The Synod for the Middle East and Arab countries
Umayyad Palace, Damascus
"Blessed be the God ... who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love ...unto the praise of his glory... For we are his workmanship, created ... unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (cf. Ephesians 1: 3-4, 2: 10)
"For he ... hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, ... for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; ... and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh... Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets..." (Ephesians 2: 14-15, 17-20a)
The Lord Jesus said, "...Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18: 20)
This verse: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." (Acts 4: 32) explains the harmony and unity of the faithful, and was the inspirational idea for the acts of the Synod for the Middle East. This spirit characterised the first Christian community at Antioch in Syria.
And the Qur'an says, "Say, People of the Book! Come now to a common word between us and you." (Aal 'Imran 3: 64)
In this ambiance full of faith and spirit, we are meeting, dear brothers and sisters, Your Beatitudes, the Patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, muftis, ministers of cults, ulemas, imams and dear fellow-citizens.
We are meeting with the blessing of Almighty God, guided by his Holy Spirit, and under the patronage of the leader, defender and president of this country, H. E. Dr. Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic. We thank him for his patronage and presence amongst us, not in the flesh, but through his vision and mind. Without him, this congress, the first of its kind, could not have taken place.
This noble leader gave Syria one of its finest epithets during the visit of Pope John Paul II in May 2001, "Syria, cradle of Christianity, origin and crossroads of religions and cultures." Syria was the first to welcome Christianity. It is the melting-pot of Aramean, Syriac, Greek and their respective patrimonies, besides Arabic. It is the country of Churches and rites...There they were born, grew up and prospered and thence they spread out into the whole world, bringing the good news contained in Holy Scripture, the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an...Holy Books! Humane, global faith values!
Our dear President epitomises Syria and Syria reflects its President. He is its messenger to the world and Syria is completely devoted to the Arab world's causes. He is a young, cultivated, open, vigilant, smiling, compassionate president, attentive to the problems and worries of his people.
He is a clear-thinking leader, determined, astute and tenacious, a skilled politician, who is faithful to Syria's values, vocation, history, present and future.
As Patriarch of an ancient Syrian Church, I thank him most warmly, as do all the Churches of this country and of the Arab East, represented by the hierarchs and faithful assembled here. I should like to thanks His Excellency the President in the name of the universal Church represented by the Vatican delegation sent by Pope Benedict XVI, a great man of peace, dialogue and faith; the Apostolic Nuncio; the Congregation for Oriental Churches; the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Synod of Bishops; and the representatives of the Orthodox Churches in the world.
So, after having gained the attention of the Catholic Church during the Synod for the Middle East, the Eastern Churches now hold that of the Arab world through Syria.
A big thank-you to the Honourable Minister of Cults, Muhammad Abd as-Sattar as-Sayyed! He it is who, from the beginning, adopted the idea of this congress with great enthusiasm, and organised it with great professionalism, but also with conviction, faith and spirituality.
Holding such a congress, with all its national, social, Arab, religious and international dimensions, is evidence of the values that animate Syria, and particularly, of the respect that its citizens enjoy, whatever their religious beliefs may be.
We ask the Lord to bless our country and our Arab countries with all their wealth of heritage and dialogue initiatives. We hope that this kind of initiative will continue to grow, so that we can give to our future generations living models of faith, hope, charity, mutual respect, living together, tolerance, collaboration and progress.
"Come now to a common word." A common word between Islam and Christianity has great power and will help us to love each other and not merely to tolerate one another. It will help us collaborate to build together a society of love and a genuinely humane culture. If we Christians and Muslims love one another, love will conquer the world. On the other hand, if we live in mutual hostility, that spreads into all the world. And if we hate each other, we shall sink into the hell of hatred. And if we refuse to accept one another, the world will certainly be ravaged by war. That is what Fairuz sang after the fall of Jerusalem, city of love, faith and resurrection, saying, "When the Holy City fell, the flame of love was extinguished and in men's hearts, war took up its abode." So our world will be a world at war and cease being a world of peace and love.
We need a common word if we are not to disappoint the ambitions and hopes of our young Arab generation, that represents sixty per cent of our nations.
A common word is a genuine word of faith that will help us Christians and Muslims protect our Arab world from fundamentalism, terrorism, violence, hatred and hostility.
A common word is the best warranty for Christians and Muslims. Christianity and Islam are called to agree upon a common word, and not to make war on each other and kill one another. We have the best faith values. They are an inexhaustible wealth for all humanity.
So, let us agree upon a common word, in order to safeguard it and live by its precepts.
Thank you to you all. Long live our Arab countries! Long live Syria! Long live our President!
As we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, the apostle of love and peace, let us take up the hymn of the Angels of Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill towards men."
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain