Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference
(Palestinian Contextualized Theology Conference)
The Christian Arabs Youth in Galilee, Where To?
4-6 February 2010
St. Elias Monastery (Stella Maris) - Haifa
The Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference of Al-Liqa Center discusses the issues of the Christian Arab Youth and how to confront its challenges with a wide participation by laity and clergy. The worrying results of the survey prepared by Al-Liqa Center under the supervision of Dr. Geries S. Khoury, aroused the interest of the audience. More than 420 Christian young men and young women from Galilee participated in filling the questionnaire.
The Conference began its proceedings on Thursday 4 February 2010 with important speech which were begun by the speech of His beatitude Patriarch Michael Sabbah, President of Al-Liqa Center Board of Trustees. He welcomed the audience and said:" Many bet on our vanishing, and this emanates from the increase in emigration. This saying is justifiable and in due to the absence of sound educational curricula. So, generations grow up with sectarian fanaticism. This is due to events of violence here, in Lebanon in Iraq or in Egypt. Also this is due to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His Beatitude concluded by saying that the questions ported in the Conference shall study our future which we should build by ourselves.
On the second part of his speech, the Patriarch concentrated on the "Kairos Palestinian document: A moment of truth…A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering". He spoke about the document and read some paragraphs and explained the reasons behind it and its importance in our present time, for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
He was followed by his Eminence Bishop Elias Chacour who said:" We are in a crisis which has not yet been resolved since 60 years." He added:" Until now we have not found a way to mitigate the intensity of emigration or to stop it. This requires a miracle from heavens and a miracle from us that heaven responds". His Eminence added:" Searching for the identity and belongings is still in the space of searching and questioning whether on the political, or social or educational level". He was followed by Fr. Atallah Makhouli, the Greek Orthodox parish priest of Kufr-Yasif, who stressed the importance of the work and message of clergy and that it is a big responsibility. All have to cooperate in front of the serious challenges which we are facing and which our youth are facing in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society and in a special political situation.
In the opening session, Dr. Geries S. Khoury stressed that the Conference was not held from a racist and categorical starting point. Rather, one of the aims of the Conference is to strengthen national unity and stressed a life together. This has been the message of Al-Liqa Center since it was established in 1982. He added that the results of the poll conducted mainly by my self on the eve of the Conference were astonishing and worrying, and they require necessary solutions.
The opening session was followed by a reception and after it the first lecture was given by His Eminence Bishop Boulus Marcuzzo, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Israel. The lecture was on: " The ancient Christian Arab literature and the contribution of the Arab Christians in the Arab civilization". Among what he said is that there are prominent figures in the Arab culture and civilization whose origins are not Arabic, but they are Arab by belonging, language, and culture.
In the morning of the second day H.B. Patriarch Sabbah presided the morning liturgy. The second day of the Conference began with a biblical meditation and a prayer conducted by Mr. Amer el-Baba.
The first session of the second day was on the results of the survey which was prepared by Dr. Khoury who consulted also Dr. Bernard Sabella on it. The survey form was included 96 questions. It was filled out by more than 420 Arab Christian young men and women from 21 cities and villages in Galilee. The questions of the Questionnaire dealt with political, social, educational and religious topics. Dr. Khoury read the results of the survey and analyzed them. Among the most important results of the survey which aroused the interest of the audience and that more than 70% of the respondents said that they feel lost and there is no one who guides them in life; 69.9% suffer from the feeling of losing the identity, and 75.2% said that they do not feel any belonging to any religious or Church body. 59% said that non-governmental or private Christian schools teach nothing about the Christian Arabs and about the Christian Arab civilization before and after Islam. 68% said that they had not learned about the Christian Arabs in their schools; and 92% said they had not received any aid from the Church institutions during their university education.
On the level of the relations with the state and the other denominations, 65.5% of the respondents answered that their future is not guaranteed due to the racist nature of the Israeli state. 46.7% viewed that the Israeli State is an obstacle in their integration in it. 78.4% viewed that the daily relationship with the Jews is very weak.86% viewed that the relations with Muslims and Druze became bad in the last five years.70.7% viewed that they are not partners with the Druze for better or for worse, while 59% said that are partners with the Muslims for better or for worse. 61% believe that fanaticism results from the ignorance of each party of the other party.
On the level of the peace process, 90.7% of the Christian youth expressed their support for it. 92.4 expressed their belief that the region is threatened by disturbances and wars without a political solution.56.4% viewed that Jerusalem should be an international capital.
As for emigration, 71.6% said they do not think about emigrating from the country compared to 28.4% who think so.
69.9% expressed their opinion that the Israeli press sets the feelings and disagreement ablaze among the Christians, Muslims and Druze.
As for the definition of the components of the identity for the Christian young men and women, 45.5% said that they put the Christian component first, 29.9% said that they put the Arab component second, and 9.7% put the Palestinian component third.
Dr. Bernard Sabella did important comments on the results of the survey and analyzed some of them. He stressed the continuous work and especially with the other religious leaders and educators.
The second session was on" The role and contribution of the Arab Christians in the public life in the last century in the Galilee area".
The first presentation was given by Dr. Johny Mansour and he spoke about "The role of the Christian Arabs in politics and in economy in the last century". In his lecture, he emphasized that the largest portion of the Christians in the Galilee adhere to their Arabism and their nationality. They confronted the political, military and cultural invasion. They have a prominent role in this, and he gave details about in his lecture. He was followed by Mr. Elias Makhoul who gave a short presentation about the role of the Arab Christians in economy before the establishment of Israel, and the difficulties and challenges are facing today. Miss Ibtisam Mu'llem in her presentation talked about "The role of the Christian Arabs and the local Church in educational domain since the beginning of the Zionist settlement until today". While Dr. Hanna Abu Hanna, talked about the role of the Christian Arabs in literature and culture. He dealt with the literary activity especially by the pioneers of them and talked about Najeeb Nassar, Khalil Baydas, Najwa Q'awar and others. Mr. Zeiad Shlewit talked about the contribution of the Christian Arabs in journalism. He emphasized that the Christian Arab journalists played a pioneering role in fighting Zionist settlement, spreading national and patriotic awareness, and renouncing sectarianism in the different ages. However, their role has receded in the last three decades for different reasons which he discussed in his interposition. Miss Ilham Marshi in her presentation talked about "The role of the local Church and monastic orders in offering social and health services". She enumerated these orders and the services they gave and still giving.
On the level of the shared relations, Fr. Fawzy Khoury talked about the communication of the Christian Arabs with the West. He presented the experiences of mutual communication, and he mentioned that the appointment of the first Latin Arab Patriarch has opened new horizons before these relations and so did the visits of the Popes for the Holy Land.
Researcher Dr. Shukri 'Arraf gave a lecture about the relationship with the followers of the heavenly religions on the eve of the establishment of Israel and after its establishment. He discussed dispersion and forced emigration to which the Palestinian people were exposed in the year of the Nakba (Catastrophe), and the role of the Druze villages in hosting those who were forcely evacuated.
Researcher Naser Chacour revealed an attempt to forcely evacuate the Christians of the Galilee at the beginning of the Israeli era, through recounting the story of "Yuhanan" operation which aimed to forcely evacuate the inhabitants of the Jish Christian village to Argentina and buying their land. That operation was doomed to failure because the inhabitants backed down on selling their lands and this based on the memories of Mr. Wietss who had been the head of the Jewish National Fund "Keren Kayyemet" for a long period.
The last session of the Conference was a panel session which dealt with the challenges for the youth and the possibilities of working at these challenges. His Eminence Bishop Chacour participated in this session and he talked about his experience of the youth camps, then building the Mar Elias secondary school which was transformed into a college then into a university. He was followed by Dr. Hatem Khoury who dealt with the life cycle represented in educating the children and the challenges of its stages. He concluded that it is necessary to found institutions in order to guarantee the future of our youth. After this, Rev. Fu'ad Dagher talked and gave an example from the Gospel about lack of faith. He criticized the lagging of the church in many instances behind the technological development in addressing the youth groups in particular. He was followed by the retired judge Ra'eq Jarjourah. He discussed the conflict with the Israeli authority over our identity and our rights. Thus puts many challenges before all of us as Arabs and not before the Christian youth only. He demanded that attention be paid to the emigration of the Arab intellectuals. The last presentation was by advocate 'Isam Abu-Nassar who said that discussing the problems of young men is beneficial to them. He directed criticism at the school, and the institutions. He is demanding putting an integrated strategic plan for the youth issues.
The following participated in moderating the sessions: Mr. George Debbini, Miss Rola Habib, Miss Roseland D'eim ,Dr. Shadi Abu Khadra and attorney Badira Khouryyeh.
The following contributed in the contemplative readings and prayers: Fr. Dr. Louis Hazboun, Fr. Fran cis Maria ofm. , Mr. Amer el-Baba, and Miss Amal Khouryyeh; and at the end of the Conference Mr. Yousef Matar read the recommendations which were formulated by a committee from the participants.
1. Making the laity participate effectively in the parish councils and implementing their recommendations.
2. Making the youth participate in the Conferences, programs and activities of Al-Liqa Center and institutionalizing the topic.
3. Archives, written research and technologically programmed research for everything which pertains to the Christian Arab heritage.
4. Demanding of all those who are able to volunteer to offer all they can do in the different Churches and activating the activities of these Churches.
5. Demanding that the Christian religion and the Islamic religion be taught in our schools until the Bagrut (matriculation certificate) level and qualifying the teachers for this.
6. Establishing a university in which the Arab heritage including the Islamic Arab, the Christian Arab and religious tourism are major axes in it.
7. Al-Liqa Center in Galilee should hold permanent seminars which being by studying the survey form of the youth related to education, the relationship with the other, the schools and the universities, mass media, the press and the political solutions.
8. Following up on this Conference and the results of the field research in a Christian, Muslim, Druze and Jewish Conference in Galilee to present the results ,discussing them and thinking together in putting a work plan to strengthen unity, social relations and a life together.
9. Raising the awareness of the parents and deepening their responsibility in persevering work to raise their children and educating them in all scientific domains until high education, because our strength emanates from raising our educational level which is our survival.
10. Revising the educational curricula in the topic of history and heritage in particular to suit the Christian and Muslim inhabitants in this country, and giving some of the educational institutions famous Christian Aran names.
At the conclusion of the Conference, Dr. Geries S. Khoury thanked all those who participated and contributed in making the Conference succeed whether by attendance, or by giving lectures and interpositions. Dr. Khoury also thanked the participants for paying the Conference fees despite the difficult economical situation. It was a great contribution to the Conference. It is worthwhile to mention to mention that the Conference was held at Saint Elias Monastery on Mount Carmel ( Stella Maris) during these days from 4-6 February 2010.It was attended by a number of researchers, academicians and those who are interested among the inhabitants of the Galilee area and Haifa city, in addition to many clergy specially H.B. Patriarch Sabbah who accompanied the proceedings of the conference during its three days and the same Bishop Chacour, Bishop Marcuzzo, Bishop Butros Mu'llem, Fr. Elias Odeh, Fr. A. Makhouli, Fr. Salim Susan, Rev. F. Dagher and a large number of priests ,nuns and laity from all the churches.
Note: The proceedings of the Conference will be published in the Al-Liqa Journal and Magazine.