Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s Visit to the Holy Land January 21 – February 3, 2002 Report on Activities and Work Plan
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Visit to the Holy Land
January 21 – February 3, 2002
Report on Activities and Work Plan
Rateb Rabie, KHS.
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Robert Younes, M.D.
Secretary of the Board
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Episcopal Conference Working Group
On Supporting the Church in the Holy Land
Jerusalem, January 21-24, 2002
Representatives of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation attended the Episcopal Working Group Consultation on Supporting the Church in the Holy Land. HCEF board members, Sir Rateb Rabie, KHS, President of HCEF and Robert Younes, M.D., Secretary of the Board of Directors of HCEF, attended the conference as observers along with Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, two other charitable organizations.
The Jerusalem meeting occurred as a follow-up to a meeting requested by John Paul II held in Rome on December 14, 2001. The Holy Father, at that time, expressed his deepening concern for the suffering of Christians in the Holy Land and their worsening spiritual, economic and social existence. Canon Father Drew Christiansen was responsible for organizing the conference and was asked by the attending bishops to be the person responsible for coordinating activities for the next 12 months.
Ten Catholic bishops from England, Wales, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, Canada and the United States met in Jerusalem on January 21-24, 2002 to demonstrate solidarity with Christians in the Holy Land. The bishops, hosted by HB Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, discussed how the Catholic Church in Europe and North America could work to improve the daily lives of Christians living in the Holy Land.
Present Conditions in the Holy Land
Palestinian Christians now form no more than 2% of the population in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Catholic Church and other Christian denominations in the Holy Land have profound concern that migration of Christians to other parts of the world will deplete the Holy Land of Christians to carry on the Christian legacy in the land of its birth. The migration is stimulated by the massive problems in the Palestinian economy caused by the military occupation and Israeli policies resulting in unemployment, poverty and collapse of most sectors of the economy. Israeli military invasion, closures, siege conditions and home demolitions creates great disruption of civil life and further compounds the misery of the Christian community in the Holy Land.
New Efforts of the Church
The conference examined the practical means the bishops could implement that would support Holy Land churches and parishioners. The bishops also explored the contribution that Catholics in the West could make towards a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Through the bishops’ efforts, the universal Church intends to further its goal to achieve reconciliation and an end to the violence and occupation in the Holy Land.
The Episcopal Conference Working Group affirmed a number of principles at the conclusion of the conference based on Prepositions presented by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah. The Bishops urged that the threat to the existence of the Mother Church of Jerusalem be given high priority by the Episcopal Conferences worldwide and develop advocacy both nationally and regionally to support the Mother Church of Jerusalem. The conference also encouraged people-to-people contact through encouragement of pilgrimages, parochial and diocesan twinning, serving Palestinian communities abroad, supporting those groups working with the Christian Communities in the Holy Land such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Caritas Internationalis, Catholic, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services and other organizations.
The Bishops endorsed The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation as an organization that has developed a support model that focused exclusively on the Christians of the Holy Land. The HCEF activities included the Child Sponsorship Program, The Olive Wood Handicrafts Program, the Christian Pilgrimage Program and rallying Arab Christians in North America to support the Mother Church of Jerusalem.
Letter to Sharon
In addition, at the request of the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Pietro Sambi, the bishops sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon requesting that the Israeli government stop the construction of a mosque in an area immediately in front of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Summary of Conclusions
The Bishops agreed that a regular meeting of the Episcopal Conferences with the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy land was essential to preserving the Mother Church of Jerusalem. The Bishops also confirmed that advocacy was essential through the religious media to raise awareness of Christians world wide of the plight of the inhabitants of the Holy Land. The Bishops agreed there was a pressing need for additional research and advocated for the creation of a research facility committed to the scholarly ideals of truth and objectivity in the Holy Land. The Bishops also recommended that parochial school curricula be examined and greater attention be paid to the present plight and history of the Christian communities in the Holy Land. In the realm of advocacy, the Bishops recommended that the Episcopal Conferences institute regular contacts with their own governments, the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel in order to establish dialogue that will lead eventually to a just settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict. The Bishops emphasized that financial support was essential to preserving the Latin Patriarchate’s school system from the process of downsizing. Increased funding through a variety of mechanisms was essential to carrying out all of these recommendations.
Action 1: Follow-up with Father Drew Christiansen about the progress being made in implementing the Propositions approved by the bishops in Jerusalem.
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation Activities
A number of business meetings were held in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Birzeit, Jifna, Aboud and Amman. Below is a summary of the substance of the meetings and a work plan for further discussion and implementation.
Child Sponsorship Program
A report was given to Patriarch Sabbah regarding the Child Sponsorship Program of HCEF in the United States and in the Holy Land.
In the Latin Patriarchate school system, approximately 2300 Christian Children are enrolled in Palestine and 7600 Christian Children enrolled in Jordan. Father Majdi Siryani is responsible for the Palestinian Schools and Rev. Dr. Hanna Keldani is responsible for the Jordanian schools.
Patriarch Sabbah was presented with a check for $26,000 for the child sponsorship program.
The Patriarch was also given a report regarding the pledge of 1000 sponsorships by Cardinal Maida of Detroit. A symposium is planned for May 4, 2002 in Detroit to orient and train priests ands lay people on how to achieve the goal of recruiting sponsors for 1000 children for the program. Cardinal Maida has assigned staff to work with HCEF to organize the conference.
Action 2: Work with the staff of the Archdiocese of Detroit to plan the symposium and fulfill the Archdiocese’s commitment to 1000 sponsorships by the end of 2002.
Action 3: Work with Peachtree Presbyterian Church to complete their commitment of 300 Child Sponsorships by the end of 2002.
Action 4: The Catholic Bishop of Atlanta, John Donoghue, assigned a priest to work with HCEF to develop a program for Child Sponsorship through the partnership program for the Diocese of Atlanta. Twenty-five Catholic Churches will participate in the program.
Action 5: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (LPJ) asked HCEF to submit a proposal and action plan that would outline HCEF’s plan to provide sponsorships for all Christian children in the Holy land. The proposal will provide funding for a staff person to work exclusively on the Child Sponsorship Program.
Action 6: Hire and train an HCEF coordinator of the Child Sponsorship Program for the Washington D.C. HCEF office.
Action 7: LPJ agreed that it was important to assign one person in the Latin Patriarchate to manage the program in Jerusalem. Appoint a staff person in the Latin Patriarchate School System to coordinate the Child Sponsorship Program
Response: Dr. Maria Khoury is responsible for the Child Sponsorship Program in the school system and will report to Father Majdi Siryani on all matters related to the program. Celine will handle the Child Sponsorship Data Base related to the program. Dr. Khoury will provide support for the program through her work in public relations and communications. The Child Sponsorship Coordinator under the supervision of Duane Burchick will manage the Child Sponsorship Program in the United States. Duane Burchick and the Child Sponsorship Coordinator will be responsible in the United States for managing the communication between HCEF in Washington, D.C. and the Latin Patriarchate School Offices.
Individual staff at each school with a sponsored child will responsible for the managing the communication between the child and school and the Latin Patriarchate School main office in Ramallah.
The relationship of the Latin Patriarch School System with World Vision was discussed.
Action 8: Dr. Khoury will compose a letter and send it to the individual priests indicating that HCEF is responsible for the Child Sponsorship Program for Christian children.
Sponsors will be recruited from churches through contacts with the Catholic hierarchy, Presbyterian and other Protestant Churches, Orthodox Churches, and individuals recruited through the HCEF web site, conferences and symposiums.
Action 9: Review the policy regarding the database and work to revise it to reflect the concerns about accurate transmission of information entered or removed from the database.
Mar Dimitri Greek Orthodox School, Jerusalem
A meeting was held at the Mar Dimitri School in the Old City of Jerusalem. We met with Metropolitan Isychios, Director of the school, and Mrs. Ammal Bahnan, assistant director of the school. The School was founded in 1982 and at present there are 310 Christian students, 160 Muslim students. World Vision sponsors children on a per capita basis but World Vision’s sponsorship will end next year. Japan, in the past, has also sponsored children. It was agreed that Mrs. Bahnan would be the contact person for the Child Sponsorship Program. The school will provide general demographic data about the school and photos of the children and basic demographic data about individual children so that this information can be forwarded to the donors. The children will send Christmas cards to the donors and the school will provide each child’s progress report to the donor. Metropolitan Isychios will send a letter of endorsement for the program to HCEF. We may ask the Metropolitan to write letters to specific Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States to assist in sponsoring Children.
Action 10: Forward to Ms. Bahnan information, enrollment forms and HCEF policies about the Child Sponsorship Program.
Action 11: Work with Ms. Bahnan to obtain the completed enrollment form and photos for the children.
Action 12: Assure that Metropolitan Isychios sends a letter of endorsement to HCEF.
Action 13: Develop a list of Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States for Metropolitan Isychios so that he can write to the churches endorsing the Child Sponsorship Program.
Greek Catholic Melkite Church School
A meeting was held at the Greek Catholic Melkite School in Beit Sahour with Abouna Sami El Hayek, Pastor of the Melkite Church. The school has 650 students, of which 600 are Christian. There are 170 families attending the Melkite Church in Beit Sahour comprising 500-700 members. The Patriarchate and tuition fees support the school. At present, the school is running a deficit requiring a 10% reduction in staff salaries. Yvette Musleh is the person who coordinates the English programs at the School. Tuition only covers 3 months of the school year and the rest of the support comes from donations and support from the Patriarchate. Local companies are helping with construction and infrastructure. Partnership with HCEF is possible so that the Child Sponsorship Program can support the children. The school agreed to provide basic demographic data about the school and to send a financial statement. The school officials also will ask Gregory III to send a letter of endorsement to HCEF in support of the Child Sponsorship Program. HCEF will need a list of the priests and addresses of the Melkite schools in the Holy Land so that they also may be contacted and asked to join the Child Sponsorship Program. The school will provide a classification of students by age and religion. The school is trying to obtain funding for a computer lab.
Action 14: Forward to Ms. Musleh information, enrollment forms and HCEF policies about the Child Sponsorship Program.
Action 15: Work with Ms Musleh to obtain the completed enrollment form and photos for the children.
Action 16: Assure that Patriarch Gregory III sends a letter of endorsement to HCEF.
Action 17: Develop a list of Greek Catholic Melkite Churches in the United States for Gregory III so that he can write to the churches endorsing the Child Sponsorship Program
Holy Family Care Center, Bethlehem
A meeting was held with Sister Rose Mesa, director of the Holy Family Care Center in Bethlehem. The center provides services to 30 children who have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the Israeli bombardments of the Bethlehem area. In addition, the center provides family counseling services to 50 families in need of assistance of one form or other. The staff is trained by Sister Rose to provide spiritual and psychological assistance. The Latin Patriarchate provides only partial funding for the center. The remainder of the funding is provided through donations. The German Government originally funded the Center but this source of funds has ceased providing support. The total budget for the school for emotionally disturbed children is $150,000 and for the center is $60,000. Because of the heavy workload, the center has moved to larger quarters and three more social workers are needed to complete the expansion.
Action 18: Forward to Sister Rose information about HCEF policies, and how we can support them.
Terre Santa College, Bethlehem
Father Ibrahim Faltas lead a tour of the college. The Catholic Church supports the school in addition to tuition provided by parents. Father Ibrahim notes that the payments from parents have diminished due to the poor economic conditions that exist in the region. There are 1000 boys at the college and another site provides education for 1000 girls. The children are from Bethlehem and the surrounding villages.
Christian Pilgrimage Program
A number of discussions occurred with the Latin Patriarch (Patriarch Michel Sabbah, George Ghattas, George Akroush), Palestinian National Authority officials (Emil Jarjoui), the Jordanian Minister of Tourism (Taleb Rifai), local parish priests (Fr. Iyad Twal, Fr. Majdi Siryani, Fr. Shomali, Fr. Riad Hijazeen of Madaba, and Fr. Dr. Hanna Keldani), and travel agents (Wisam Tuma, Mousa Jarjouie) and HCEF Representatives Raja Rabie, George Ghattas and Mario Twal, regarding the nature and character of the pilgrimages sponsored and endorsed by HCEF.
Christian tour guides will reflect Christian values and provide tours of Christian holy sites. A training program would be provided to orient travel agents to the concept of Christian pilgrimage. The Christian pilgrimage program would support the Catholic Bishops’ proposal for Christian pilgrimage and would follow the established guidelines for Christian pilgrimage.
Action 19: Using the Christian pilgrimage guidelines, develop a training program for all those involved in the Christian Pilgrimage endeavor.
The pilgrimage program will be able to segment the program to satisfy the specific interests of specialized pilgrims (archeology, political issues, holy sites, meet the descendents of the original Christians in the Holy Land, etc.)
Action 20: Include in the Business plan discussed below a segmentation plan for pilgrimage.
All agreed that the pilgrimage should not be a typical tourist tour of the Holy Land. It was decided that the pilgrimage would begin and end in Amman, Jordan. In addition, a significant amount of time would be spent on the East Bank of the Jordan River exploring the newly discovered baptismal site of John the Baptist, the Mount Nebo religious site and other new archeological discoveries on the East Bank. A visit to Petra in southern Jordan, and the Jordan’s Christian communities and sites in Fuhais, Madaba and Karak will be included in the pilgrimage.
The Jordanian Minister of Tourism, HE Dr. Taleb Rifai, promised facilitate the program to make the pilgrimage experience as meaningful as possible. He is willing to wave all fees, facilitate visas, provide staff to receive the pilgrims at the Amman Airport. He will also facilitate media coverage for the groups as they come through Jordan. For the first year of the program, he will be willing to host a dinner on the last night in Jordan and speak to the pilgrims about the Jordanian program for tourism.
Action 21: Raja Rabie and Mario Twal will prepare a brief outline of the Jordanian segment of the Pilgrimage Program.
The second half of the pilgrimage would occur in the West Bank with visits to Christian communities in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Birzeit, Aboud, Jifna and Taybeh.
All agreed that every effort would be made to provide opportunities for Christians of the Holy Land to make significant spiritual and cultural exchanges with the pilgrims from the United States. This approach would include ecumenical prayer services, sharing meals together, joint tours of the holy sites and many opportunities of discussion and lively exchanges.
Each town and village visited by the pilgrimage group will establish a grass-roots ecumenical committee that will plan activities for the visiting pilgrims. Thus far, grass-roots committees have been formed or will be formed in 14 communities (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Aboud, Birzeit, Jifna, Ain Arik, Ramallah and Nazareth, Amman, Madeba, Karak).
Each community committee will prepare a program that stresses the Christian cultural and historical significance of the locale. HCEF and the community committees will prepare a list of all Christian churches in each community, important community leaders, cultural sites and planned activities. Each of the participating towns and villages will coordinate activities with the Laity Committee in Jerusalem. Facilities for meals and lodging will have to be established for the program.
Action 22: George Ghattas will coordinate the development of a plan for the West Bank segment of the Pilgrimage Program.
4-16 April 2002 Pilgrimage ” Ecumenical Pilgrimage”
A pilgrimage led by Canon Father Drew Christiansen and Don Kruse is planned for April 4-16, 2002. The Jordanian Minister of Tourism, HE Taleb Rifai, has pledged to facilitate all the arrangements in Jordan to make the pilgrimage a memorable experience for the participants.
1-13 July 2002 Pilgrimage Peachtree Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
A pilgrimage is planned for the Peachtree Presbyterian Church, to strengthen the relationship with their partner, Beit Sahour Latin Church, and build solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land.
September 2002 Pilgrimage, priests from the Archdiocese of Detroit
A pilgrimage is planned for priests from the Archdiocese of Detroit in September 2002. In preparation for the pilgrimage, the Catholic Diocese of Detroit will sponsor a retreat for its priests to orient the priests to the Holy Land and to encourage them to lead pilgrimages from their parishes to the holy sites in Jordan and in the West Bank.
Action 23: The Detroit HCEF Committee and the Archdiocese of Detroit will assist in planning the arrangements for the pilgrimage.
Laity Committee of Jerusalem
A group of Christians (Dalia Habash, Michel Sayegh, Jusef Daher, Chairperson, George Sahhar, Ghassen Kasabreh, Francis Tams and Mousa Jarjoui, ) of all denominations in Jerusalem to develop an organization called the Laity Committee. HCEF discussed with the Committee the possibility that they will work under the auspices of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, or become a Committee of The Holy Land Christian Support Net Work (HCSN). Meanwhile the Laity Committee will coordinate their activities with HCEF until such time decision has been made.
Visit to the Greek Orthodox Community in Beit Sahour.
The Greek Orthodox community in Beit Sahour consists of 2000 families and 8000 individuals.
The committee members said that they are more interested in long-term development than in short term relief since development will provide them with jobs and their dignity.
The committee also commented that there was a gap between their priests and the community. More involvement in Church activities is needed. The committee noted that many parishioners attend church services only for weddings and funerals. At present, the committee is focusing on creating a place for children and youth in the church. This gap was the reason for forming the Community Committee so that communication could be developed between the laity and the Greek Orthodox hierarchy. The committee needs to develop the skills needed to manage the relationship between the church and the parishioners.
The committee work is becoming more effective. Plans have been made to create scholarships for students to receive training and then return to the community for work. They are concerned that they do not have the funds to support the education of their children at Bethlehem University. The Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem administers the school system and committee does not feel that the Patriarchate is doing a good job. At present, there are 650 children in K-12. Eighty percent are Christian. The Muslim children represented 30% last year and 20% this year. Each year, more Muslim children go to the government schools due to the poor economic conditions in the town. The committee hopes to establish a direct relationship between their church and Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States so that assistance can be found for the church and the school system.
The community is expecting a great deal from the committee. The committee is preparing statistics for the Church congregation in Beit Sahour. The committee has already rehabilitated the cemetery, installed air conditioning in the church and created jobs for people out of work. A 120-unit housing development was built on land obtained from the Greek Patriarchate. The units are leased to the tenants for 13 years, at the end of which time the apartments become the property of the tenants. The committee recognizes that it must meet international standards in order to request grants from funding agencies.
Presbyterian Church Initiative
Patriarch Sabbah was briefed about the work of the Presbyterian Church and its support of the Mother Church of Jerusalem. The National Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C. and the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia have been instrumental in leading the way for other Presbyterian Churches to assist the work of HCEF and the Latin Patriarchate. Patriarch Sabbah welcomed all Christian churches in the United States and their efforts to assist the Christians of the Holy Land.
HCEF Advisory Board
Discussion occurred with Patriarch Michel Sabbah regarding assuming Chairmanship of the HCEF Advisory Board. In addition, Archimandrite Dr. Theodosios Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church and Patriarch Philip Saliba of the Antiochian Orthodox Church discussed the possibility of joining the HCEF Advisory Board. Hopefully, all 13 Christian denominations represented on the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land will become involved in HCEF activities and eventually become members on the Advisory Board.
Emil Jarjouie, Minister of Religious Affairs for the Palestinian Authority suggested that we invite the Archbishop of Greece, Said Khoury, to become a member of the Advisory Board. In addition, he suggested that we invite Mr. Hasib Sabbagh to join the Advisory Board. Mr. Jarjouie will speak to these individuals about becoming Advisory Board members.
Action 24: Await HE Emil Jarjoui’s communications with HCEF after he returns from Greece.
Patriarch Sabbah asked that HCEF become involved with organizing the Jordanians and Palestinians in the United States and Latin America with the view in mind to encourage them to support the Christian institutions in the Holy Land. An effort will have to be made to obtain the names and addresses of as many Palestinians in the Diaspora as possible. The next step would be to involve those in the Diaspora to provide support to their hometowns in the Holy Land.
Holy Land Handicrafts Program
A meeting was held with Mr. Sami Khoury of DAI at the Latin Patriarchate. Mr. Khoury is responsible for the tourism and handicrafts sector at DAI. DAI will cover technical assistance, training, web site development, some startup and some fixed costs but US AID regulations prevent DAI from funding operating expenses. There is a network of 40-50 family owned handicraft workshops in the Bethlehem area that would benefit from a structured export program. Discussion occurred about funding that would enable export of olive wood and other handicrafts from Bethlehem and surrounding villages to the United States. The items would be sold at church bazaars, symposiums, conferences, trade exhibitions and other venues. Sufficient quantities of handicrafts would be warehoused in Washington, D.C. and would then be distributed to venues for sale.
Issues related to export licensing from the Israeli government were discussed. Orlando, Florida has a twin relationship with Bethlehem and consideration is being given to opening a handicrafts shop in Disney World. Funding is needed for startup costs in order to increase the volume of handicraft exports.
There is a need for a complete proposal and business plan to exploit the market niche in the United States for handicrafts made by Christians in the Holy Land. This includes projecting sales to churches and other organizations, packaging, quality control, design, marketing strategy, distribution system, accounting system, export and import licensing, and distribution of proceeds. The proposal will be sent to Mr. Khoury for review and possible funding. The decision making process at DAI is ad hoc and this the request for funding will be considered as soon as the proposal and business plan is received in the DAI office in Jerusalem.
Action 25: Prepare a grant proposal for DAI that describes HCEF’s Handicrafts Program and how startup funds will benefit the Palestinian Handicraft industry in the Bethlehem District.
Pilgrimage Travel Office
All agreed that it would be beneficial to establish a Pilgrimage Travel Office in Washington, D.C. to promote and advocate for pilgrimages to the Christian communities in the Holy Land. The office will provide a central location where materials could be obtained for those wishing to lead a pilgrimage or those who want to go on pilgrimage. The office would make travel arrangements, provide promotional brochures and coordinate all activities with the Jerusalem based pilgrimage agencies. Palestine oriented travel agents in Jerusalem would provide all arrangements for pilgrim travel in the Holy Land. It was suggested that the travel agents in Jerusalem share financing the office staff and operating expenses. The estimated cost for the first year of operation is $100,000. Preliminary calculations indicate that at least 180 groups per year would be required to provide enough incentive for the travel agents to support a pilgrimage office in Washington, D.C.
Action 26: A committee consisting of Mousa Jarjouie, Wisam Tuma and Rula Shubeita will begin to work on the concept of a Washington D.C. based pilgrimage office and seek financial support from others in Jerusalem.
Information is needed to understand how to reach the American priests and pastors who conduct pilgrimages so that information can be sent to them about the Christian pilgrimage program.
Action 27: Contact the hierarchies of the Christian denominations to determine pilgrimage facilities and resources.
At each of the HCEF conferences and symposiums, a booth will be available for travel agents to promote the pilgrimage program.
Action 28: Prepare signage, pamphlets and a display for the pilgrimage booth for each Conference and Symposium.
Support for the program is needed from the Palestinian Authority.
Action 29: Obtain a letter of endorsement from the Palestinian National Authority through HE Emil Jarjoui
Action 30: A complete and thorough business plan will be developed that covers all aspects of the pilgrimage program and will include plans for visas, air travel to and from Amman, Jordan, lodging, meals, town and village arrangements, transportation, handicraft tours, visas, church visits, staffing ( U.S. staff, tour guides, town and village contact persons, local priests, travel agents, speakers, and contacts with the local educational and political structure.)