Bishop Shomali : “nothing prevents us from dreaming about reconciliation”
ROME – Taking part in the framework of an International Ecumenical Conference held in Rome between 24 and 26 February 2016, Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and in Palestine, came back on the impact of religion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the role of the interreligious dialogue in the peace process.
The event was organized by the Conference of Bishops of Germany and by the Department of International Policy and Conflict Studies of the University of Munich. Church leaders from Arab countries as well as university figures from the region, specialized in these topics, coming from the Holy Land, Lebanon, Egypt, Gulf States, Syria, Iraq, were invited to this event.
The conference, in English and in Arabic, entitled “Christians, Churches and Religion in a Changing Middle East”, tackled Christians, a religious minority, important and significant as it is, in the midst of Arab Muslim countries.
Five years after the Arab uprisings in the Middle East, the area is victim of a wide scale distress, on both the political and economic-cultural levels. A difficult situation which affects directly the ethno-national and religious minorities. The various participants talked about how the Christian religion, born in the Middle East, contributed to weave since two millenniums the social, economic and cultural fabric of the area.
The lecture highlighted as well the changes that the Christian churches go through in these countries, confronted with a double edged challenge – globalization and Arab uprisings.
In his speech Bishop Shomali has come back on the multidenominational character of the Middle East, and more specifically on the relationship with Jews, Christians and Muslims, and on their coexistence in the town which embodies all political and religious diversities: Jerusalem. “When history is narrated and places are named, Jerusalem offers often a double narrative and two names for the same place. The Temple Mount, Al-Aksa, the city itself and its gates have a double name. This applies also to politics.” Religious divergences have a direct impact on politics and on the conflict which tears the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, each having their own take on the events.
Bishop Shomali underlined the importance of interreligious dialogue in order to promote peace. “With Muslims, we have a common language, history, culture, and the fact that we lived and suffered together as well as share identical aspirations.” said the Bishop of Jerusalem, who looked concerned at the “Islamization of the Middle East and the rise of Political Islam to power that leaves less space for religious freedom”. The Bishop has also come back on the advancement of Judeo-Christian dialogue, since Nostra Aetate, and on the “common Biblical roots” shared by Christians and Jews.
“Religion itself is part of the conflict and should become part of the solution”, Bishop Shomali further said, coming back on the role of religious leaders in the peace process.
“Who could predict that after two world wars, European countries would or create a European community? Who could predict the end of communism in Europe, and in most cases without bloodshed? Who could foresee that Sadat would visit Jerusalem and Begin would withdraw from Sinai? – Asked the Bishop concluding his intervention – Therefore nothing prevents us from dreaming about reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs and that peace will reign in Jerusalem. And that the Holy City will be open to the three Abrahamic religions and become the political capital for both peoples of the Holy Land.”