First National Conference and banquet honoring Archbishop Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, held on Saturday, October 2, 1999. Conference titled Endangered People: Christians in the Holy Land –Can they survive the Millennium?
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation First National Conference and banquet honoring Archbishop Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, held on Saturday, October 2, 1999.
A campaign enlisting American Christian Churches to support Holy Land Christians and their right to exist with dignity in the land of Christ was launched with a conference sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation on Saturday, Oct. 2. The conference, “Endangered People: Christians in the Holy Land. Can They Survive the Millennium?” was held at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD.
The conference was a celebration of a common cause and interest of American Christians of all faiths–to aid Holy Land Christians. Panelists and speakers represented several faiths including Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah; Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan Right Rev. Munib A. Younan; and Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Marwan Muasher, each urged American Christians to support the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.
“The goal of the conference was to put out a call to all American Christian Churches,” said Rateb Y. Rabie, HCEF President, “to join the Holy Land Christian Support Network, which was created by HCEF to coordinate a Nationwide effort on behalf of the Christians of all faiths in the Holy Land.”
HB Michel Sabbah, under whose auspices the conference was called, gave the keynote address at the banquet held the same evening at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. Citing the strong commitment among Christians in the Holy Land to build a new society based on peace, he called upon American Christians to demonstrate their support through action.
The first annual “solidarity” award was presented at the banquet to Rev. Lynne Faris, the head of missions of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, for its support of projects in the Holy Land. One of its major programs is a partnership with the Catholic parish in Birzeit village, whose pastor, Father Emil Salayta, is one of HCEF’s founders.
The morning session of the conference featured Bishop Younan’s presentation of a comprehensive history of Christians in the Holy Land. Four witnesses then related the circumstances under the Israeli military occupation, which have caused an exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, such as closures of the occupied territories that prevent the free movement of individuals and commerce, the bulldozing of homes, and frequent and extended curfews.
The afternoon session consisted of five workshops:
In the Jerusalem for All workshop, Jerusalem and the “final status” talks were addressed. A shared Jerusalem, with two nationalities each with self-determination, was viewed as a necessity to break the cycle of violence and conflict.
The Economic Development and Job Creation workshops confirmed that Palestine’s deplorable economic situation is due largely to the Israeli closures, which cost the Palestinian economy billions since 1993. Efforts were discussed regarding the creation of jobs in such markets as information technology and through the use of micro-lending projects.
In the Education workshop, the funding of scholarships in the elementary through college years, with special emphasis on industrial arts and technology training for job preparation, was cited as necessary to stabilize the society.
Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land for Pentecost 2000 were the topic of another workshop that described them as a means to meet the “Living Stones.” Through the HCEF Support Network, the pilgrims can convert their experiences and concern into action upon their return to America.
The Partnership workshop illustrated how First Presbyterian Church in Houston has formed partnerships with Holy Land churches, including one that grew to a 17-person team that supported a youth summer camp in Jordan. The same group has organized a family-to-family penpal program with 28 Christian families.
At the final session, a declaration was adopted stating that all Christian Churches are urgently requested to address the plight of Holy Land Christians and to respond with genuine American enthusiasm and resources.
“As efforts such as this conference reveal the current circumstances of Holy Land Christians, American Christian support of these Christians is a major national concern of the upcoming Holy Year and provide a calling to all Christian faiths for action,” HCEF President Rabie said.