Catholicosate of Cilicia
Antelias - Lebanon
13 November 2016 – In his address to the conference, organized by the Pontifical Oriental Institute on the occasion of its centennial, His Holiness Aram I emphasized the crucial importanceof strengthening the Christian presence in the Middle East, considering it a pan-Christian priority. The main part of the conference, which took place at the Institute’s hall, 11-13 November 2016, was devoted to issues and topics pertaining to the history, liturgy and mission of the churches in the Middle East. The presentation of the Catholicos Aram I focused on the future of the Christian witness in the region.
In his introductory remarks, Aram I referred to three important aspects related to the Middle East: the region as the birthplace of the monotheistic religions, the dominant presence of religion in the life of the societies, and the forceful emergence of religious fundamentalism, and he identified the repercussions of these realities on the Christian witness. His Holiness said that often diversities have created alienation and tension, and the region has failed to develop coherent and reconciled diversities. He reminded the conference that Christians are marginalized, they are given limited freedom, the growing presence of Muslim extremism has made the “other” a factor of risk, and the “otherness” a source of fear. Hence, according to His Holiness, an inclusive vision of society is almost non-existent. Speaking about the prevailing situation in the Middle East, Catholicos Aram said that the increasing tension between Sunnites and Shiites, and the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians have created an environment of insecurity which, in turn, had negative repercussions on the Christian witness and thus migration became a daily concern.
In spite of these huge problems facing the Christians, Aram I stated that the churches are determined to remain firmly attached to their rights because they belong to the Middle East and are deeply rooted in the history of the region.
Outlining the expectations of the churches from their Muslim neighbors and their western brothers and sisters, His Holiness said that Christians do not consider Muslims and Christians as two separate blocks, but as co-citizens, neighbors and partners with equal responsibilities and rights. Christians also expect that the basic human rights and values be fully respected and that Christians be given full rights and opportunities to participate in the total life of societies. Aram I emphasized that pluralism and respect of fundamental human rights are compatible with Muslim teachings and values.
As to the expectations of Christians from the western Christians, he said that the solidarity with the churches of the Middle East must be given more concrete expressions by supporting the Christian social, humanitarian, cultural and educational institutions, which play a highly significant role in the life of societies without any discrimination. According to Aram I Christian communities in the Middle East are a source of progress and development and hence, they may play a pivotal role in promoting moderation, education, economy, and pluralism.
In his concluding remarks, His Holiness Aram I said that shaping the future of the Middle East is a common responsibility of the monotheistic religions. They must work together, otherwise the region may be exposed to deeper conflicts, and continuous disintegration and fragmentation.
The session was opened by the introductory remarks of H.E. Cardinal Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and was attended by the State Secretary of Vatican, H.E. Cardinal Parolin, along with other dignitaries of the Vatican.