Amman (AsiaNews) - "For the first time in history, the Churches in the Arab world have spoken about their problems to Muslims in a Muslim country, not only to Western governments. This is a first step towards a genuine dialogue with Islam and among the various Christian denominations," said Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The prelate spoke to AsiaNews about the recent conference "The Challenges Facing Arab Christians" held in Amman on 3-5 September, at a time when the US Congress prepares to vote on an attack against the regime of Bashar al-Assad that could trigger a regional crisis.
The Patriarch stressed that the delegates focused on the Syrian conflict and on the pope's call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for Syria on 7 September.
"Every religious representative," Gregory III said, "circulated Francis's appeal in their dioceses. The whole of Mideast Christianity will take part in this initiative, not only Catholics. Nobody wants war in Syria for it would destroy the entire Middle East, worsening the situation of Christians."
For the first time, Gregory III noted, "the representatives of Arab Christians were able to speak with great freedom of all their problems: discrimination, difficulty in opening churches, schools, respect for human rights. What took place in Amman was a Christian conference in a Muslim country."
"We have many challenges," the patriarch explained, "starting with unity among different churches that live side by side in the same world."
Sponsored by King Abdullah II of Jordan, the two-day meeting brought together all the patriarchs of the Middle East, Catholic and Orthodox. Vatican, Anglican and Protestant delegations and three Muslim scholars were also present.
Prince Ghazi, King Abdullah's cousin, who played a major role in 'A Common Word between Us and You', a Letter by 138 Muslim scholars addressed to Benedict XVI, was the main force behind the meeting.
In his opening speech, Ghazi condemned recent attacks on churches. "We in Jordan feel, for the first time in hundreds of years, that Arab Christians have become targeted in some countries [. . .] since the beginning of what is incorrectly called the Arab Spring, [. . .] merely because they are Christians," he said.
Speaking about Arab aspirations, he went on to say that "The democracy that we should be seeking is not to reach power through the ballot box so that a majority or a plurality can suppress a minority. This is dictatorship of the majority, demagoguery and injustice," entrenching divisions and sparking sectarian and denominational wars.