Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land
Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference
“Liberation… Liberation from… And Liberation for the sake of...”
14-16 December 2012
Manger Square Hotel - Bethlehem
Al-Liqa’ Center held the 20th session of the conference in the Manger Square Hotel, next to the Nativity Church, in Bethlehem on Friday the 14th to the 16th of December 2012. The conference was attended by a good number of educators, religious leaders and friends of Al-Liqa Center from Bethlehem Governorate, Jerusalem, Hebron and Galilee. There was a very active Islamic presence in the conference.
Dr. Geries S. Khoury, Director of Al-Liqa, welcomed conferees in the opening session of the conference on the 14th of December. Fr. Ya’qoub Abu Sa’da of the local Melkite Catholic Church also gave a prayer followed by the first lecture by Fr. Dr. Jamal Khader which was moderated by Ms. Haneen Abu Sa’da.
Fr. Jamal focused in his lecture on “Jesus Liberate us” from sin which negatively affects our relation with God and with the relations of our fellow human. Oppression is a sin because it enslaves people and it discriminates against them. The lecturer added that priority for Jesus’ Liberation is to liberate all humans. Jesus liberates us from the feelings of being a minority and Jesus calls on us to participate in building His realm and God’s Heaven.
In the second session of the conference in the morning of December 15th, the Melkite Catholic Bishop Butrus Mu’allim gave prayers and meditations which followed by a lecture by Dr. Geries S Khoury .This was moderated by Attorney Badera Khouryeh. Dr. Khoury focused on “Revolving around the self: causes… results and manifestations”. Revolving around the self, according to the lecturer, means that a person only lives for himself / herself, all his / her energy is devoted to oneself. This only leads to selfishness, fanaticism and fundamentalism. Christianity opposes revolving around the self since it is based on fear, loss of confidence and illusions. Jesus was able to overcome the self through love and modesty. He asked that instead of revolving around the self one must participate in society. This is a Christian demand. For Christ didn’t come for himself but for the others. Christian faith must be strengthened and as well as the fortitude of saying what is right.
Following a coffee break Bishop Butrus Mu’allim gave a lecture which was moderated by Dr. Peter Qumri. Bishop Butrus focused in his lecture on “The Christian and authority: rights and duties”. He stressed that God is the ultimate sovereign and all authorities derive their authority from Him since all of us have been created in His image. Authority must work for the good of Humans. If the authority does not go in this direction, then we are committed to resist it. Church has stood more against capitalism than it did against communism. Church has the right to discuss politics and to present its own point of view. Bishop Butrus expressed his fears of the so called Arab Spring and its consequences and he called for Christian Muslim unity and for full citizenship for all.
In the afternoon, H. B. Patriarch Michael Sabbah lectured on “Our presence in and for the sake of our societies”, a lecture which was moderated by Ziad Shleweit of Al-Liqa’ Centers branch in Galilee.
Patriarch Sabbah spoke of the concept of freedom and its positive and negative meanings. The negative aspects are manifested in revolving around the self. The positive aspects are manifested in will and reason that go back to the first existence. There is a need, he added, for a society that is warless and for the individual to liberate oneself in order to be fully present in one’s society and its development. The role of Christian in his / her society is to sacrifice oneself, if necessary, instead of escaping from his duties. Our Christian presence is not for ourselves. The church of Christ was founded not for oneself but for the other. A Christian struggles for one’s freedom and for one’s society.
Following a long break in order to give conferees ample of time to attend celebrations in Manger Square in order to lit the Christmas Tree, Fr. Dr. Rafiq Khoury lectured on “Liberating the Christian Arab from illusions and complexities”. The lecture was moderated by a friend of Al-Liqa’, Mr. Saliba Taweel. Fr. Rafiq stressed the need to liberate oneself from the thousands of years of negative manifestations such as the minority complex, and the resort to the foreigner for salvation which are mere illusions. The complexities include how to deal with “The other” which is getting worst. It includes as well as the mentality of the protected people (Ahl Al-Thimmah) which left Christians to revolve more and more around the self. A Christian became to depend on the church to solve one’s problems. We need to liberate ourselves from all these complexities. Who can liberate us. It is Jesus Christ as Saint Paul told us, in order to rejuvenate our faith.
In the third session of the Conference, Sunday the 16th, and following the Morning Prayer and meditation by ‘Amer Baba, Dr. Bernard Sabella lectured on “A future vision of the nation and the East with its citizens”. The lecture was moderated by Dr. Adnan Musallam of Al-Liqa. Dr. Sabella stressed that the secular regime in the Arab world oppressed all leftist opposition and left a vacuum that was eventually filled by political Islamists. Unemployment is one of the highest in the world. We need a regime that will provide citizens with tranquility and safety for all citizens.
Religion is not the problem but how to interpret it is the real problem. The future struggle in the Arab world is not the struggle of Christians only but the struggle of all Arabs.
Following a short break, the conference was concluded with a panel titled “Who are we in our societies? And what is the meaning of our presence in it?” which was moderated by Ms. Sawsan Bitar of the Sabeel Center. Panelists included Fr. Dr. Faisal Hejazeen, Rev. Saliba Rishmawi, Attorney Ibtisam Mu’allim, and Dr. Charlie Abu Sa’da.
Father Faisal stressed that the Christian Arab remains with a mentality of “a baptized Bedouin” and this is the greatest challenge in addition that the Christian lives with a majority who profess Islam and in which tribal mentality still prevails. He / she are confronted with other factors including foreign interference and internal extremism. Christian presence is a challenge and not a privilege.
Rev. Rishmawi stressed that the problem lies in the Christians themselves. He pointed out the challenges that face Christians including their numerical minority, emigration and marginalized status. The solution is to belong to one’s society culturally, societal and spiritual.
Attorney Ibtisam Mu’allem stressed the reality of being a Christian in Israeli society following the 1948 Nakbeh. Christian and Christianity are totally absent in the Israeli curricula. In addition, religious education in private schools is also receding. The role of Christian will grew only if the Christian becomes knowledgeable of Christ and Christianity.
Dr. Charlie Abu Sa’da stressed that Palestinian Christians are numerically small, isolated and revolve around the self. He called for our churches to be more present in our society and asked them to support the youth and to instill in them the spirit of Christian – Muslim identity and common roots. We need to liberate ourselves first in order of our Mosques and Churches to be liberated.
The conference was concluded when Dr. Geries S. Khoury thanked all conferees for their lectures and lively discussion which enriched the proceedings of the conference. He thanked fellow Muslims who attended and participated actively in the conference. The final communique of the conference included the following:
1. To reiterate the need to be opened to the others. A Christian is asked to liberate oneself and not to revolve around the self through the strengthening of faith by dialogue and cooperation and by overcoming fear and the respect of the other including human rights and women’s rights.
2. The dire need of Christian Arab to participate in building his / her society through liberating oneself.
3. To find out obstacles and complexities that face the Christian Arab in our society and which include the minority complex, the resort to the foreigner, the complex of Ahl Al-Thimmah, inferiority complex, the complex of the other and the dependency complex. The need to overcome these obstacles through faith and the return to national sources as well as to excellence and to full participation in public life.
4. The Conferees stressed the need to deepen the foundation of civil society and citizenship as well as national belonging and not to return to religious affiliation only.
5. The conferees demand was to encourage researches, especially on the role of Arab Christians and their relations with fellow Muslims.
6. The need for openness and cooperation between Christians and Muslims in all educational and societal areas and to work toward shared living in order to get rid of doubts and lack of confidence and to stress always national aspect and the preservation of human dignity.
7. The need for Al-Liqa’ Center to be in touch with other institutions in the Arab world in order to develop an Arab KAIROS.
8. The need for Al-Liqa’ Center to get in touch with others in the Arab world and the greater world in order to explain the Palestinian Arab stand which stresses national demands which unite but does not divide. Christian – Muslim relations in the Holy Land is exemplary.
9. The need to acquaint Palestinian youth with their complex identity and to identify and explain its components without marginalizing any aspects of it.
10. To stress for a thousand time the need to revise educational curricula in all our schools in order for our curricula to play a leading role in making our youngsters more familiar with their history, literature, religion as to deepen national unity and shared living. We ask our spiritual leaders in Christian schools in Palestine and Israel to demand from political leaders the need to revise the curricula in order to give more attention to the role of Christian Arabs and their participation with fellow Muslims in building the foundation of Arab civilization throughout history.
11. It is important to stress in the religious discourse and in our literature ethics and the respect of the others.
12. The need to stress humanities along with theological aspects and to tie it with the place in which we live. We need common work and shared living between Muslims and Christians.
Bethlehem, 16 December 2012