hopes on the Church. Did not our Lord Jesus tell us, “Do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)
Yes, let the Spirit speak in us! I hear what the Lord God is saying within me! He speaks peace for his people and his elect. His salvation is nigh for the one who fears him. “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Ps 84:10 LXX /85:10)
My contribution before the greatest power among the nations is meant to be a spiritual witness in favour of peace in our region: its security, and living together among the various constituents, especially the young! This is a common responsibility. The Church is an integral part of that society and we have a common responsibility in the face of so much suffering and tragedy. We make up part of this tragedy and we also represent a part of the solution. I should like to recall here a threefold sentence proper to the medical team that works in a hospital in Germany and which is helping me complete the projected building of a hospital between Damascus and Daraa in the native village of my mother where the Apostle Paul stayed for three years after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.
Here is the slogan:
Who? if not us!
Where? If not here!
When? If not now!
I’ll be using this slogan effectively in this great country where great decisions are made.
I am putting this slogan to the West with love and trust.
And I’m also putting it to the East, our Arab countries, kings, princes, state presidents and heads of government….
I’m really very hopeful that the patriarchs’ voice may be heard as was the prophets’ and sages’!
Our visit and participation represent an historic step in the annals of the Church. Today the Church, more than any other society, entity, institution or organisation bears this responsibility, and, as patriarchs, we ought to continue our initiatives at every level, knocking on every door : of hearts, to change the inclination of States and international organisations. Yes, the Church must offer every sacrifice, take every step regardless of cost for it represents the roots and foundations of Christian and Muslim Arab society.
It is called to bring about peace in the region in order to be worthy of the Beatitude shown by its Master and Founder among peace-makers, the One who is Prince and King of Peace: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.” May it be a peace-maker like its Master and gather into one the children of God scattered abroad.
This is the greatest and most sublime goal of all the mysteries of our Christian faith: the incarnation. Jesus, the Word incarnate, said, defining the goal of his incarnation and coming into this world: “I am come that they (everyone) might have life and might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
That is the role and story of the Church. That is still its message today!
Fear not little flock the great role that is yours, for the welfare of all humanity!
The unified and harmonised voice of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs who share a common vision has as its goal to be the trigger for a global and really ecumenical Christian consensus on the East. Thus the Church’s voice will be one both in the East and in the West: the Holy Father and the Catholic Church through its bishops’ assemblies, the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican and other reformed Churches. Let us promulgate a joint spiritual declaration that highlights the Church’s role in the current existential crisis. That is a special challenge and unique opportunity for the Church to act in favour of peace in the predominantly Muslim Arab East. So it shows its role and vocation to Eastern society. This can only strengthen the Christian presence, role, vocation and involvement in the East so as to give Christians the strength of conviction to remain anchored in the Middle East, cradle of Christianity.
From our history, culture and lived, shared experience, the Churches must walk in step to broaden their sphere of action to reach the spiritual leadership of our Muslim brethren too, so that the patriarchs and muftis and ulema of Arab countries can meet and work together to reflect on the current crises and tragedies of our Arab world, especially on the development of fundamentalism, terrorism and takfirism as they have recently appeared. Let them draw up reports and action plans to remedy these situations. That would be a providential opportunity and historic step which has to be undertaken together.
Recently I sent a letter on this subject to the muftis of Arab countries and I trust that they will react positively to it.
Here is a road-map inspired by Christian and Muslim faith and it is a fundamental stage towards a unified strategy based on a single vision.
As patriarch with the title of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem and with residences in Damascus, Beirut, Cairo and Jerusalem I have experienced in a special way the tragedies associated with the Arab Spring in Egypt and Syria, Gaza and Lebanon. Our faithful are facing a fire that is consuming the region: it burns and destroys, kills and terrorises. I have witnessed their sufferings and on 20 August we visited those who had taken refuge in Erbil, far from the ethnic cleansing of the Islamic State.
Faced with this dramatic reality that we are experiencing in the East, I am launching an existential appeal: we all in the Arab world, to whatever denomination we may belong, are facing a single historic challenge: “to be or not to be.” As our great singer Fayrouz said after Jerusalem was taken in 1967: “Love has withdrawn and the world’s heart has been consumed by war.”
That is my deep fear! Here is my appeal that I am making with a broken heart in this Washington summit. I trust that my cry will reach your awareness and heart in your assembly, congress and organisations!
Save the Arab world! Save the Arab East! with all its constituents, ethnicities and confessions. Put the fire out! It’s at your door!
As Pope Francis said when he visited Jordan on 24 April: peace in the Middle East has two keys : a real peaceful solution in Syria and justice in the Palestinian case.
In the East we shall succeed in overcoming this identity crisis. Our perseverance in living together (despite difficulties), as we have done throughout our long history is the only warranty for safety and well-being in the Middle East, and even for the West (Europe, the United States) and Australasia. Light comes from the East. From the East which has given the light of faith, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there comes and is fulfilled the salvation of the world.
Join us on the march of Christian faith, charity and hope!
We are praying for you to be peace-makers: may th
e peace of Christ be in your hearts, minds, souls and countries.
Patriarch Gregorios III Laham is the spiritual leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He wrote this reflection Sept. 9 en route to Washington D.C. for this week’s high level meetings on persecuted Christians.