Inauguration of the
Liqaa Meeting Center
Rabweh, Lebanon – May 10, 2011
A Communication Bridge in a Divided World
In a time of contradictions and conflicts, when discords and differences are at their peak, Meeting is a must. “That is why we chose the word Meeting,” affirmed His Beatitude, the Patriarch in an interview. “We wanted it to be open to all the dimensions of human beings’ encounter with God, with their brothers and sisters, with society, nation, politics, economics and everything.”
Meeting has been an idea of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III from the beginning of his clerical mission. It is an idea that he has transformed into effective work in several centres across Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, reflecting the ancient traditions of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church as a Church without borders.
Atop one of the Metn Hills at the heart of green Mount Lebanon, lies the new Meeting Centre. It is located within the patriarchal compound that also comprises the patriarchal school and a church still under construction.
After a series of meetings and reunions held by Father Michel Sabee, a visit to the Sultanate of Oman was arranged for His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, heading a delegation from the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, to meet personally with His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, and a number of religious representatives and officials. The main aim of this meeting was to discuss the ideas behind the international Meeting Centre for dialogue of civilisations in Lebanon. “Our visit to Oman was very fruitful and we had a very interesting meeting there with the Sultan. He responded with great keenness and very generously said to us, ‘I am with you, to plant and bring this idea to fruition,'” continued the Patriarch.
This idea is incarnate in a centre founded on Melkite Greek Catholic Church principles, starting with regard to its deep historical roots in Christian unity, then openness to others and finally, its membership of Arab civilisation and society.
Architect Elie Abou Hala designed the new centre and supervised its construction and interior furnishings. Officials from the Sultanate of Oman and its embassy in Lebanon, headed by His Highness Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said, Minister of Heritage and Culture in the Sultanate of Oman, followed the work’s progress from its earliest stages.
The three-dimensional architectural model of the building was designed along traditional lines, with details inspired by traditional features. Its interior design also takes into consideration ongoing and future technical challenges likely to be encountered. It is an architectural dialogue reflecting tradition and modernity in perfect harmony with its mission: the dialogue of civilisations.
The Meeting Centre comprises a Melkite library, church museum for the Melkite tradition, centre for Christian-Muslim research, theatre, conference room, reception hall, and furnished rooms to accommodate fifty persons. It is a centre whose objectives go beyond egoism and conflict to reach creative human solidarity. Its motto is, “Building bridges in a divided world.”
In conclusion, His Beatitude says, “This is my gift from and to our Church, society, country and all Arab countries, to our Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters and to all those among them who are seeking to meet each other. As an Arabic saying goes, ‘two mountains cannot meet, only two humans can meet.'”
Speech at the Inauguration of the Liqaa Meeting Centre
Rabweh, Lebanon – 10 May 2011
In the name of Christ the Saviour, risen from the dead, we are inaugurating the Liqaa Meeting Centre for the dialogue of civilisations beside the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate in Rabweh.
We are inaugurating this Liqaa Meeting Centre in your presence and under your patronage, Your Excellency, General Michel Sleiman, President of the Lebanese Republic. Your presence is the sign of your love for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and of the very special concern you have for the spiritual and social values of dialogue in Lebanon, and your appreciation of the goals that the Liqaa Centre seeks to realise, as a place for the expression and development of those values.
The Liqaa Centre has taken as its object to be a local and international centre for dialogue between people in their religion, faith, civilisation, culture, industry, politics, thought, vision, outlook and perspectives of their whole life.
Though born today, it is in the very old, traditional line of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which has always been considered as a Church without borders, that makes every possible effort to build bridges in a divided world, through dialogue without frontiers – a religious, cultural dialogue that embraces the whole of civilisation.
Meeting has always been an object of very special concern to me. We were one of the first founders of the Al-Liqa Center in Jerusalem in 1983, together with its longstanding current Director, Dr. Geries Khoury, one of our faithful from Upper Galilee. We founded it together with a select group of Palestinian Christian and Muslim thinkers, university teachers. I was head of its board of trustees until my election as Patriarch in 2000. Palestine’s Al-Liqa Center remains to this day its dialogue centre par excellence.
We chose the term Liqaa, wishing to express through this the essential goal of this institution: that of meeting, in the absolute sense. We call men and women to meet, without determining the aim or objective of the meeting. The meeting takes place within the bounds of human perspectives, whatever their scope or range.
Liqaa is a centre for meeting between God and man, through faith, religion and belief. It is a religious meeting, of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith, and moreover, of meeting with all sorts of convictions, even outside those of church, synagogue or mosque. It is an encounter in the vast sanctuary or temple of the world, a meeting of people with one another in the world which is both God’s and man’s; limited by neither time nor place, nor confined to an East-West theme, nor to the civilisation and culture of our Eastern Arab world, nor to the cultural and intellectual ambiance of the Mediterranean basin nor even that of Europe and the West. In fact our Middle East was and still remains the road to the Far East. The world is the purview for our Liqaa Centre, which will be an open academic centre and a global platform. It is an intellectual, academic centre of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Arab countries, emigration countries and throughout the whole world and through this Church, a platform for everyone.
Allow me, Your Excellency, President of the Lebanese Republic, to say with pride that the Liqaa Centre is at the service of your thought and vision. In fact, it was you who launched the idea that Lebanon is the centre of meeting and dialogue of civilisations, from the highest global platform at the United Nations. In fact this Liqaa Centre is at the service of your congresses for implementation of your guidelines and for your dialogue programmes. Furthermore, we place the Liqaa Centre at the service of Lebanon’s mission, which is itself the mission. In fact we can say that Lebanon itself is essentially and entirely a dialogue centre for the Arab world and for the whole world.
Your Excellency, President of the Republic, ladies and gentleman, my brothers and sisters, this great association, this Liqaa Centre, would not have seen the light of day, without the generosity of a great person, who has a broad, humane vision, a man of immense horizons, with an enlightened mind and large heart, engaged in dialogue and government, a wise leader, open to his people and citizens and to the Arab world and indeed the whole world: I mean the great Sultan Qaboos, Sultan of Oman, may God, in his protection and concern, preserve him.
It is thanks to the generosity of His Majesty and his hand, heart and mind that this Liqaa Centre was able to be built. Moreover a unique project has been realised in this way, a joint project between the Sultanate of Oman and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. It is a project of charity, of love, that links the Patriarchate to the Sultanate of Oman, and the Patriarch and the Sultan. It is a project built through the stones of that love. The stone building was completed with God’s blessing and the generosity of the Sultan’s gift. There still remains the joint project between the Patriarchate and the Sultanate and its representatives, a continuation through the Liqaa Centre’s projects, congresses, perspectives, spirituality and vision. This link between the Patriarchate and the Sultanate will be recorded in letters of gold in the registers of the Patriarchate’s history and the memories of its generations to come. Here too, prayers and invocations will be continually raised in the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary whom, as the Qur’an says1, “God chose and purified, chosen above all women of the nations.” The Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Annunciation, who is the patron of this new church that overlooks the Liqaa Centre and that will be inaugurated very soon, will be the protector of His Majesty, the Sultan, his collaborators and all his people. She will bless him and all those who have worked and will continue to work in this centre, and all those who will benefit from the services of this centre.
The church of Our Lady of the Annunciation that we shall soon be inaugurating is linked to the mission of this Liqaa Centre. Indeed, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary was declared a national religious holiday for the whole of Lebanon and for all Lebanese citizens, both Christian and Muslim. It is a feast of dialogue, and in its Greek expression evangelismos, an announcement of beautiful, joyful news.
So from this Church of the Annunciation and this Liqaa Centre will be continually propagated pleasant news to people, to every person in the whole world, both in Lebanon and in the Sultanate of Oman. The venerable Qur’an says, “We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other,”2 and Saint John, the Beloved Disciple and Evangelist says, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt (set up his tent) among us3,” and in these two venerated verses we find a summary of the Liqaa Centre’s programme – a programme of politics, culture, industry and sociology.
God, may his name be praised, founded the first liqaa centre by creating man in his image and likeness, and by becoming incarnate he called the world, its people, humanity to meeting with him and his love. He called them to love and he made this love the condition for following him and the foundation of his commandments and the holy teachings of his Gospel. In fact, he said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.4“
“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.5“
I would like to give hearty thanks to the basic team who accompanied the realisation of this unique dream: bringing this dream to the attention of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos, preparing the architectural plans and following all the stages of its realisation. This team comprises: Rev. Dr. Michel Sabee, Head of our Patriarchal College in Beirut, who was the contact messenger, bringing this dream of the Patriarch to His Majesty the Sultan; then there is the Patriarchate’s Economos, Rev. Economos Elie Shatawi, who undertook the supervision of the project on the spot; the architect, Mr. Elie Abou Hala and his wife Rosi, who expended all their experience, art, enthusiasm and faithfulness to make this Centre our Patriarchate’s finest realisation. Our thanks also go to the engineers and workers who have worked generously, for the excellent quality of their work. We give our blessing to the centre’s leadership team who will be working for the centre’s aims. We wish them success! May the bountiful Saviour amply reward them!
Your Excellency, President of the Republic, my brothers and sisters, here is your centre, ready to welcome you and to host your activities. We hope that you will support this centre by all means, spiritual and material, at your disposal and through your thoughts and proposals, and also by finding sponsors for its congresses and activities. So the Liqaa Centre will be able to realise those projects through the blessing of the Saviour and through your work and fellowship.
To you all, my friendship and blessing,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the EastM
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Translation from French: V. Chamberlain