Damascus, Jul. 14 ( - The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue met last week in Syria, drawing participants from northern Africa and the Middle East as well as Europe and North America.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the president of the Pontifical Council, chaired the meeting, which was hosted by the Melkite Catholic patriarchate at Saydnayia, Syria. Among the participants were two Eastern Catholic patriarchs: the Melkite patriarch Gregory II Lahham and the Syrian-Catholic Patriarch Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Igance Zakka I Iwas also participated, as did the retired Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Jean Pierre XVIII Kasparian.

After a series of discussions on economic development and human rights, the participants issued a statement complimenting the Holy See for its efforts to promote world peace, and especially for "the condemnation of the war against Iraq and the request for a just and global peace for the Middle East, especially in Palestine." The group said that inter-religious dialogue is especially important today, "after the events of September 11, 2001, the war in Iraq, and the deterioration of the situation in Palestine."

The Christian leaders who attended the meeting used the opportunity to meet with Syrian political officials and with the country's Islamic leaders.