On December 22, 2013, under the auspices of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), and in the presence of the Bishop Atallah Hanna, the Christian community celebrated the Christmas Tree lighting in Taybeh.
Taybeh is an ancient village, known two thousands years ago as “Ephraim.” It is where Jesus retreated when the Pharisees had threatened to kill him after he had raised Lazarus from the dead: “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples”(John 11:54). Taybeh remains significant, not only because of its history, but also as the only entirely Christian village in Palestine.
Sir Rateb Rabie, HCEF President/CEO, felt that these circumstances make the Tree Lighting all the more crucial, saying “With so many of their brothers and sisters having left Palestine to seek brighter futures, the remaining Christians in Palestine sometimes feel like the forgotten faithful, but Christmas is an invitation for Christians everywhere to remember those in Palestine, to comfort and encourage them in faith.”
In celebration of the Christmas Tree lighting, several important Christian and community figures gathered in Taybeh including: Greek Orthodox Bishop of Sebastia, Atallah Hanna, a member of the Honorary Board of HCEF; Father Aziz Halaweh, Pastor of the Latin Church in Jifna, Father Daoud Khoury, Pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jifna, Father Jack Abed, Melkite Parish Priest, Eng. Anthony Habash, Regional Director of HCEF; Jiries Assi, Chairman of the Local Youth Council, Najib Khoury, President of the United Taybeh American Association; Norma Jasser, Chair of the Women’s Charitable Association in Taybeh; Jawad Hanna and Yacob Marouf, Municipal Council Members; and representatives of the local Scout Troop along with children from all around the village. .
Youth Council President, Jiries Assi, opened the ceremony by highlighting the symbolic significance of the Christmas Tree lighting for the people of Taybeh as an expression of their hope for peace and a better future for all of Palestine. Assi took the time to thank everyone who made the event possible and touched on the crucial role HCEF played in bringing it about.
In garnering support to decorate Taybeh’s Christmas Tree, HCEF successfully connected the people of Taybeh with their Palestinian brothers and sisters living as part of the diaspora in Guatemala. These Palestinians, who still consider Taybeh their home, sent their support and prayers across the ocean, helping to make Sunday’s event possible.
Bishop Atallah Hanna offered a prayer and a blessing to the people of Taybeh, and reminded them of their special connection to Jesus Christ. He called on God to give them, and everyone who is struggling this Christmas season, the strength to overcome their trials and find peace through faith. He emphasized the duty Christians have to be actively involved in their communities, and to remember, in their prayers, those who are suffering, such as the people of Syria who are caught in a bloody civil war.
Bishop Hanna also reflected on the joys of the season. He was proud of the unified Christian movement in Palestine, represented at the event by the presence of Orthodox, Melkite, and Roman Catholic leaders. He mentioned that this solidarity was indicative of a larger movement toward a unified church, which would be reflected through the historical meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in Jerusalem next year.
HCEF’s Regional Director, Eng. Anthony Habash, expressed his joy to be sharing the Christmas event with the Taybeh community. He saw the event as the beginning of a fruitful partnership between HCEF and the people of Taybeh, particularly with the local Youth Council. Habash shared HCEF’s belief in the youth as the hope of Palestine’s future since the youth have an energy and faith that can be translated into positive actions. Habash also acknowledged the Palestinians of Guatemala who gave their support to Taybeh, and that HCEF will continue to do everything it can to restore and strengthen the connection between the people of Taybeh and their distant relatives. He stressed that this connection was crucial to the future development of Taybeh. Habash ended his speech by thanking everyone who provided support, and gave special thanks to Bishop Atallah Hanna for his participation and blessings.
The evening’s event came to a conclusion with the Christmas Tree lighting and everyone celebrating together beneath its glow.