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Religion and Society

Oasis Meets the City of Venice

Ca’ Farsetti, 21 June 2011

Card. Antonius Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt



Your Eminence and Most Eminent Gentlemen, the Oasis committee has been for us a very important meeting opportunity. Each one of us, in our respective Countries, is experiencing the reality of this movement towards change and a better future – which we eagerly await. But the fact that we are here, together, has given us the opportunity to hear that this movement is a desire we all share, a common process tending to make many international values our own. Italy is very proud of its human rights, freedom, the place that each person has in society: we too wish to obtain this. The January 25 movement in Egypt, called the “Revolution of January 25th” aims at fulfilling these ideals. There are various currents at work and we count on your moral and spiritual support but also on your material support, to sustain the movements aimed at the construction of a civil and democratic State. We are learning a lot from history and from the democratic way of living, and hope to realize this ideal for the good of every citizen in Egypt and as a help for the whole Middle East, to foster better relationships with the rest of the world. Thank you for your welcome.



Msgr. Ghaleb Moussa Bader, Archbishop of Algiers, Algeria



In the last couple of days we have been discussing and sharing a number of opinions and viewpoints on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East. I shall limit myself to say that, whatever may happen, the year 2011 will be considered a turning point in the history of North Africa and the Middle East. After the recent events, for better or for worse, the Countries involved will no longer be the same. This is the challenge awaiting us: neither North Africa nor the Middle East will be the same again. To the world, 2011 is the year of a turning point in these regions. Thank you.



Msgr. Maroun Lahham, Archbishop of Tunis, Tunisia



In the last few days Tunisia has been much talked about, in more or less positive terms. In positive terms about the democratic transition the Country is experiencing, and we hope this will be successful; in less positive terms because of the phenomenon of migration, one of the corollaries of the Tunisian liberation movement. During the debate of the Oasis committee all of us have expressed the wish that through this democratic transition Tunisia may arrive at a truly democratic regime. This would be the very first time for a Muslim Arab Country to succeed, hopefully, in achieving democracy, despite being 100% Arab and 100% Muslim. As to migration, we have expressed the wish that this phenomenon be read through a human perspective, bearing in mind the extraordinary circumstances of these North African Countries. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary solutions. As to the life of the Church in Tunisia, the Church has always enjoyed an ample margin of freedom of action. Let us hope that a democracy, if established, will help us to open new horizons for both the presence and the work of the Church in Tunisia. I thank you very much.



Msgr. Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria



Dear friends, when we say “Chaldeans” we must think of Iraq. I have a close connection with Iraq, with our Church in Iraq and all she has gone through in the last few years. At the same time I am Bishop of the Chaldeans in Syria, I have received thousands of refugees from Iraq to help them organize their lives. I am sure that you expect something from today’s Syria. The problem is a very delicate and complex one. In the last 50 years we have had a quasi-military regime, with a USSR-type socialist ideology. This is changing now: today we must know how to speak and dialogue, and it is not easy to be able to speak or dialogue in the truth. We must neither be fond of violence nor resort to it. This is the problem we are now having. I hope that Syria will be able to operate reforms, to talk in the truth. I hope that the Christians may play a positive role. If violence dominates, we (myself, all the patriarchs and bishops of Syria) run the serious risk of becoming like Iraq. We are actually afraid. I hope that the dialogue and trust in the reforms will, with the help of the other Countries, Egypt, for instance, or Tunisia, bring about this change so that we could emerge from this difficult season strong and peaceful. Thank you.



Prof. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, USA



I want to thank everyone here, especially Oasis, for this very important meeting, because we must understand that all of us, especially those in the Mediterranean have a common future. A common future which must be governed by a commitment with human dignity, human equality, and human freedom. From our view, from the United States, we find this to be a very important initiative in Venice, with Oasis that is bringing together in such an … manner so many diverse traditions as so we hope the model of Oasis as a place to gather for dialogue, understanding and respect can be a model for many other countries and regions in the world



Prof. Olivier Roy, lecturer at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy



As you have heard, Eastern Christians today live between fear and hope. Obviously, we are especially interested in hope. I believe that the current democratization movement is bringing something more to the question of religious freedom: it is no longer simply a question of protecting a Christian minority but rather one of defending religious freedom as a right for the individual. The right to choose, to change one’s religion, or not to have any religion at all. This could be brought about by democracy. I do hope so.



Prof. Malika Zeghal, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life, Harvard University, USA



I thank the Oasis Foundation for inviting me and allowing me to participate in the interesting debates of the last two days. These two days have focused on the absolutely extraordinary time for the Maghreb and the Middle Eastern region, of whose implications we are still not fully aware. These are revolutions for citizenship, dignity and freedom. It is important that this freedom be accompanied by a research and a quest for humanist, universal values, against political authoritarianism, corruption and exclusion. We have seen men and women, Muslims and Christians participate in these great movements in the role of citizens. The forthcoming transition will be extremely difficult because of it taking place within an extremely problematic social and economic context. Effectively it is necessary to operate a revolution in our minds to understand the great changes on the horizon, in particular the fact that an identity question can rapidly become a question on values. Northern Africa and the Middle East are approaching the European and Western debates. If Europe fully comprehends the change about to come, I would also like to see Europe refer to its own humanist values and open up to the change now taking place in the South of the Mediterranean. In particular, if I think of the problem of immigration, I would simply like to underline what I had communicated to the media some time ago, namely, that the Tunisians have received about half a million refugees by their Southern borders and that Europe, were it to go back to its humanist values at this extraordinary time, it could do just as much for those asking for asylum in circumstances which are just as exceptional.



For the contribution of His Eminence Card. Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, see:


* Transcription unedited by the speakers. To listen to the contributions click here