6-9 November 2012
Patriarch Gregorios III visited Great Britain in the context of a European tour to promote the work of the Liqaa dialogue centre in Lebanon.
Arriving on 6 November from Paris, where he had given a talk on the Liqaa Center at St Julien-le-Pauvre on 5 November, His Beatitude went directly to Heythrop College, University of London to speak on the topic The Melkite Church: living with and for others, with particular reference to Muslim-Christian dialogue and the work of the Liqaa Center, Lebanon.
Al-Liqa’ Center was first was founded in Palestine in 1983 with Muslim and Christian university professors when His Beatitude was Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem; in 2011 the Liqaa Center was founded in Lebanon, thanks largely to the generosity of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said of Oman, and began its activities in 2012.
The Director of the Centre for Eastern Christianity at Heythrop College, Mr Anthony O’Mahony, who introduced His Beatitude to the audience, later expressed a lively interest in following up His Beatitude’s invitation to Heythrop College to plan joint conferences with the Liqaa Center and to arrange student exchanges in future years.
His Beatitude’s talk included a presentation of himself and his role, the history and current role of the Melkite Church as “Church of the Arabs, Church of Islam” and the role of the centre as a place for meeting, dialogue and interfaith activities. Afterwards Patriarch Gregorios III answered questions on a wide range of topics from the audience, which numbered about one hundred persons from a variety of academic and ecclesial backgrounds. These exchanges on the current situation in the Middle East, especially in Syria, were reported in the Catholic weekly newspaper The Tablet, by Liz Dodd, who attended the talk and discussion.
In the evening, His Beatitude, together with Father Shafiq Abouzayd, the senior Melkite Greek Catholic priest in Britain and Anthony O’Mahony were invited to dine at the home of parishioners Mr and Mrs Hani Akkawi and family.
After a day of rest and preparation of various English language texts, His Beatitude dined at The Dorchester with Father Shafiq Abouzayd, at the invitation of parishioner and great benefactor, Mr Tawfiq Aboukhater.
On Thursday 8 November, His Beatitude, introduced by Father Shafiq Abouzayd, gave a talk in the Gladstone Room of the Oxford Union, attended by a number of other scholars from the University of Oxford and elsewhere, including Father Robert Gibbons, a Melkite priest and Director of Studies at OUDCE, and Rev Dr Allan Doig, the chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall. Once more, His Beatitude received offers of co-operation and collaboration from his audience and from others unable to attend on this occasion.
Over lunch at a local restaurant, given by Father Shafiq, His Beatitude made the acquaintance, among others, of Dr Eugene Rogan, university lecturer in the History of the Modern Middle East, based at the Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College.
Later that evening, His Beatitude attended a debate at the Oxford Union at the invitation of its President, John Lee, on the motion This House believes in God, in which Professor John Lennox, Rev. Dr Joanna McGrath and Peter Hitchens, ably speaking for the proposition, were ultimately defeated by sceptics Dan Barker, Dr Michael Shermer and Peter Mullican (143 to 168).
His Beatitude left Britain for Frankfurt on 9 November, with the intention of returning at a future date to visit Cambridge and the Inter-Faith Programme headed by Professor David Ford, as the latter is on a year’s study leave and was unable to meet His Beatitude on this occasion, but has expressed an interest in doing so in future.