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Christians in the Muslim World

Eastern Christians: a stop in Damascus on the way to a meeting

Bogos Levi Zekyian

Last update: 2018-06-11 15:45:57

The 5th Meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place at the Syrian Orthodox St Ephrem Monastery, in Maarrat Saydnaya, Syria, from 27 January to 2 February 2008. The 15-member Catholic delegation was led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The delegation representing the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which normally has as many delegates as there are Churches, was smaller this time because the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Church did not send any delegate. As usual the two delegations met separately on 29 January to prepare for the plenary sessions in the subsequent days. Card Walter Kasper and Metropolitan Anba Bishoy from the Coptic Orthodox Church were co-chairs. The topic at the centre of the meeting was a document entitled "Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church," produced by a joint drafting committee set up at the end of the last meeting. After an articulated examination the document was approved with minor changes and was accompanied by two complementary reports presented by Fr Frans Bouwen, for the Catholic delegation, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the eastern Diocese of the Armenian Catholicosate of St Etchmiadzin, for the Orthodox delegation. On 30 January another important meeting took place. H H Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, had invited to the working sessions two other Greek Rite patriarchs of Antioch, Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, and Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham as well as H E Apostolic Nuncio Giovanni Battista Morandini. Citing Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit in his welcome speech, Patriarch Iwas stressed the progress made on the path towards union in the theological dialogue and in the various areas of pastoral activities and clergy training. On the morning of 31 January Cardinal Kasper and Patriarch Iwas were received in a cordial atmosphere by the President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad. Metropolitan Bishoy, who had also been invited by the president, did not attend for health reasons. The Syrian leader expressed genuine interest in the inter-Church meeting as well as in the promotion of friendly relations among the various Christians denominations and between Christians and Muslims. In particular he stressed the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East. For their part the cardinal and the patriarch expressed their gratitude to the Syrian government for the hospitality it has offered to so many refugees from Iraq and for the religious freedom Christians enjoy in Syria. The next meeting, the 6th, will take place on 24-31 January 2009 in Rome. It will focus on "The Practice of Ecclesial Communion and the Reception of the Councils in the First Five Centuries."