Without dialogue a "new clash" of the Muslim East and Christian West could result, said one Eastern Catholic patriarch during discussions at the Vatican yesterday on the Church in the Middle East.
Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkites, Archbishop of Damascus of the Greek Melkites, said in his Tuesday afternoon address to participants in the Synod for the Middle East that living together in peace and the Christian presence in the region are concretely and existentially connected.
Pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the "main reason" for this conflict, he said that the situation is marked by fundamentalism, slow development, increased hatred and a loss of hope among young people who are the majority of the population (60 percent) in Arab countries.
The accompanying emigration of Christians from the region due to this conflict could eventually create a "new clash of cultures, of civilizations and even of religions, a destructive clash between the Muslim Arab East and the Christian West," he added.
To counter this possible catastrophe, he proposed improved dialogue between Christians and Muslims to increase trust between the East and West.
"To convince Christians to stay," said the patriarch, "we think it is necessary to address our Muslim brothers to tell them with honesty what our fears are … ” He listed the need for the separation of Church and State, protecting democracy, nations being identified as Muslim instead of Arab, the need to protect human rights and laws being created that assert that Islam is the only or main source of legislation.
He also pointed to fundamentalist parties "which have been blamed for acts of terrorism, for killings, for burning churches, for extortion, in the name of religion ..."
The "great challenge" for the area, concluded Patriarch Gregorios III, is to achieve peace.
"This," he said, "is the great 'jihad' (holy war) and the great good. This is the true victory and the true guarantee for the future of freedom, prosperity and security for our young, Christians and Muslims, who are the future of our Nations."
The patriarch's five-minute address was one of many during the evening that were made ahead of an "open" session in which free debate was encouraged. During this session, participants spoke about a variety of themes, including the importance of mutual respect and freedom of religion in the area.