In honor of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, hundreds of people assembled to celebrate Christmas and hear the messages of peace delivered by Ecumenical Religious and Civic Leaders at the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation's (HCEF) Joint Simulcast Message of Peace between Washington, DC and Bethlehem, Palestine!
Leaders in Washington, DC from right to left: Rev. Dr. David Renwick, Senior Pastor, National Presbyterian Church, HE Bishop Francis Gonzalez, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Washington, HE Amb. Maen Areikat, Chief Representative, General Palestinian Liberation Organization Delegation to the US, Dr. Tony Bosnick, Director, Department for Charity & Justice, Archdiocese of Washington, Lady Rocio Rabie, LHS, HCEF Public Relations Manager, and Julian Oriolo, grandson of Sir Rateb and Lady Rocio Rabie.
Leaders in Bethlehem from right to left: Canon John Organ, Chaplain of Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation and Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, His Grace Archbishop Ayris, Acting Armenian Patriarchate, Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO, HE Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, HE Minister Ziad Bandak, Advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas for Christian Relations, and HE Minister Abdul Hamayel, Governor of Bethlehem, Dr. Samir Hazboun, Chairman, Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Mr. Samer Makhlouf, General Manager, One Voice Palestine.
The Simulcast began Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 10:00 am in Washington, DC Area at St. Camillus Catholic Church, Silver Spring, MD and at 5:00 pm at the Armenian Side of The Nativity Church, Bethlehem, just feet away from where Jesus was born. Master of Ceremonies for Washington DC, Dr. Hugh Dempsey, KM Ob, KHS(Washington, DC) and Master of Ceremonies for Bethlehem, Palestine, Eng. Anthony Habash, HCEF Regional Director warmly welcomes guests and effectively connected the exchanges and messages of peace between Bethlehem and Washington. Scripture readings about the birth of Christ were readby Rev. Dr. David Renwick, Senior Pastor National Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC and Rev. Father Yacoub Abu Sada, Greek Melkite Parish Priest, Bethlehem whoread his scripture from the Gospel in Arabic.
HE Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem encouraged us to remember that peace in the region comes through God and not merely through politicians. 'Peace in Bethlehem is reconciliation with God first and with one another afterwards. We all need healing, and reconciliation is the first Message of Bethlehem," he said. Defining reconciliation with these words: to reunite by removing causes of hostility between parties and requires a change in mind, physiological, psychological and spiritual change, Bishop Shomali urged those in America and elsewhere to come and visit the Holy Land. "Take a Pilgrimage, meet and break bread with Palestinians. We all need one another- the Holy Land needs you and you need the Holy Land," he exhorted.
Most Reverend Francis Gonzalez, SF, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Washington, spoke about violence poverty and fear- the reality known by the Holy family is still known by the Holy Land Christians today. He encouraged all to more deeply commit ourselves to our faith and on behalf of the Archdiocese of Washington, pledged the continued prayers, solidarity and support of the Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land.
The Armenian presence has been in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and surrounding areas for more than 1500 years. His Grace Archbishop Ayris, Acting Armenian Patriarchate and host of the Simulcast in the Armenian Side of the Church of the Nativity, shared the importance of this message of peace as it connects Bethlehem with the rest of the world in its prayers for peace in the land of peace and its hope of being free from occupation.
"This message of peace, hope and love is continued and shared by all people in the US, Palestine and the whole world," said HE Minister Ziad Bandak,Advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas for Christian Relations as heshared the collective joy of Palestinians to receive the newly recognized the state of Palestine and extended his gratefulness for the support of peace and justice.
HE Ambassador Maen Areikat,Chief Representative, Delegation to the Palestinian Liberation Organization spoke about the importance of this occasion to continue to promote and spread the message of peace of Jesus Christ from the Holy Land to every country around the world. "A message of peace can be sent in many different languages but unfortunately the message of war, occupation and violence can be spoken in only one language," said Ambassador Areikat as he continued to exhort the listeners. He further pointed out that it is amazing that an American Jew, an American Christian and an American Muslim can just get on a plane and go visit the Holy Sites while Muslim and Christians who live a few miles away from Jerusalem and other Holy sites cannot enter and visit. "We talk about freedom of religion, freedom of access, but there is no such thing under the Israeli occupation. Let us continue to work for peace in the land of Peace." he said.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation and Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land began his message of peace by reminding us that Jesus himself was not born during a time of peace, but came to bring peace. "This is a sign of hope from Bethlehem that peace is possible." He exhorted us that through forgiveness and reconciliation we can all be peace makers, not peace talkers. "We have been carrying this message of peace for 2000 years and we will continue to carry this message for another 2000 years."
In Arabic, HE Minister Abdul Hamayel, Governor of Bethlehem, shared his message of Peace andencouraged the American people to support the peace with justice in the Holy land.
Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO who is in Bethlehem for this special occasion, pointed out the significance of having the support of the Episcopalian/Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Presbyterian and Catholic heads of churches and representatives together in unity and in support of peace.
With the beautiful voices of the St. Camillus Church Multicultural Choir, the St. Francis International Children's Choir both of Washington, DC area and The Christmas Choir, of Bethlehem, our hearts were blessed with songs of the season sung in Arabic, Spanish and English.
The hope for peace, experience, and wisdom of these esteemed religious and civic leaders is not only encouraging and thought provoking, but critical in this quest for peace. Please visit us online at www.hcef.org or click Simulcast video to hear the entire Simulcast Joint Message of Peace Program. It is quite inspiring!
As the Simulcast program concluded with a Prayer for World Peace, led by Canon John Organ, Chaplain of Angligan Bishop Suhail Dawani, and the Christmas song 'Silent Night', we are reminded of how much the Christian Palestinians, and Palestinians at large are enduring on a daily basis. As this Message of Peace is spread far and wide, we pray it touches and changes the hearts of people, today and always.
HCEF especially thanks Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, Associate Pastor, St. Camillus Church for all of his help and continuous support, and all of our Simulcast Message of Peace Partners: The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Pontifical Mission for Palestine, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, German Association of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and One Voice for their support.
The Christmas Message of Peace is part of the HCEF's Bethlehem Heart of Christmas Program which embodies a commitment to cooperation between the religious, civic, non-profit sectors, and the community in building solidarity with the Palestinian Christians and establishes an important precedent of such partnerships to the local, national and international communities. Additionally, it provides opportunity for Palestinians to promote and take pride in their own traditions and unique heritage and history.
To learn more about the Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas Program, contact Anthony Habash, HCEF Regional Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or to learn more about HCEF and its programs visit us online at www.hcef.org.