By: Father Shafiq Abouzayd, Jo Siedlecka
On Monday, HRH Prince Charles visited London's Melkite Greek Catholic parish, based at St Barnabas CoE church in Pimlico. Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos, Syriac Archbishop Athanasius Father Aphrem and Canon Robin Gibbons were among those who attended the event.
Prince Charles said: "it is a particular privilege to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land... As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith," he said.
"As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ's example."
The Melkite parish in London was founded in November 1989 by the Council of the Melkite Greek Catholic Association - UK and the permission of His Beatitude Maximos V Hakim, the Melkite Patriarch, who appointed Father Shafiq Abouzayd to be its first parish priest.
Fr Shafiq welcomed all present and gave the following address:
"The Greek-Catholic Melkite Church has always been a Church that reaches out to other religious communities and is unafraid to bridge gaps. Here in the UK our Church has had a particularly strong relationship with the Church of England. In Pimlico we were made welcome by the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas and since 1991 have used the Church for worship and other activities. This has been a wonderful ecumenical and beneficial partnership and it has born fruit in revitalizing both our parishes and opening out new ministries and friendships.
St Barnabas seems to be a real patron for us, not only here but with our Anglican friends in the parish of St Barnabas in Oxford where we have also been given hospitality for worship. Lastly individual members of our community are active in ecumenical matters, in recognition of this work, our Abouna Robert Gibbons was installed as an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church in Oxford where he is involved in a number of initiatives. We are grateful for our friendship and fellowship with the Anglican Church and look forward in hope and trust to greater bridge-building between us all.
I see our present exodus to the West as a sign of universalism, bringing our Oriental tradition to enrich other local traditions and so to enrich the universal Church.
We are very proud of our suffering as Christians, because this is the way of the Cross, which leads towards life and resurrection. We are very proud of innocent and righteous martyrs, because their blood is watering the dry earth of Middle Eastern society and promising a new spring to our Church and society in the Middle East.
We are very proud of our Christian-Muslim brotherhood inside the Melkite parish in London, as many Muslims from the Arab world are participating in our spiritual and social activities. I would like to emphasize that many Christians are unaware that the true spirit of reverence which Muslims display towards Jesus ('Issa) and his mother Mary spring from the fountainhead of their faith as prescribed in the Qur'ān.
Our Melkite parish is greatly honoured by the visit from HRH, the Prince of Wales, and we are very grateful for his care and attention to our Melkite flock in London.
Also, I would like to thank everyone who is attending this special occasion in the history of our Melkite church, and may Divine Infant Jesus bestow on you His eternal blessings."