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<2000 : Coexistence and tension : Closing speech>
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Coexistence and Religious Unrest

Closing Speech by Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour

Your Eminences and Reverend clergy, brothers and sisters,

With God's providence, we have come to the end of our seminar. We have called upon each other in order to meet, to get to know each other, and to share knowledge of the real situation and aspirations of our peoples; their hopes, their frustrations, their cultural reserves, and the obstacles that prevent them from realizing their potential.

Our concern has centered around observation of our shared lives and of the conflicts that flare up between our communities from time to time. These conflicts are sometimes based on completely contrived reasons. At other times, they are partially founded in the religious and confessional plurality in which we live. But this plurality is a much greater source of strength than of weakness. For all that our incompatibility leads us to each obliterate the other, our diversity calls us to live together in complementarity, solidarity and mutual embrace.

Our task here was consultative. Love has been the yeast that let us rise to be brothers and sisters in humanity and children of the One and Only God.

In spite of that love, we were tempted by doubt, beset by worry, and tormented by exhausting questions. We hoped to find—and quickly—the right answers to fundamental, embarassing, and persistent questions. Perhaps it is by our good luck that our thirst for such answers remains unquenched. I said by our good luck because previous attempts to provide too-easy answers to our life situations have been like plants that grow on a rock: as soon as they are exposed to real sunlight, they quickly burn.

Despite our unquenched thirst for answers, we have much to thank God for. He has given us the strength and courage to maintain an atmosphere that calls us to optimism on the one hand, and pushes us to bring this meeting to fruition on the other.

I have seen many things that call me to this optimism. To begin with, each one of us has given frank statements of what that one sees, believes and thinks. Some may object taht we have given too much consideration to each other's feelings. They may accuse us of glossing over the imperfections, difficulties and obstacles in our joint lives, and overlooking important reasons that prevent us from reaching that for which we aim.

This would have been true had our civility been fueled by mutual hypocrisy. In reality, though, our optimism and care not to hurt one another were not caused by our burying our heads in the sand. We tried neither to be evasive nor carefully gentle. Instead, because we truly know the extent of the difficulties confronting us, we tried not to practice towards each other the sadism of mutual frustration or to level accusations based on prejudice. We opened our hearts and minds in order to know each other, including how we differ. We gave each other an open account based on sincere intentions and goodwill.

Another reason I have for optimism is that none of us came to this meeting in order to represent only ourselves, our own positions of narrow interests, our fanaticism, or our ideologies. We came carrying the concerns of our peoples, and especially those among them who are deemed weak.

We also resisted the temptation to use this meeting as a pulpit for preaching, for showing off, for proselytism, or for any such thing. We came to search— profoundly—for that which is truly good and which will, in the long run, serve the benefit of our peoples.

These are only some of my reasons for optimism, but I will not belabor the point. I will instead move to what I see as a completion of our seminar, so that tomorrow does not break up our dawning dreams.

As I stated in my opening speech, the Arab Working Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Middle East Council of Churches will together form a committee that can draw upon the lectures delivered in this seminar, and upon all the responses and interjections those lectures provoked. The committee will draft a document of the principles to which we together can adhere—Christians and Muslims—to maintain and foster joint living. The document will include a number of practical guidelines on the political, informational, educational, cultural and religious levels, to translate these principles into action.

After this document is produced, we will send it to all those who participated in this seminar. They can work by it and disseminate it to all those who are open to it and who would join in applying its content and guidelines.

We are confident that all those who participated in this seminar—elite members of our societies—will serve as messengers. They will dedicate themselves, according to their abilities—which are great and rich—to consolidating the pillars of harmony, love, solidarity and justice in their surroundings. We therefore will form committees in each country in order to raise people's awareness of the fundamentals of joint living and the requirements for achieving it. Thus will an awareness be transferred from the elite to the grass roots.

In order to help you on your progressive task, we will hasten to document the proceedings of this seminar and disseminate them. This document can be one of the means to crystallize the idea of authentic joint living in our pioneer and pluralistic societies.

In closing, and in the name of both the Arab Working Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Middle East Council of Churches, I thank you with all my heart for your effective participation in this seminar. I ask God to favor you in all your endeavors so that His justice and peace be achieved for your own good, for that of your countries, and of your peoples. His is the All-Hearing and All-Responding.

English translation, by Lew Scudder, first appeared in MECC NewsReport , Summer 2000

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