His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Gharios of Ghassan says it is urgent to create one voice for the Middle Eastern Christians and there is a concrete way and structure that can achieve this.
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT following his recent visits to the Vatican where he met Pope Francis and cardinals, Prince Gharios, the legitimate head of the house of Ghassan, the only Middle Eastern Christian dynasty still alive, spoke on what is needed to help save Middle Eastern Christianity, which–he believes–currently can be compared to “a patient with cardiac arrest.”
The royal also shared why he believes a prince needs to be close to the people, “getting his hands dirty,” and says until his last breath, he’ll keep working worldwide to protect the Christians in the Middle East.
Born in Brazil, the prince moved to Los Angeles mostly for security reasons, saying the violence in the South American nation was unbearable. He established a residence in Jordan to help people from all over the region. His father’s mother’s family was Greek Orthodox and his father’s father, Maronite. When they arrived in southern Brazil, there was no Maronite church in their city, so they started going to a Roman Catholic Church. Raised primarily in an Italian household, Prince Gharios is a proud Roman Catholic.
Prince Gharios has received many formal and informal recognitions from governments and authorities all over the world. In 2014, he received United States Special Congressional Recognition. He also was invested into the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the very few papal orders of knighthood, and has been recognized by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, several Middle Eastern Christian and Muslim religious leaders, as well as political leaders.
The House of Ghassan is the oldest Arab dynasty in Christendom and the one that ruled more territory and during the longest period of time. Current well-known Ghassanids in the Church include the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch Fouad Twal, and the Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Archbishop Maroun Lahham.
ZENIT: In Jordan, you discovered your role to essentially become a spokesman of the persecuted Christians. What inspired you and what entitles you to fulfill this mission?
Prince Gharios: First, the urgency of the matter. With the current rate of persecution and migration we don’t have much time, may be 20 years before there will be no Christians anymore in the Middle East. Please remember that these lands are the cradle of Christianity, these are the oldest Churches, and they are dying in front of our eyes. I fully agree with Pope Francis when he criticizes the “globalization of indifference” and teaches an “ecumenism of the blood”. Actually, I see in his words a personal appeal. I can’t ignore them, not only because my roots are there, but because my position, currently the only secular office with historical legitimacy and the duty of protecting not only my people but all the Christians.
ZENIT: Could you tell us more about the situation of the persecuted Christians and the threats they face?
Prince Gharios: There’s not only the notorious actual persecution, but also economic reasons that make Christians migrate to other countries. Being able to help the Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, also with the Lebanese and Egyptian people, to listen to their tragedies and witness their tears gave me a unique first hand understanding of the situation and its urgency. We have to act now. I compare Middle Eastern Christianity with a patient with cardiac arrest, we need to defibrillate with a powerful shock in order to save the patient.
ZENIT: What are your plans to help them? Is there some concrete action that can be done? Have you received support from other Christian denominations, any Bishops or Patriarchs of the East?
Prince Gharios: It’s urgent to create one voice for the Middle Eastern Christians. My plan is the creation of a Council based on UN standards and with UN representation, congregating all of the Christian denominations present in the Middle East as an assembly, which would take care of Christian interests in the region, especially providing immediate relief to the Christian refugees, and pleading as an observer organization to the UN. Unifying the Middle Eastern Christian voices and needs without interfering in the sovereignty of each denomination. This organization will also lead and optimize the interfaith dialogue in the region with Muslims and Jews since will represent the ensemble of the Oriental Christians. I also believe that this council will improve a lot the ecumenical dialogue since all the denominations will be working a lot closer. It is important that we, the Christians of the Middle East, speak with one voice to be heard. Every Bishop, every Patriarch can only speak for his own flock, for the Christians of his denomination. And there are dozens of Christian Churches and denominations and a dozen Patriarchs; so now politicians know to whom they should speak first without getting involved in an inter-confessional contest. This is something which has to be changed if we want to be efficient, since we can only solve our problems on a large political scale.
As far as support, I have a great relationship and support from many leaders, especially from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, The Maronite Church and Coptic Orthodox Church.
I have a great respect and admiration for His Majesty King Abdullah II and for his late father, King Hussein, and a very good relationship with some princes and princesses of the House. They have a real commitment of service to their people. Actually, Jordan is an example not only for the Middle East but to the whole world. There you find real tolerance, respect and coexistence.
ZENIT: You were in Rome twice this May and June to meet with several Cardinals and even Pope Francis. With whom exactly did you meet and what was their reaction to your proposal?
Prince Gharios: My two encounters with the Holy Father were brief. But I’m looking forward to discussing the situation and my proposals in depth with him. I met with Cardinal [Kurt] Koch [President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity] and Cardinal [Leonardo] Sandri [Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.] Both are holy men. Cardinal Koch was very interested in our ideas.
ZENIT: What is the next step? What are your plans? What are you asking from people who want to support you?
Prince Gharios: We’re now gathering more support for the Oriental Christian Council. Until my last breath, I’ll keep working worldwide to protect the Christians in the Middle East and also to promote the legacy of the Ghassanids. We need all the possible help and prayers since the task is colossal. The people interested may contact our Chancellery at [email protected] or visit www.ghassan.org