Patriarch Gregorios III is continuing his pastoral visit to Venezuela, heading a delegation of bishops and priests of the Melkite Greek Catholic community.
On 11 October His Beatitude answered questions from a journalist of the state channel, “Canal 8,” the country’s biggest broadcaster. This half-hour interview touched on several topics of which the chief were:
- The aim of the trip: His Beatitude firstly emphasised that the pastoral aspect of his visit is to find out the situation of the Melkite Church’s members and encourage them to live their important role in Venezuelan society as witnesses and missionaries of the Church. This visit is also focused on holding the Eighth Congress of bishops of the diaspora on the theme of the “New Evangelisation.”
- The situation in Syria: His Beatitude said that the situation in all Arab countries is difficult, especially as most of these countries are in a state of revolution and calling for regime change. In fact, many of these demands are legitimate and necessary, but there are also many internal and external interests hiding behind these revolutions to divide our Arab world and especially Syria. He added that President Bashar Assad had already begun a series of changes some ten years ago and believes that the situation in Syria is critical, for if Syria splits up, it would lead to the division of several other Arab countries. That is why we ask the international community to give President Bashar Assad the chance to continue with the reforms he has already begun.
- On the topic of change: His Beatitude opined that any change requires three elements for it to succeed: Vision, Evolution and Revolution. He wondered whether there is vision in what is happening at the moment. Is there evolution to prepare for what is to come? He concluded that if these three elements are not realised, revolution will be ultimately pointless, resulting in division and bloodshed, as is currently happening in the Arab world.
- With regard to finding a solution to what is happening, His Beatitude emphasised the need of launching an Arab human rights charter, after having listened to young people’s voices and demands and completed an in-depth study of these demands. We are invited to be first to change these revolutions into positive energy which will help us change and develop our society and realise the ambitions of our young folk, without waiting for initiatives and projects drawn up by the West.
- The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: His Beatitude thought that as long as the Palestinian problem is not resolved, and Palestinians have not received their full right to return, it will be impossible to talk of peace in the Arab world or anywhere else in the world. Europe, which declared the State of Israel, ought to impose peace on Israel and recognize Palestine as an independent state. Whilever the West and the United States of America remain in their current position, the whole world will not know real peace, for sooner or later, injustice will break out sometime somewhere.
- With regard to the role of Venezuela and President Chavez in what is happening at present in the Middle East, His Beatitude believed that Venezuela had hosted very many immigrants from the Middle East, who consider it home from home, giving it much, as they have received much. Venezuela plays a significant role in South (Latin) America and in the Arab world. Its politics are well-known. It has always been against the domination of weak countries by powerful countries and against the exploitation of the formers’ wealth.
On the first day of this visit, the Patriarch and accompanying delegation accepted an invitation from the Egyptian ambassador Mr. Ali Mrad to dinner in his Caracas residence. His Beatitude expressed his joy at being the guest of the Egyptian ambassador, emphasising the role of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church as Church of the Arabs and Church of Islam. “We are not the Church of Islam to evangelise Muslims, but as an Arab Christian, I cannot live my faith without sharing it with my Arab Muslim friend. We, as Church of the Arabs and of Islam, are the pledge of continuing peace between East and West and between Christianity and Islam.”
He continued, “What happened recently in Egypt, the recent massacre of Copts, who are really the founders of Egyptian society, should not go unnoticed as with similar incidents in the past. The killer should be punished. No-one should escape sanctions from now on.” He concluded, “I hope that great Egypt will always be great Egypt.”
In the evening, the Patriarch and official delegation accepted an invitation from the Syrian ambassador, Mr. Ghassan Abbas to an official reception in honour of His Beatitude. Present were twelve representatives of various Arab and South American countries as well as members of Parliament of Syrian origin and very many clergymen and business-people.