Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land
Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference
From an Identity of Faith to an Active Presence
24 - 26 February 2011
The 18th session of the conference was convened for three days, 24 February to 26 February 2011, at the St. Elias Monastery (Stella Mares) under the title “From an Identity of Faith to an Active Presence”. The conference included in its proceedings six lectures, a concluding panel and the inaugural ceremonies.
In the Inaugural opening of the conference, H. B. Patriarch Michael Sabbah focused on faith and society while Archbishop Elias Chacour spoke about divisions between the faithful and the clerics and called for shared living with fellow Muslims in language and culture. Bishop Dr. Atallah Hanna of the Orthodox Church followed with an emphasis on the nationalist role of Christian Arabs and their participation in building the nation. Dr. Geries Khoury on his part discussed the title of the conference and the challenges it poses. During the daily proceedings of the conference prayers and meditations by Mr. Kamil Chacour, Deacon Ya’qub Hazboun, Sister Suzanne Al-Rishan and Ms. Eliana Al-Sheikh, Mr Rouhana Rouhana and Ms. Salwa Obeid, preceded the lectures and panels.
The first lecture of the conference in the evening of Thursday the 24th was by Fr.Dr. Rafiq Khoury on “an evaluation of Christian presence in the East since the 19th century” in which he focused on the positive and negative aspects of this presence. For “our faith is our way to our societies and our societies are our ways to our faith.” Mr. Ziad Shlewit was the moderator.
On Friday the 26th H. B. Michael Sabbah lectured on “features and characteristics of the personality of a faithful in our country”. He stressed two elements, the need for the faithful to be real in his faith as well as active in his society. The lecture was moderated by Mr. Yousef Matar. He was followed by Fr. Dr. Fawzi Khoury who focused on “church profile in our country and challenges that it faces.” Fr. Fawzi pointed out the state of churches in the past indicating that Israel’s aim is to weaken the role of Christian Arabs and to strengthen the role of non-Arab Christians. He also focused on problems facing Christians like emigration, imitating Jewish society, the church’s loss of land, and disharmony between Muslims and Christian’s technology, and the downfall of the family structure. Mr. Ziad Shlewit moderated the lecture.
Dr. Geries S. Khoury, the Director of Al-Liqa’, followed with on emphasis on the qualitative presence of Christianity in our society and the challenges it faces. He called for fellow Muslims to remember that the Arab nation without Christian presence will become a nation of the past. He asked fellow Christians to become a mirror of Christ’s teachings. Dr. Imad Qassis moderated the lecture. Dr. Khoury was followed by Ms. Ibtisam Mu’allem and her lecture “we and the others” which was moderated by Rev. Fu’ad Dagher. She pointed out that in every religion or dogma there is definition of the other and ways to deal with this other.
Ms. Mu’allem’s lecture was followed in the next day, Saturday the 26th, by lecturer Fr. Dr. Elias Daw and “a reading in the proceedings of the Synod of Catholic bishops for Easter churches.” Fr. Daw was a participant in the Synod. He said that the Synod uncovered crisis of Eastern churches including the place of the Bible, the crisis of confidence between the people and clerics, the problem of emigration and alienation, and the problem of dialogue with Muslims and Jews.
In the final panel of the conference Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo of the Latin Church spoke on how to develop quality of faith in our country. He stressed that there is a need for living one's faith with others in an open minded way.
Bishop Boulos Sayyah of the Maronite church stressed on how to develop the prevailing church profile. Renewal need to be done on individual and group levels as well as between churches.
Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Catholic church in Galilee followed with comments and questions on whether Christian presence is at a dead end road. He pointed out that we need to send our message to others. There is no need of fear in present upheavals in the Arab countries. For when the people rule with full equality, all will be treated equally. Dr. Geries S. Khoury on his part focused on new horizons in our relations with others. He called for a community of all local churches to face Jewish claims legally. He also asked for Sunday and Friday sermons to focus positively on the other and for the dire need for heads of churches to establish an official web site to further interfaith dialogue and shared living. The panel was moderated by Dr. Hatem Khoury.
There was a distinguished Muslim presence in the proceedings of the conference through the active presence of a friend of Al-Liqa’, Attorney ‘Ali Rafe’ of Galilee, who played an active role. Conferees recommended a more active Muslim presence in future conferences.
Furthermore, there was a more active local and international mass media presence in the conference as seen in Italian television’s activities in the conference.
In concluding the conference, Dr. Khoury thanked the Galilee branch of Al-Liqa’ for preparing the 18th session of the conference, lecturers, panel members and moderators as well as attendees and those in charge of Mar Elias Monastery. He then read the final communiqué of the conference as follows:
1. There is a dire need to establish an official web site of all churches with the aim of familiarizing others with Bible, the role of Christian Arabs in history and Arab civilization and for furthering interfaith dialogue and knowing the other.
2. There is a dire need to focus in private Christian schools on religious education, the historical role of Christian Arabs and identity of local churches.
3. There is a dire need to serious work for a qualitative Christian presence which will guarantee our continuous existence and presence.
4. There is a dire need to a serious pastoral work especially with young people.
5. There is a dire need to pay more attention to the correct reading of the Bible in order to understand better our Christian faith.
6. There is a dire need to interfaith dialogue with all monotheistic religions, in order to foster the basis of our common life on mutual trust and respect.