A Common Word
University of Cambridge, England
Sunday 12 October 2008
Having flown from Muenster, Germany, in response to a most appreciated invitation from His Grace, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, His Beatitude went directly to Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, to attend the Conference on A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement, which was held from 12 to 15 October 2008AD/1429AH. Patriarch Gregorios was one of a number of leading Christian and Islamic scholars to address the distinguished assembly.
His Grace had convened the conference in partnership with the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and the Royal Academy of Al Al-Bayt Institute (Jordan). Both Lambeth Palace and the Colleges and University of Cambridge generously offered hospitality and facilities for the conference.
The conference marked the first anniversary of the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You, a letter from 138 (now 228) Islamic scholars, clerics and intellectuals promoting understanding and tolerance between Christians and Muslims. Addressed to Pope Benedict XVI after his Regensburg lecture, and to other Christian leaders, the letter warned that the survival of the world could be at stake if Muslims and Christians could not make peace with each other.
Having participated in the Third International Conference on Coexistence and Peace-Making in Amman, Jordan from January 22-23rd, 2008, organised by The Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Centre (JICRC), His Beatitude was keen to follow the further developments of this laudable initiative in Britain. He had known since 2006 of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and had been hoping for some time to contribute to its work and offered the following paper (in Arabic and English) as his contribution to the Cambridge conference:
We Arab Christians are in a very deep relationship with Muslim Arabs in our Arab countries: we are of their flesh and blood, tribe, society, civilization, culture and traditions. We constitute a Church which daily, for the last fourteen hundred and twenty-nine years has been living side by side with Islam, profoundly influenced by Islam and in turn influencing it.
Emmanuel - God with us
The Eastern Church is really in the school of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel God, Love God, Redeemer God, Saviour God. Christ defined the goal of his incarnation by saying, “The Son of God came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for the redemption of many.” (Mark 10:45) So we Christians must go out from all that can form an obstacle between ourselves and others, in order to meet them and be ourselves Emmanuel people, “with and for.”
The Church is Emmanuel Church, with and for Arab society. The Church has a mission in the Arab world, which is in its vast majority the world of Islam. The Church constitutes fifteen million out of 300 million people. This Church of the Arabs, of the Arab world and society, is a Church of Islam, which is in interaction with it, suffers and rejoices with it, builds, hopes and grows with it, loves and serves alongside it: it is truly Emmanuel Church, a Church with and for this world.
A Church with Islam
So the Church is a society of Christian faithful, who excel in their relations with Muslims. Each one of its members stands shoulder to shoulder with his brothers and fellow-citizens in Arab countries and throughout the world, so as to work with them for basic, existential values, especially everything to do with East-West dialogue, human rights, freedom of religion and conscience, and pluralism of political thought and systems in Arab countries.
I am absolutely convinced that our Christian and Muslim faith is our greatest asset both now and for the future in helping us realize the different aspects of our holy mission and for preserving the values of our common, holy faith.
Dialogue between Christians and Muslims
That we have the Word in common is clear: let us maintain a dialogue of our beautiful faith, for the Word that was given to me by God in my Christian faith is truly mine, but not only for me; it is for my society, for my fellow-men and I must bring it to them as a light of love and as a call to love, a sign of hope for others, that they may grow in their religion and beliefs.
It is of very great importance for people to love their religion and the Word of God for mankind, and know it in ever greater depth, preserving and defending it. But they should also be open to other people’s convictions and faith.
There is no monopoly on the Word of God. It is just as much the other person’s as it is mine. We require our Muslim fellow-citizens to acknowledge our freedom to bring the good news to others, with love and respect for their faith, but we do not oblige anyone else to embrace our faith. It is enough if people can find out about it and come to esteem and love it.
Let us love the Word of God, for the Word of God is for us all. Let us share these words, proclaiming them in song and loving them. Let us so act that our human words be changed into words divine.
Our zeal for the Word of God should be a means of sanctification for us and for deepening our faith. We must not allow our zeal for the Word to become a weapon to exploit others, judging, persecuting and compelling them to embrace our faith, any more than we can allow the Word of God to become the cause of conflicts, disputes and confrontations between our faithful and those holding different religious convictions. The Word of God (not we ourselves) is the true judge between us and those who are not of our faith.
A Common Word
Our Arab countries need this common word to meet the aspirations, wishes and prospects of the young generations; who make up sixty per cent of their three hundred million (mostly Muslim) inhabitants.
This common word is the warranty that will allow us to preserve our (Muslim and Christian) Arab world from fundamentalism, terrorism, violence, hatred and aggression.
This common word is at one and the same time the future of both Christians and Muslims.
The common word, in Christianity and Islam, has an extraordinary power; it is capable of helping us to love one another, to cooperate and to build together in fellowship a civilization of love, an authentically humane culture. If we Christians and Muslims love one another, love will spread throughout the whole world.
Yet, if we live in hostility, the whole world will live in hostility too; if we hate each other, the world will be smothered in the hell of hatred. If we reject each other, the world will be torn apart and consumed by the fire of wars. The world would then be the abode of war, rather than being the earth of Love and peace.
However, it is up to us, through our fellowship and love, to build for the whole world a model of living together, dialogue and encounter.
Our countries were the cradle of religions. We are called, in this Arab world, to provide society with a blueprint for the finest kind of life in the fairest kind of setting.
This then is our common word, spoken to our Muslim brothers throughout the whole world.
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain
In the conference’s closing communiqué, published at Lambeth Palace on 15 October, the participants note:
We are conscious that our meeting represented the most significant gathering of international Muslim leaders ever to take place in the United Kingdom, matched by a similarly wide diversity of traditions and geographical backgrounds amongst the Christian participants. We were greatly stimulated by the opening addresses to the conference by the Archbishop and His Excellency Dr Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and the responses to their addresses by His Eminence Dr Mustafa Cerić, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina and His Beatitude Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch & All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem...
Looking towards the future, mindful of the crucial importance of education and inspired by our presence in a great seat of learning, we have also been keen to identify specific ways in which our encounter might be broadened and deepened. We have, therefore, committed ourselves to the following over the coming year:
- To identify and promote the use of educational materials, for all age-groups and in the widest possible range of languages, that we accept as providing a fair reflection of our faiths
- To build a network of academic institutions, linking scholars, students and academic resources, with various committees and teams which can work on shared values
- To identify funds to facilitate exchanges between those training for roles of leadership within our religious communities
- To translate significant texts from our two traditions for the use of the other.
For complete communiqué, see: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2005
Note: At Emmanuel College, His Beatitude met amongst other participants, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Alison Richard, his host for the evening, and the Master of the College, Lord Wilson of Dinton, who chaired the opening session of the conference. Although unable to stay to dinner in college on Sunday evening, in view of his early return to Rome next morning, His Beatitude was very appreciative of the history and tradition of collegiality that the University offered. On his walk through Cambridge to the conference venue, he was able to remark the beauty of the ancient college chapels, evidence of ancestral faith and the way in which, over its 800 year history – Cambridge celebrates its 800th. anniversary in 2009 – colleges have kept self-government, whilst working with faculties and the Vice-Chancellor’s central administration to make up the whole University, co-operating together for the benefit of all its members and society at large. His Beatitude remarked that collegiality is a theme of great interest to him in view of its relevance to ecclesial structures. V.C.
Photo: His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregarios III with Prince Ghazi of Jordan, author of the original “A Common Word” response to His Holiness, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture.