Bethesda, Maryland – On Saturday, April 2, 2016 HCEF Board Members and volunteers gathered together at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC for HCEF’s annual retreat to renew their commitment and to inform and encourage new volunteers about the valuable presence and on-going work of the HCEF here in the United States and in the Holy Land. HCEF Board members, volunteers and college students from local Universities, from around the country and locally were inspired by the presentations of new initiatives, an overview of the HCEF established programs, and the spiritual foundations of the HCEF mission.
The retreat was also a time to celebrate new additions to the HCEF team of volunteers and Board members: HCEF’s newest Board Member, Dr. Dorothy C. Buck, will serve as a Secretary for the Board. New volunteers include Maria Elena Kafati, KTH (Know Thy Heritage Leadership Program) alumni from Honduras, William Newbrough, a brother of the Knights of Columbus and several university students from Georgetown and Virginia State. There are many more volunteers who were unable to attend the retreat, but they sent many messages of encouragement and renewals of commitment to do whatever it takes to care for their Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine.
Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Human Development at Georgetown University opened the gathering with a prayer and moving story highlighting the importance of remembering that there are Palestinian Christians, the Living Stones, who continue to be witnesses for all of us to Christ in the Holy Land and reminding us not to turn a blind eye to the difficult current daily events occurring there.
Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF’s President/ CEO welcomed the participants and invited each one to introduce themselves and briefly describe their relationship to HCEF or interest in the HCEF mission. He then introduced the first presentation of the day.
Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Professor at Monmouth University and Chair of HCEF’s Research and Publication Committee, gave the first power point presentation called, Cultivating the Habits of Peace. He established HCEF’s dedication to Peace and Justice. His presentation highlighted that peace is not simply a cessation of hostility but rather actively working for social justice, which requires a state of mind and a personal disposition. He spoke of the 7 habits of peace and gaining a wider perspective, a long-term view that includes compassion, dialogue, forgiveness and non-violence; pro peace is pro human. He emphasized that yes, historically Jerusalem is the Center of the World, but today Jerusalem is everywhere. We are all part of the Holy Land. If the Holy Land is not in right relation, it won’t be right anywhere else. Pointing to the HCEF programs, Dr. Sarsar stated, “Members of the HCEF family are Light Bearers to the Holy Land Christians.” His presentation was followed
Rev. John Marienau Turpin, Director of Serve Ministries, National Presbyterian Church shared a heartfelt message of encouragement on behalf of longtime supporter, the National Presbyterian Church which has supported the HCEF organization since its establishment 18 years ago. He spoke of the spiritual richness in seeing such a complicated problem as the Palestine-Israeli conflict and instead of turning away, choosing to engage the issue and create a difference. The National Presbyterian Church offered their prayers and support to HCEF as the Foundation continues to expand its programs in 2016 and beyond.
Sir Rateb Rabie and Abigail Galván, Executive Assistant to the President and Special Programs Coordinator led the second presentation entitled HCEF in 2016: Moving towards a Brighter Future. They gave an overview of the HCEF mission reminding us that HCEF is ecumenical, faith-based, committed to peace and justice; service oriented and committed to transparency. They described ways the HCEF is putting faith into action with exciting new initiatives to promote Tourism and activate the Palestinian Diaspora.
HCEF’s work to help promote tourism to the Holy Land was crowned by two partnership agreements; one with Brigham Young University (BYU) for the Bethlehem Museum, and the second with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to enhance religious tourism to the Holy Land. Palestinian tourism brings benefits to Christians and to all Palestinians. HCEF’s goal is for all groups to stay three to four nights in Bethlehem even if it is not an HCEF organized pilgrimage.
HCEF is expanding its programs for the Palestinian diaspora this year by organizing the first Diaspora Homecoming Journey for adults with Palestinian roots who have settled in many different countries in Latin America, Europe, and in the USA. The KTH, which is open to forty 18 to 30 year old young professionals, continues into its 6th year this summer and includes the 5th Annual Palestinian Diaspora Conference which will be held in Ramallah for the first time ever.
Dr. Cynthia Finlayson, Ph.D., R.P.A, Associate Professor of Anthropology/Archeology and Museum Studies at BYU as well as Director of the Ad-Deir Monument & Plateau Project at Petra, Jordan and professor of Classical and Islamic Archeology, gave an impressive talk that began with a video presentation of her work on site at Petra, Jordan. Her talk, entitled, Memory, the Bethlehem Museum, and a Palestinian Identity: through the eyes of Palestinian Christians emphasized that cultural identity is inextricably tied to memories of geographical place, artifacts, language, heritage and traditional practices. The HCEF Bethlehem Museum is a repository of identity and memory and plays a critical role in preserving Palestinian Christian identity, heritage and culture despite the political challenges presented by past and current events in the Middle East. She explained museums are not an indigenous concept in Arab culture. Museums have been used by nationalist governments to promote political agendas therefore it is essential that the HCEF Bethlehem Museum avoid any political propaganda and provide instead a community identity and serve as a resource for education. A Museum is both something that belongs to the community and is an attraction for visitors. Dr. Finlayson plans to provide training to the staff of the museum, empowering them to upholding the operations of the museum by global standards for the years to come. Starting in the fall of 2016, the Bethlehem Museum will serve as a case study for students in BYU’s Museum Studies Program. Students and alumni will be working hard to help the Bethlehem Museum achieve its goals and mission.
Rima Kawas, Director of Governance Practice at the International Republican Institute, and Anne-Elisabeth Giuliani, Historian, Researcher and Chaplain at Georgetown University and Vice President of the HCEF Board of Directors, gave a presentation entitled; You are HCEF’s best advocate: How we can rally support for HCEF via our personal networks. Rima discussed the power of advocacy, its purpose and the way that telling the story of Palestinians and our own personal stories of engaging with Palestinian friends and colleagues can lead to successful advocacy for HCEF and its mission. Anne-Elisabeth began with the hope we Christians share in light of the Resurrection and how this experience can help us to reach out to those around us in our personal networks to introduce them to the inspiring work of HCEF. She also touched upon ways in which our own gifts can be used effectively for the future of all the HCEF programs and provided practical ways to support the mission in accordance to the time, skills, commitment and the passion of the volunteers to the Mission.
Sir Rateb closed with a brainstorming session for the 18th International Conference and Award Banquet. This year’s conference will focus on promoting religious tourism to the Holy Land. This conference will be executed in partnership with the UNWTO. All volunteers at HCEF were encouraged to promote the conference and to participate in all the logistics involved in organizing and managing an International Conference. Many participants agreed to provide help as needed that weekend.
The retreat wrapped up at the Rabie residence with a wonderful dinner consisting of traditional Palestinian dishes prepared by Sir Rateb’s wife, Rocio Rabie, HCEF Public Relations and Outreach Chair. HCEF volunteers and members finished the retreat spiritually (and physically) nourished and inspired with plans on how to grow HCEF and its mission to care for Holy Land Christians.
If you would like to join the HCEF family, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities to support our brothers and sisters in Christ who call the Holy Land their home. Please contact Abigail Galván, Executive Assistant to the President and Special Programs Coordinator, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 301-951-9400 ext. 219.
Please visit us online at hcef.org. And if you are able and moved, please give to our cause HERE.