Christians in the Holy Land are the Glue that Holds it Together – Seminar Hears
A fascinating insight into life for Christians in the Middle East was given at a seminar which took place in the Church of St John the Baptist in Clontarf on Monday evening (December 5). ‘Christians in the Middle East: their plight, and the challenge for the West’ was organised in the context of the first visit to Dublin & Glendalough of Archbishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem under the Jerusalem Link partnership project.
Four panellists brought different perspectives to the discussion which was moderated by Philip McKinley. Archbishop Dawani spoke about his diocese and the role of the Churches. The Revd Dr John Parkin highlighted the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Isael (EAPPI). Georgina Copty, a Palestinian Christian living in Belfast spoke of growing up and leaving Palestine. Finally, Augustinian Friar, Canon Kieran O’Mahony talked about his regular visits to the Holy Land and its impact on him.
Archbishop Dawani explained that people in the Middle East were suffering for many reasons. He said it could be said that Christians in Iraq or Syria were persecuted. However, the Archbishop said that Christians in the Middle East had been persecuted for generations. “Christianity at the beginning never witnessed any peace. Our Lord was the first to suffer on behalf of humanity,” he commented.
The main challenge, he said, was the diminishing number of Christians in the Land of the Holy One with numbers declining from 27% in 1947 to less than 1% today. Young people were leaving because there was no future for them, with no jobs they have lost hope, he explained. “If we want peace in the Holy Land then we must have mutual respect among all the religions. Also people must feel free and everyone must have free access to the Holy Sites and worship according to their religion,” he stated.
Dr Parkin described the work of EAPPI which sends international volunteers to Israel and occupied Palestine. Volunteers spend three months in locations around the West Bank and are trained to witness by monitoring human rights infringements, engage by providing a protective presence and supporting Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and change by speaking out.
“Volunteers accompany children to school where they are at risk of harassment, stand with farmers who plough their land next to illegal occupations, go to check points to monitor what is happening. The presence of internationals can be ameliorating. It is a rewarding but intense experience. Those living in occupation appreciate it,” he said encouraging people to consider the programme.
Georgina Copty told her personal story. Her parents were born in Cana, Galilee. They have lived all their lives under occupation. They have Israeli citizenship which meant that when the family lived in Bethlehem people were suspicious of them. Georgina and her siblings attended Christian schools in Jerusalem. The situation worsened in 1987 around the time of the First Intifada and she was sent to live with relatives in Cana. All five children went to the States to study and only one returned.
“We couldn’t go to a Hebrew university because we didn’t speak Hebrew. We couldn’t go to Arab countries to study because of our Israeli citizenship. My parents said they prepared for us to leave from the time we were teenagers. That is why Christians are leaving… We’ve been there for 2,000 years. We are the peacekeepers and the bridge builders. We are the glue that holds it all together,” she said.
Canon O’Mahony said his first visit to the Holy Land in 1983 changed the pattern of his life. The geography, history and culture had an immense impact on him. He now brings groups there regularly and his hope is that they will pray and study Scripture but won’t ignore the current reality.
“It’s extremely important to see the present Holy Land and not just the place as it was in Jesus’ time. Arrange encounters with people living there and hear their struggles. Western Christian memory is an impoverished body. When people go they discover the antiquity of ancient Christian traditions. It’s a tremendous opportunity to broaden their understanding,” he commented. He concluded by saying: “It’s our duty to support our indebtedness to the people working for the survival of these ancient Christian communities”.
Speaking of the challenge for the West, Georgina Copty said the West must accept people fleeing from the Middle East, whether they be Christian or Muslim. “They are fleeing for a reason. People don’t see these refugees as actual people. They are just a statistic or a number or an inconvenience. We need to invite the into our lives. Give them a face. Make them a human being. Open the dialogue. Invite people into our conversation and make them real.” Canon O’Mahony added that he had been impressed by Angela Merkel’s stance and said the increasing narrow mindedness and nationalism had confirmed his own belief in the European project.
Archbishop Michael Jackson thanked Philip McKinley for moderating the evening and Philip highlighted the forthcoming diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land which is planned for November 2017.
Top – Georgina Copty addresses the seminar. Also pictured are Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Revd Dr John Parkin and Canon Kieran O’Mahony.
Bottom – Archbishop Michael Jackson and Philip McKinley at the seminar in Clontarf.