The following article appeared on the front page of the Mississippi-based Clarion Ledger’s Religion section on Saturday, November 15, 2008.
Status of Christians in the Holy Land to be Explored
As the nation prepares itself for change, many Christians are beginning to question their relationship with the place where their faith began: the Holy Land. One group, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), which will be giving a public presentation at Fondren Presbyterian Church this month, has made this question its mission.
According to HCEF co-founder and president, Rateb Rabie, the timing couldn’t be better for Christians to get involved. “We saw some positive moves toward peacemaking with the Bush Administration, and Obama has vowed to continue along this path,” said Rabie. “But as Christians, we play a special role in bridging different faiths, and bringing the message of reconciliation that Jesus taught us.”
HCEF was established in 1998 by a multi-denominational group of Christians to raise awareness about the plight of the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land. The group currently has offices in Bethlehem (Holy Land) and in the Washington, DC area and administers humanitarian, educational and economic empowerment programs in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The organization’s mission is to “sustain the presence of Arab Christians in the Holy Land, to contribute to their well-being, and to develop solidarity between them and their fellow Christians elsewhere in the world.”
“As a Palestinian-American Christian who was born in Jordan, I’ve always been aware of the injustices inflicted on my people, particularly my fellow Christians,” said Rabie. “In 1998, I attended an event at the National Presbyterian Church where over 100 people were celebrating their church partnership with Birzeit’s Catholic Church. In their service, I recognized names – my cousins, the same ones who are regularly prevented from worshipping at their holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”
Uniting churches to a common cause is tricky. Catholics, for instance, have a very different take on leadership structures than do Evangelicals. “You would actually be surprised that we are able to work together in many ways,” said Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “Part of it lies in having specific things to do — something to focus on. HCEF helps provide such a focus.”
On Saturday, November 22, Rabie will speak at Fondren Presbyterian Church on 320, Old Canton Rd., in Jackson. The talk, titled, “The Living Stones: Palestinian Christians, Witnesses of Christ in the Holy Land,” will be from 2:00 to 4:00 PM with a question and answer session.