“A sense of mission, a commitment to people, faith in peace and justice: these are the things which we share here, and which make a real difference,” explained Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, President & CEO of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation at the 16th International Awards Banquet on Friday, October 17 “You don’t need political experience, fame or fortune in order to make an impact.”
The evening kicked-off a weekend of activities attended by over 350 participants, including dignitaries, leaders, clergy, businessmen, academics, advocates and concerned individuals from around the U.S., Latin America, and the Holy Land. Many more watched the conference live-stream online. Under the theme
Together in Faith for the Common Good, the conference examined the situation of Christians in Arab countries, explored the challenges to peace, and identified real ways to make a positive impact by putting faith into action.
At Friday evening’s Banquet, HCEF lifted up six distinguished awardees as examples.
Just before offering his benediction at the Awards Banquet on Friday evening, His Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington and a member of HCEF’s Advisory Board, reminded everyone assembled “not to lose hope but to hold onto faith.” He commended HCEF for its service to the Christians of the Holy Land and how it “talks to people’s hearts. “
In introducing the conference theme, Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Secretary of the HCEF Board of Directors and Associate Vice President at Monmouth University, and Ms. Christine Hill, Vice President of the HCEF Board of Directors and President/Founder of ServiceAlliances International, Inc.,explained how the theme highlights our collective responsibility toward our faith and our concerted actions on behalf of the common good. “As people of different faiths,” they emphasized, “we follow common values of peace, human dignity and rights, compassion, freedom, and prosperity for all, especially as these relate to the Holy Land.”
Saturday’s outstanding line-up of speakers, panelists & moderators included journalists, researchers, professors, activists, clergy, lawyers and business leaders, all with hearts and minds for peace and justice in the Middle East. They addressed many varied aspects of the Arab Christian experience, from the history of Christianity in Palestine; to Palestinians in the diaspora; women’s empowerment; Arab Christians under fire in Iraq, Syria and Egypt; the nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine; and the prospects for peace. Although the expert panelists together identified many serious structural problems and challenges to peace, these hard facts did not discourage them or conference participants from pursuing a future marked by justice, freedom, peace and prosperity.
His Excellency Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna of Sebastia eloquently and poetically laid the historical groundwork for the conference with his address, explaining that Christianity has been a strong part of the region’s culture for over 2000 years, and that Christians are one people with the other Arabs.
This resilient hope invoked by Cardinal McCarrick on the previous evening as was echoed many times throughout the conference. As Her Excellency Dr. Hanan Ashrawi declared in her keynote address analyzing the Israeli strategy of separation “Historically, walls have not been a great success, and this wall will collapse as well.” Mr. Farouk Shami, inventor and founder of Farouk Systems, on the other hand, is taking a dogged, hands-on-approach. When he spoke on the panel titled “Engaging the Palestinian Diaspora in Nation-building,” he vowed “By hook or by crook, I WILL open a factory in Palestine, and employ hundreds of Palestinians.” Likewise, Mr. Rafiq Masri, an IT technology entrepreneur & founder of Network Management, Inc. pointed out the opportunities in his own field of expertise, saying “Communication and information technology should become a national priority in Palestine. This technology can undermine the occupation and connect Palestine to the rest of the world.”
Facing the possibility of the elimination of Christians from the Holy Land, Mrs. Claudette Habesch, Former Secretary General of CARITAS Jerusalem and a member of HCEF’s Advisory Board, was nothing short of defiant, declaring “Diaspora is not our choice. We will stay in Jerusalem….We are the church of hope, the church of victory over death, the church of the resurrection.”
According to Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, HCEF’s conferences are always “enjoyable and effective.” Sir Rateb Rabie was happy to say that this was no exception. “In this conference, HCEF invited participants to face the problems courageously and unflinchingly. We do not underestimate the challenges before us, but we know we can make a positive difference.” In the words of Mark L. Wasef, Esq., board member of the Egyptian American Community Foundation and an active member of the Coptic Lawyers Association “It will take a lot of work and perseverance to create change but today at this conference we have taken the first step.”
Emboldened by the knowledge and empowering information included in this conference, our participants left with the same confident assurance voiced by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick:
“Peace will happen. Peace with justice.”
The complete summary of the conference, prepared by Dr. Saliba Sarsar, HCEF Secretary of the Board, & Ms. Christine Hill-Hobbi, HCEF Vice President of the Board, is available online here.
Video recordings of both the Awards Banquet and the Conference will be available online shortly at this link.