By Rebecca Kendall
A new religious landscape, one in which Christians, Jews and Muslims enjoy an equal quality of life and access to participation in the political process, is something that His Holiness Aram I hopes will take flight in the Middle East in the months and years to come
“I hope that the Arab Spring will become also the Christian Spring, where Muslims and Christians will enjoy the benefits of the ‘spring’ together,” he told a packed house at Broad Hall on Friday. His Holiness, catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, was on campus for a public reception and lecture as part of a 20-day tour of Southern California. His visit to UCLA was organized by the Gustov E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies. This was his first visit to the western United States from Lebanon in seven years. Aram I is one of two pontiffs of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church and a spiritual leader of Armenian Diaspora communities in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
He shared his reflections and perspectives about the future of Christianity in the Middle East and spoke about the historical relationships that exist among Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“These religions have developed within a monotheistic ethos, sharing common values and traditions,” he said. “Their common history has been marked both by peaceful co-existence and tension, interaction and polarization, mainly due to political factors.” He went on to say that in some states, the close association of religion and politics has created theocracies. In others, it has made religion a central reality in the state, institutions and the governments.
“Religion embraces and impacts the whole life of the people,” he said. “It has penetrated the common consciousness of the people so deeply that religious identity and fidelity counts more than national identity, hence the emergence of religio-ethnic fundamentalism in all its forms and expressions, and as a result theocracy and divine rights have been chosen over secularism and human rights.”
He said that the Arab Spring has been referred to as an Arab reawakening, a Muslim reawakening and a regime change. No matter how it is interpreted, he says one thing is for certain: “the Middle East has once again become restless in its search for self-expression and identity.”
He appealed for Middle Eastern lawmakers to respect the rights of Christians, for relations between diaspora communities and modern churches to be better organized, and for Christians to continue their efforts to live happy and peaceful lives in the Middle East. He also said that Christians, Jews and Muslims must be equal partners in the political changes that are underway, and that unity and renewal must be taken seriously by religious leaders and their followers.
“The political and social and religious voice of every citizen and community must be fully respected and constitutionally guaranteed, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.”
This begins with mutual trust, understanding and forgiveness, he said.
“Religion should not make news, it should make history. And history is made by building bridges of mutual understanding and respect, and working together for a better future.”
A complete podcast of his lecture is available.