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Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land

Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference

(Palestinian Contextualized Theology Conference)
19th Session

An Arab Christian Vision for a Different Arab and Palestinian Future

15-17 December 2011

Bethlehem Hotel, Bethlehem

Photo album
Conference program

Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage studies in the Holy Land held its 19th session of the Palestinian Contextual Theology Conference in the Holy Land. Religious, Political, academic and tens of other leading members of the community attended this three day conference.

The opening ceremonies of the conference which took place Thursday the 15th was moderated by Dr. Geries S. Khoury and included welcoming remarks by H. B. Patriarch Michael Sabbah, President of the Board of Trustees of Al-Liqa’, Melkite catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour, and Melkite Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna.  Patriarch    Sabbah emphasized the new Arab future in which all citizens will have full dignity and full religious freedom for both  the majority and the minorities of the people. Archbishop Chacour pointed out the worries of the Arab Christians and the dire need for dialogue and strengthening of relations between Muslims and Christians; while Archbishop Atallah Hanna’s remarks revolved around the need for necessary reforms in the Arab regimes but without Western interference.

Following a coffee break, a lecture focusing on the Church in the Middle East and political power including the historical experience as a minority was put forth by Rev. Dr. Mitri Rahib of the Lutheran Church in a lecture that was moderated by Mr. Saliba Tawil. Rev. Dr. Mitri surveyed the experiences of the church pointing out in the process that Palestine was never an independent entity but was always a crossroad for invaders and occupation. The strength of the church is in its eternal message freedom and salvation for prisoners and oppressed. Another lecture on a theological vision of the church and political authority was put forth by Rev. Dr. Na’im ‘Ateek of the Anglican Church which moderated by Fr. Dr. Ibrahim Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate. The lecturer quoted from the Bible concerning ruler and authority and especially from Roman 7, 1-13. He pointed out that this text was used by the United States to legitimize its invasion of Vietnam and Iraq. Each lecture was followed with intensive discussions and answers by conferees and lecturers.

In the second day of the conference, 16 December 2011, proceedings were preceded by prayers and meditations. The first lecturer Fr. Dr. Jamal Khader of the Latin Patriarchate focused on how Christian Arabs read and analyze what is happening in the Arab world today. According to Rev. Khader reading and analysis of the present situation is characterized by unease. But this reading is based on faith and long heritage of the local church which dismisses the discourse of a minority or partisanship. The lecture was moderated by Mr. Zoughbi Zoughbi, Director of Wi’am Center.

This lecture was followed by a presentation by Dr. Geries S. Khoury on “The state of the church in the Arab world today: Participant or sideliner”. The lecture was moderated by Mrs. Hanadi Soudah Younan. Dr. Geries criticized the churches for supporting the oppressing regimes including that of Mubarak of Egypt until its downfall. He criticized church support of the regime in Syria and called for dialogue with political Islam and the need to rewrite local theology in that effect.

Following a short coffee break, Fr. Dr. Rafiq Khoury focused in his lecture on Christian presence in the East today. According to Fr. Rafiq there are several kinds of presence: presence of faith in history, wise and careful presence, supporting, active and committed presence, free and creative presence, prophetic presence, among other presences. The lecture was moderated by Attorney Badira Khouryeh. Each lecture was followed with intensive discussions by conferees and lecturers.

In the afternoon session Mr. Ziad Shlewit focused in his lecture on the vision of Christians in Galilee about Christian future in the Arab world in light of the ongoing uprisings. His lecture was based on questionnaire distributed to 100 persons who expressed their concerns at present and future Christian presence in Galilee. Dr. Joseph Zaknoun moderated the lecture and focused on a questionnaire he distributed to Bethlehem University students.

Mr. Shlewit’s lecture was followed with a lecture by H. B. Patriarch Michael Sabbah which was moderated by Mr. Lawrence Sammour. Sabbah focused on the future of the Arab world and its churches. The present uprisings are in search of freedom and dignity. The greatest challenge facing the Arab world is poverty and all sides are requested to fight it. He concluded by pointing out that we are in conflict with ourselves, with the external, with globalization and big powers’ race to control our wealth and the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. The future of the church depends on the future of the Arab world whether stable or conflict ridden.

In the third day of the conference, 17 December 2011, the proceedings were introduced with prayers and meditations. The first panel revolved around testimonies from Church leaders in Arab countries: Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and Iraq. The panel was moderated by Dr. Adnan Musallam. Bishop Mar Sawirus Malki Murad of the Assyrian Orthodox Church focused on Syria. He stressed the dire need for reforms in the regime and the laws. At first the uprising was peaceful but it was militarized soon after. Christians fear the downfall of the regime and remember well what happened to Christians in Iraq. Opposition need to sit with the government to find solutions to the problems. Fr. Joseph Saghbini from Lebanon stressed that Christians in Lebanon played a leading role in Arab renaissance in culture and language. He added that Lebanese stand by Palestinian resistance and work for reconciliation and peace. Fr. Abdel Masih Fahim of Egypt stressed that the uprising of the 25th of January was much needed but he took exception to the status of Copts in Egypt of the present which leaves much to be desired. On his part Dr. Charli Abu Sa’da from Palestine surveyed the status of the church in Palestine and its shortcomings pointing out that the church is weak and needs an Arab Spring to lift it up. Dr. Musallam introduced the absent Fr. Faris Mansur of the Assyrian Catholic Church and quoted few paragraphs from his lecture which focused on the present status of Christians in Iraq.

Following a short coffee break the young people’s panel took place which focused on Arab Christian Youth’s opinion in the ongoing Arab uprisings and their impact on the future of the church and shared living. The panel which was moderated by Ms. Sima Al-Ghawali included Ms. Roula Habib, Mr. Sharbel Dakwar, Ms. Rania Jacaman-Murra, Mr. Osama Zoughbi, and Ms. Haneen Abu Sa’da. All young people of the panel expressed themselves in a frank and objective manner. They expressed fear concerning their future but stressed the importance of their presence and active participation in public life including stead fasting on the land despite all challenges including emigration and emptying the church from its children.

The last panel and event of the conference which was moderated by Dr. Peter Qumri focused on “What do we expect from churches in the Arab world in view of present developments?” Panel members included Melkite Catholic Bishop Boutros Mu’allem, Anglican Rev. Hussam Na’oum (who spoke on behalf of Bishop Souheil Diwani), Greek Orthodox Bishop ‘Atallah Hanna, and Mr. Rif’at Qassis member of the Lutheran Church. Bishop Mu’allem pointed out that the local church has been rejuvenated in the last fifty years. The church needs to be active and take a leading role in dialogue with moderate Muslims. Bishop Atallah Hanna stressed the need for the church to express itself frankly and right fully. For our church is closely attached to its people and needs to be frank and not self serving. The present circumstances should be a new take off for our society. Rev. Husam Na’oum, on his part pointed out that the clergy needs to stand against occupation and oppression everywhere and especially in the Arab world. Mr. Rif’at Qassis pointed out that American Zionist danger threatens Christian presence more than Muslim presence. He saw three types of Christian presence. Marginalization as seen in Egypt, shared living as in Lebanon, and assimilation as in Iraq and Syria. He added that there is a need for the activation of the role of the Middle East Council of Churches and new Kairos for the whole Middle East.

In concluding the 3-day conference, Dr. Geries S. Khoury emphasized the success of the conference and the frankness that was expressed freely.

He thanked all those who lectured and participated in the proceedings of the conference. He thanked members of Al-Liqa’s Board of Trustees for their full support of Al-Liqa’s programs. Dr. Khoury spoke of the intentions to hold a study days in Bethlehem and in Galilee which will revolve around subjects put forth in this conference.

This conference, according to Dr. Geries, was characterized by active Muslim presence in the conference as seen in the presence of Prof. Thiab Ayyoush, Deputy President of Al-Liqa’ Board of Trustees and Mr. Musa Darwish, Deputy Director of Al-Liqa’ Center from the Bethlehem area, and attorney ‘Ali Rafi’ and Mr. Fathi Fourani and their wives from Galilee. Also other friends of Al-Liqa’ were present who enriched the proceedings of the Conference.