In the framework of a conference entitled “Identity of Christian Palestinian Arabs in Israel”, held on 22 January at Truman Center of the Hebrew University, Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jeusalem, Mgr. Michel Sabbah, gave in English language a high valued lecture, which we call on you to read thoroughly:
Who are the “indigenous” Christians in the Holy Land? What challenges do they face nowadays? What choices do they have regarding their future? It is basically these three questions which Mgr Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, tried to answer during this conference at the Hebrew University on 22 January 2015.
Mgr Sabbah, son of Nazareth, lived, while still a young seminarian, the war of 1948 and later on, as a priest, that of 1967. As Pastor of the Latin Church of Jerusalem, he lived the first and second intifada, as well as the Gulf War, and also the set up of the Palestinian Authority, as he was Patriarch of Mother Church during 20 years, namely between 1988 and 2008.
Mgr Sabbah prepared this 9-page lecture centered around five themes: “Who we are ?”, “Christians in Israel and Palestine: the leaders of the Churches”; “Christians in Israel, the people”; “Christians in the Middle East”; and “Our Future”.
Answering the first question Mgr Sabbah said: “We are Christians here in Israel, and at the same time, we are Christians in the Middle East”. He confirmed that in spite of the different “ethnic/linguistic roots of each one of them” reflected through names of different Churches, most of these Church members of today have “a sense of belonging to the Arab world”, citing as example the Melkite Greek Catholic Church “This sense of belonging to the Arab world characterizes the Greek Catholic Church too. The Copts in Egypt kept the language only in liturgy, strongly reintroduced by Pope Kirill VI and Shanouda III to promote a sense of separate identity because the Church was almost completely Arabized for centuries. They feel that they belong to the Arab world, but they also have a sense of being different”
He then pointed out: “Here in Israel and Palestine the four families of Churches are present: Orthodox, Oriental, Catholic and Protestant. All having heads and parishioners present here in The Holy Land. “Although we are diverse and hierarchically divided, most of the time we enjoy good relations”, he said. Talking about the moral duty of Heads of Churches, he pointed out that “when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian in which we are living, the faithful expect the Church to speak out for justice and the advocacy of rights and our duty is to raise our voice. Sometimes it is difficult to reach a consensus in this field, because of the concept of the relationship between Church and politics, and because of the various pressures from the political authorities ”.
He went on saying: “The political authorities, for their part, tell us: the conflict, the occupation, all that, is politics, and you, religious leaders, keep away from it, speak about peace, pray for peace, and remain distant and quiet, busy with your prayers and incense”
As regards Christians in Israel, he explained “Two different situations are to be distinguished, concerning Christian Palestinians in Israel. The first is in the Occupied Territories, the second, inside Israel. In the Occupied Territories, Christians are under military occupation. “Inside Israel, Christian Palestinians are citizens”, he further pointed out describing the different challenges and issues relating to these two groups of Christians “indigenous” and homogeneous.
His Beatitude Patriarch Sabbah is nevertheless aware that “A Christian belongs to his people, to his country and to his society”, a fact confirmed by Christians of the Middle East since many centuries. Because, even “if we constitute a small number, we are not minorities in the sense of being a foreign element in our countries” .
In conclusion, Mgr Sabbah focused on the future of Christians in this region, explaining : “Our future here, as Christians in Israel and Palestine, depends upon the future of Israel and Palestine”, bringing each Christian back to his conscience and his responsibility to “choose”, because “keeping in mind all these external factors, local and international, we have mentioned and the socio-political evolution of the region, our future as Christians depends ultimately on ourselves, on our own faith” Because “It is in their hands in the measure in which their faith becomes a spiritual strength within themselves” and “If we are faced by death and massacres, we have to educate ourselves to live the sense of being a martyr: giving our life for the life of our societies, even for those who kill us, so that even these may also reach the true sense of life.” he ended up his lecture.
Firas Abed Rabbo
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem