Welsh Muslims dined with a party of Christian leaders from Syria. Chants from the Qur’an mingled with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, echoing around the Victorian civic splendour of Cardiff City Hall. Grace was said in both Arabic and Welsh.
The dinner on Wednesday of last week was one of the highlights of a week’s visit to Wales for a seven-strong delegation from Syria, which included senior clerics from the Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Evangelical, and Greek Catholic Churches.
Hosted by the Muslim Council of Wales, it was also attended by senior politicians — Rhodri Morgan, the interim First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, and Lord Elis-Thomas, who had been re-elected as Presiding Officer of the Assembly that afternoon.
The Syrian leaders were in Wales as part of an inter-Church initiative to forge links between the two countries. The event was organised by Churches Together in Wales (Cytûn), whose representatives made a similar tour of Syria and Lebanon last year. This was hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches.
Robin Morrison, Church and Society officer at the Church in Wales, hoped that the return visit would further cement relationships between Wales and Syria. “Visits like this will help us in the West to understand more about countries like Syria, and their distinctive situation in the wider Middle East area.”
The Revd Haroution Salimian from the Armenian Evangelical Church said: “We have been impressed to see how the Churches in Wales play an effective role in forming and informing society and the government — how it works with the state to better people’s lives. This is something we lack in Syria.
“In return, we feel Wales has much to learn from Christians in Syria about living with Muslims. We have lived peacefully in a Muslim country for 1500 years, and so have lots of experience to offer.”