Patriarch Gregorios visits Vatican City for the European Premiere of Damascus and Rome to celebrate the Divine Liturgyat Santa Maria in Cosmedin
May 16th and 17th 2009
The film Damascus, centering on St. Paul, received its European premiere in the Augustinianum theatre in Vatican City on May 16th during this year declared by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as a special jubilee year dedicated to Saint Paul.
Filmed mainly on location in Damascus (claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world) this is a powerful docudrama that aims to bring to life how the human heart may be changed by divine power. Saul of Tarsus, a religious “terrorist” and persecutor of the early Church, came to faith in Christ through a vision of him on the road to Damascus. Saul’s encounter with Ananias, head of the Church in Damascus, lead to his being baptised and to a three-year meditation on the meaning of the Gospel in the Hauran district. From Syria, he would go on to spread the Gospel to all the nations of the world.
The launch ceremony and screening was attended by leaders and representatives of churches, states and religious leaders of various traditions, including representatives of 52 countries.
Patriarch Gregorios III (Laham) of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch and All the East, President of the Bimillennial Jubilee Year of St. Paul Celebrations, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of St. Paul-without-the -Walls, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, and President of Youth Arise International, Dr. Henry Capello, were among the distinguished guests.
Also present were Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Jerusalem, Hilarion (Capucci) and chargé d’affaires of the Syrian Embassy in Rome, Ms. Suha al-Jamali.
Dr. Capello introduced the documentary, explaining the significance of its screening at Vatican City and lauding the skills of the cast and production company.
In his speech Patriarch Gregorios stressed the key role of Damascus in the life of St. Paul and in the history of Christianity, saying that Damascus is still speaking to the world and that Syria is committed to dialogue and preserving the spirit of Paul’s message.Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who had seen the film in Arabic on his recent visit to Damascus, emphasised how apposite it was that the European premiere should round off the Jubilee Year of Bimillennial Celebrations of St. Paul, and noted that Pope Benedict XVI himself was delighted to host the European premiere of the film in Vatican City. (A copy of the documentary was presented to Pope Benedict XVI upon his return from his journey to the Middle East.)
During his recent meeting with Patriarch Gregorios III, Pope Benedict XVI had praised the atmosphere of dialogue, amity and tolerance in Syria, underlining the importance of Damascus’ hosting the patriarchal seat since it was on the Damascus road that St. Paul encountered the risen Christ and thence spread the Gospel throughout the world.
The film’s message of peace, redemption and hope has a universal appeal. No doubt this explains why, thanks to its promotion by the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Dr. Bashar al-Assad, the world premiere took place on 2 March at the Opera House, Dar al-Assad for Culture and Arts in Damascus, in the presence of more than one thousand religious, political and business leaders. The cast comprises over twenty well-known Syrian Muslim actors. A Syrian Protestant film company, Agape4Media, has produced the film, written by Maysaa Salloum and directed by Khaled al-Khaled. Thanks to grants from Catholic and Protestant foundations, the film will be shown in theatres and churches of all denominations and distributed on DVD throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world. Produced originally in Arabic with English subtitles, it has since been dubbed into a number of languages.
Sunday Liturgy and Parish Feast
On Sunday, 17th. March, His Beatitude celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Also taking part were Archbishop Hilarion and clergy of the Melkite Church studying and working in Rome.
Afterwards, His Beatitude was invited to a convivial lunch at a Syrian restaurant in Rome, by parishioners and guests, together with visiting clergy and monastics.