Brussels, 10 January 2019
On 10 January 2019, MEP Lukas Mandl hosted a working breakfast of interreligious and cultural dialogue, at the European Parliament, promoting the necessity of establishing a “European Syriac Centre” in Salzburg, Austria. The event was under the auspices of MEPs György Hölvényi and Jan Olbrycht, co-chairmen of the Working Group on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue of EPP (European People’s Party).
Invited speakers included Prof. Dr. Erhard Busek (ret. Austrian Vice Chancellor), Prof. Dr. Aho Shemunkasho (Prof. for Syriac Theology at University of Salzburg) and Prof. Dr. Peter A. Bruck (Chairman of the Syriac Institute, Salzburg). The distinguished Professors briefly outlined the history of Syro-Aramaic culture (counting 3,000 years of written tradition) and its position in the Mid-East context, and explained the enormous importance of the Syriac language (lingua franca of early Christian times, along with koiné Greek), especially concerning religious studies, Christian history, comparative linguistics, translation of manuscripts, etc. They also focused on the “mediating role” between various peoples and religions that was played by this distinct Christian tradition throughout the Eurasian continent.
Participants then went on to elaborate on the grave challenges that the Syro-Aramaic culture is facing, both in its war-torn homeland and in European lands, where the Syro-Aramaic diaspora has settled. They explained how the affinity of Syriac people with core traits of our European culture have enabled them to assimilate perfectly into their new homelands, but might otherwise endanger the survival of their archaic language and identity, highlighting thus the necessity of safeguarding this culture as an invaluable part of European cultural and religious heritage.
The event concluded with a proposed establishment of a “European Syriac Centre” in Austria (Salzburg), situated at the very heart of the European Union and of the Syriac diaspora. This Centre would have a pivotal role in promoting Syro-Aramaic cultural studies to 2nd and 3rd generation members of the Syriac diaspora, as well as to other Europeans, and also to scholars from around the world.
The Committee of the Representatives of the Orthodox Churches to the European Union (CROCEU) was represented by His Grace Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis. The Church of Cyprus was represented by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Fr. Nektarios Ioannou. The intervention of His Grace Porfyrios focused on the importance of rescuing this archaic Christian tradition. He underscored the fact that, in the long-run, this can only be achieved if a determined European Union safeguards the existence of remaining Syriac minorities in the Middle East, while actively promoting the secure return of Syriac refugees to their ancient homelands in modern-day Iraq, Syria and Turkey, by exerting due pressure to those states. He reasoned that the Middle East, being the cradle of Christianity, is of the utmost importance to Christians.