The jubilee year of the Apostle Paul: 2nd International Conference in Damascus | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

The jubilee year of the Apostle Paul: 2nd International Conference in Damascus

The symposium on St. Paul, organized by the Custody of the Holy Land to celebrate the jubilee year of St. Paul, was held in Damascus from 23rd to 25th April. It was dedicated to Fr. Michele Piccirillo, who died last October, but who had given invaluable advice and suggestions for this Conference.

The Conference was the result of the commitment of a special Commission that the Custodial Discretorium had appointed on 6th March 2008, chaired by Fr. Claudio Bottini, dean of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem, with the very active participation of Fr. Romualdo Fernández, in charge of the Memorial of St. Paul in Damascus and Fr. Ignazio De Francesco of the Piccola Famiglia dell’Annunziata of don Dossetti. The particularity of this symposium was having wanted to underline not so much the Biblical aspect – carried out this year by many specialized Centres – as the relationship between St. Paul and the Oriental Churches; recalling attention to the Syriac patristics, St. Paul in the Oriental liturgies, in the apocryphal writings of the first centuries, in the medieval Arab-Christian manuscripts and with a reference to St. Paul today in the Middle East. For this reason, we gave it the title: Paul read by the Orient. Its singularity is also due to the fact of being held in the most important city in the story of the Peoples’ Apostle: Damascus. This city and its region, Syria, was also the first gateway from which Paul’s announcement spread both towards the Orient and the West. Like Paul, the son of three cultures (Semitic, Greek and Latin), Damascus (and Syria) was also a melting pot of cultures in dialogue and continues to be so today.

Some preparatory meetings were held in Damascus and in Italy, finalizing the programme, choosing the Speakers and fixing the date after the Orthodox Easter. The symposium was organized by the Custody of the Holy Land, using its two institutions: the Franciscan Centre of Christian Oriental Studies of Muski-Cairo (SOC) and St. Paul’s Memorial in Damascus, in collaboration with the Melkite Patriarchate of Damascus and the Department of Syriac Stduies of the University of Padua.

The Conference was honoured by the presence of His Eminence Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest Cardinal of the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura in Rome, and in charge of the celebrations for the jubilee year of Paul. He arrived in Damascus on 22nd April.

On 23rd April, at 5.00 p.m., Speakers and participants gathered in the Greek Catholic Patriarchal church of Damascus and His Beatitude Gregorios III Laham briefly greeted all, illustrating the meaning of a conference on St. Paul, whose figure is alive in the city of Damascus. His Eminence Cardinal Montezemolo thanked him for the invitation, expressing his great joy for the hospitality in the city of St. Paul. His Excellence Mons. Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nonce, who had been in Damascus for less than a month, also greeted all those present. After singing and a brief prayer, we went in a procession to the conference room, accompanied by the scouts with songs and music. The beautifully decorated room gave an air of celebration and jubilation to the event. Here, the welcome address was given by Fr. Firas and Fr. Francesco, who presented the programme.

On the first day, Thursday 23rd April, Fr. Vincenzo Mistrih OFM, of the SOC of Muski-Cairo, acted as Moderator. The Delegate of the Custos, Fr. Filippo Mistrih, read the message from Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land. Greetings from the Minister for Culture,, H.E. Dr. Ryad Na’asan Agha were then read. H.E. the Mufti of the Republic had his message of greeting read by Sheikh Ala ed-Din Za’atari, in which he underlined that Christians and Muslims are the children of a single God, and that we are close in many aspects of doctrine and life. This closeness must be reflected in our acts, together and towards one another. The proceedings and lectures were presented by Ignazio De Francesco, and included Paul in Damascus by Fr. Marcello Buscemi, OFM; Reaction to Paulinism from the 2nd century east of the Jordan, by Fr. Fréderic Manns, OFM; Towards and beyond Damascus: the roads travelled by St. Paul by Fr. Romualdo Fernández. A question and answer session followed the contributions.

Friday 24th, with Moderators Prof. Shafiq AbuZayd and Prof. George Khawam, the following made their contributions: Dr. Monica Casadei, on Paul in Syriac literature between the 2nd and 4th centuries; Prof. Emidio Vergani, on Paul in the exegesis of St. Ephrem- Syrus; Prof. Susanna Elm, on Paul as conceived by Gregory of Nazianzus - are there Syriac influences?; Prof.. Paul Feghali talked on Reading and understanding Paul today; H.E. Mons. Louis Sako spoke about Paul in the oriental Syriac liturgical hymnography. In the afternoon, the lesson on Paul in the Syriac Monastic Tradition before Chalcedon 452 AD was given by Prof. Shafiq AbuZayd; Paul in the Arabic-Christian literature of the Copts by Fr. Awad Wadi, OFM; H.E. Mons. Silvanus Boutros Na‘me, Syro-Orthodox Archbishop of Homs spoke about Paul in the preaching of the Syro-Orthodox Church; Paul perfumed language: the Master of peoples in the Ethiopian tradition was presented by Prof. Tedros Abraha; The Pauline influence on the Byzantine liturgy, the lesson by H.E. Mons. Boulos Yazji closed the cycle of lectures of the Friday. It was followed at 9.00 p.m., in St. Paul’s Memorial, by the screening of the film Damascus speaks to us, shot in Damascus by Muslim and Christian Syrian artists and which illustrates the life of Saul in Jerusalem, the journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, the call, the baptism and his Christian experience in Damascus.

Saturday 25th was equally rich, with Prof. Susanna Elm and Prof. Pirone acting as Moderators. The day started with Paul in the Coptic liturgy, by Fr. Basilios Mamduh, OFM; then Prof. Bartolomeo Pirone illustrated Paul in the works of al-Mu’taman Ibn al-’Assal; Paul in apocryphal Christian literature, was the lecture given by Prof. Giovanni Rizzi; Prof. George Khawam spoke about Paul, mystic and missionary. In the afternoon, there were the contributions by: Fr. Vincenzo Mistrih, OFM, Le Grand Commentaire armenien des Lettres de St. Paul par le Mekhitariste Gabriel Avedikian, Venise 1806; Hospitality in Paul’s epistles and in the legislation of Rabbula, by Dr. Claudia Tavolieri. Fr. Ignazio De Francesco, of the Piccola Famiglia dell’Annunziata and Fr. Firas Lutfi, OFM, then presented Conclusions and future prospects. The Conference was approaching its conclusion and the Greek Melkite Patriarch H.B. Gregorios III illustrated Paul and the dialogue between cultures in the Middle East, whilst Rediscovering Paul: an assessment of the Pauline celebrations around the world was the conclusion offered by Card. Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.
An exhibition of paintings on St. Paul was the backdrop to the cocktail in the courtyard of the Patriarchate, which was followed by the recital Love never fails (1Cor13,8), performed by youngsters from the Latin parish of Bab Touma.

On Sunday 26th April, the Holy Mass celebrated at the Melkite Patriarchate, as desired by the Apostolic Nunciature and presided by H. Em. Cardinal Montezemolo, recalled in particular the anniversary of the election of the Holy Father, and prayed for his forthcoming Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The participation of the Speakers and audience of the Conference organized by the Custody made it almost a continuation and its ideal conclusion.

The Symposium was attended by men and women of religion from Aleppo, Lebanon and Egypt, priests, catechists and lay people of all rites, with an average of about one hundred and fifty participants at each lecture. Particular thanks go to Prof. Bartolomeo Pirone and to Fr. Ignazio De Francesco and Fr. Firas Lutfi for their competent and full collaboration.

It was also decided that the Board of the SOC of Cairo will publish all the lectures in two volumes, the first in European languages, using English or French for those given in Arabic whilst the second will be completely in Arabic, printing it in Lebanon to make distribution easier. It is hoped to complete the work in the summer of 2009.

All the speakers and participants praised the organization of the conference, its success and its highly scientific character. Many expressed the desire to organize similar events in Damascus every two years.

Fr. Romualdo Fernandez