In his opening remarks to the international conference on “The
Christian Presence and Witness in the Arab World”, taking place at the headquarters of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, His Holiness Aram I said that “in view of the changing political landscape in the Arab world, the Christian communities are called to engage in dialogue with all trends of Islam which advocates democracy, coexistence and non-violence”. He reminded the conference that he Middle East” is at a crucial juncture of its modern history”, and that “although the present situation is depicted by some as Arab spring or Arab revival and by others, the end of autocracies and emergence of democratic processes or simply regime change, the common denominator in all these characterizations is that the region is in a process of transformation”.
Aram I warned the conference of misleading approaches which “may distance us from concrete realities, such as conceptualizing, westernizing and generalizing this process of transformation”. He advocated “an existential, not conceptual, a Middle Eastern, not Western, a contextual, not general approach to the events that are taking place in the region”. According to His Holiness “the region is still facing uncertainties, ambiguities and polarizations. Hence, if this process of transformation is not sustained by a strategy of active non-violence and if it is not led by people with a clear vision, the region may be exposed to even greater and far-reaching dangers”.
Among challenges and priorities before the Christian communities, Catholicos Aram believes that “the Christian unity must acquire a top priority; and the Middle East Council of Churches provides the proper framework for the churches to speak with one voice and act together”. In his opinion the Christian-Muslim dialogue needs to be “broadened and deepened in its horizontal and vertical dimensions and expressions to cover the basic concerns and critical issues pertaining to their common life”.
His Holiness challenged the Christians and Muslims “to move from being good neighbors to real partnership as co-citizens. This partnership must be articulated: by building together democratic societies, by ensuring for Christians a broader space for active and full participation in decision-making structures and processes; and by providing for Christians all the possibilities to preserve their own values and traditions and organize their community life, being at the same time integral and inseparable part of larger society”.
Catholicos Aram I reminded the conference that “the Christians are deeply concerned about their future in the Middle East. Uncertainty, anxiety and fear are increasingly dominating their life. But the Christians should not turn to their Christian brothers and sisters in the West; they should turn to their Muslim co-citizens and partners to share with them their concerns and expectations”. It is the firm expectation of Aram I that “Muslims respond frankly and realistically to the growing concerns of Christians”.
The conference on the Christian presence and witness in the Arab World is organized by the World Council of Churches in collaboration with the Middle East Council of Churches. More than seventy people, Muslims and Christians, from different parts of the Arab world, including special guests from Europe and North America attend the conference.