St. Christopheros Patriarchal Monastery, Saidnaya (Syria), 26 September-2 October 2010


There was a powerful moment of witness to ecumenism when His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of the Greek Orthodox Church joined hands with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, His Holiness Zakka I Iwas, and with the Patriarch of the Greek-Catholic Church, His Beatitude Gregorios III, in the opening session of the 2010 plenary meeting of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (JWG). Encountering the churches in Syria has been a decisive mark of this meeting that was graciously hosted by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the St. Christopheros Patriarchal Monastery in Saidnaya, Syria. The close ecumenical relationship among the churches and between their leaders was demonstrated by the presence of ten Heads of Churches and the Apostolic Nuncio in the opening session of the plenary meeting.

With memorable visits to the three Patriarchs, and a reception for members of the diplomatic corps in the Embassy of the Holy See in Damascus, the JWG had the privilege to learn first hand about the life of the churches in Syria, their place in the society, and their inter-faith relationships. The former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Riad Jarjour, and the head of the development department of the Greek-Orthodox Church, Mr Samer Laham, were the resource per- sons for a seminar session on the situation of the churches in the Middle East, in which the JWG members were joined by a delegation of the Swiss Protestant Federation that was visiting Syria and other countries in the Middle East. Our trip to Damascus, where St. Paul found shelter among the first Christians in the city after his conversion, and to the monastery of St. Thekla and other convents and monasteries reminded the JWG members that this region is the cradle of Christianity. In Syria Chris- tians have always had their place in the social fabric of society. The major tasks for the churches of the region is to sustain the Christian presence and to contribute to constructive inter-faith relationships despite deep conflicts in the region.

Under the leadership of the co-moderators, Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste (Romania) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (Ireland), the JWG plenary made significant progress in the work on study documents on the themes of 'Ecumenical Reception and Spiritual Roots of Ecumenism', The two study documents want to encourage reception of the rich fruits of decades of ecumenical dialogue towards the goal of visible unity and to deepen the understanding that the quest for Christian unity entails conversion and renewal, holiness of life in accordance with the Gospel, personal and communal prayer. The relevance of the work on Migration and Youth, two themes the JWG is addressing in its pre- sent mandate between the 2006 Porto Alegre Assembly of the WCC and the next Assembly in 2013 in Busan, Korea, was underlined by the representatives of the churches in Syria, who are deeply concerned about the decreasing number of Christians in the region and the future of young people.

In their final statements, the two co-moderators of the JWG expressed their deep gratitude to the hosting church and their appreciation for the opportunity for an intense and enriching encounter with church leaders in the country. Global efforts for ecumenism need to inter-act with the diverse realities of national and regional ecumenism in order to be meaningful and effective.


2 October 2010