United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough



‘Huge Responsibility’ and Resilience – Exploring Being Christian in the Holy Land

Panel discussion in CITI during joint retreat
‘Huge Responsibility’ and Resilience – Exploring Being Christian in the Holy Land - Panel discussion in CITI during joint retreat
Canon Fuad Dagher, Archbishop Hosam Naoum, Archbishop Michael Jackson, Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun and Revd Dr Khalid Freij during the panel discussion. (With the Revd Colin McConaghie driving the technology.)

Christians in the Holy Land have kept faith alive for 2,000 years and will continue to do so until the second coming, a gathering in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute heard last week. A panel discussion featuring the Archbishop and clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem highlighted a number of common issues – including identity and youth ministry – as well as issues unique to Christians living in the Land of the Holy One, among them fostering a sense of belonging in the place where Christianity began.

The discussion took place in person and online during the visit of Archbishop Hosam Naoum and a number of his clergy who took part in a joint retreat in CITI with Archbishop Michael Jackson and a number of clergy from Dublin and Glendalough. The retreat, which focused on the Second Letter of Peter, is part of the ongoing link between the two dioceses. The discussion was moderated by Archbishop Jackson.

The Living Stones

Christians in the Holy Land often refer to themselves as the Living Stones – as opposed to the historic stones which form the holy sites. In answer to a question on what it is like to be a Living Stone in the Holy Land, Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun, Rector of Christ Church, Nazareth and youth ministry coordinator in Palestine and Israel, explained that the ‘Living Stones’ was an important expression. “We always invite visitors and pilgrims to come and meet the Living Stones and know and meet the people. Yes, visit the holy sites, but that is not enough because the Church is composed of the Body of Christ and Christians are the Living Stones of the Land of the Holy One,” he commented. He said that the Living Stones faced a lot of challenges. They all live in the Holy Land but each area has a different context, he said adding that they prayed that all the people and youth felt that they belonged to the land of the Lord Jesus Christ. “When any Christian is born there we feel that it is a … special call to keep the presence of Christianity and the continuous ministry of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Commenting on the vastness of the territory covered by the Diocese of Jerusalem – which encompasses Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as well as Israel and Palestine – Archbishop Naoum reminded those present that every story in the Gospels except one (the flight to Egypt) took place within the borders of the diocese. They are called to be Christians there on behalf of the Diocese of Jerusalem but also on behalf of the Christian Church everywhere, which he said was a huge responsibility.

The panel discussion on life in the Holy Land in CITI.
The panel discussion on life in the Holy Land in CITI.

Complexities of Narrative

The Archbishop explained that one of the most difficult parts of the ministry of the diocese in five different countries was having a narrative. He said the people of the diocese understood and appreciated the work of the diocese but there was a different story in bringing the narrative to governments. “In Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel we have different audiences and also conflicted authorities, even issues within our own Arab communities. So when we have a statement from the Heads of Churches or the Anglican Churches, we try to be balanced but also it is like walking on egg shells. Sometimes you need to name things and list issues,” he commented. He said that sometimes he felt like St Paul – trying to be everything to everyone. But he added that what helped him as Bishop was to identify with people, be with them and identify their concerns.

Diocesan Ministries of Education and Health

The Revd Dr Khalid Freij, Director of the Theodor Schneller School in Amman, Jordan, talked about the 32 institutions of education and healing run by the Diocese of Jerusalem. “We are part of the community and we are serving the communities where we are, reflecting the love of Christ through what we are doing,” he commented. The Schneller School is beside a Palestinian refugee camp from 1967. It cares mainly for orphans and underprivileged children and is unique in the area in supporting children with learning disabilities. Most of the students have no one to care for their future or their education so the Schneller School helps them to reach a higher level of education but also supports them with other issues in their lives. The school respects gender equality and trains girls who, without the school, may not have a chance to work. This year, Dr Freij said, 57 students graduated from their vocational training including, for the first time, four women from carpentry training.

Canon Fuad Dagher, Archbishop Hosam Naoum and Archbishop Michael Jackson.
Canon Fuad Dagher, Archbishop Hosam Naoum and Archbishop Michael Jackson.

Challenges in Ministry

Challenges in ministry were addressed by Canon Fuad Dagher, Rector of St Paul’s, Shefa’amr, who spoke about keeping faith alive and identity. “As someone who grew up in Nazareth, five minutes’ walk from the Holy Family’s house, it was taken for granted that we lived there. Pilgrims open our eyes on how privileged we are to be in this place where Jesus was born,” he said. But he said being a Christian in the land where it all started is not a “piece of cake” with lots of challenges to keep the message and the cause of Christ alive in their community alongside economic and religious pressures. He pointed out that the number of Christians where it all began stands at 1.5% of the population. “Living there as an Arab Palestinian Israeli Anglican adds to the complexity of who we are,” he stated. “We are Arabs but Christians; Palestinians but not terrorists; Israelis but not Jews; Anglicans but not British. Dealing with our identity is a big challenge and [we need] to help young people feel like they belong to the Church. We have kept faith alive for 2,000 years and will continue to do so until the second coming.”

Youth Ministry

Fr Rahmoun spoke about youth ministry and the importance of bringing young people together from Israel, West Bank and Jerusalem. They have generally gathered in a centre in Ramallah but this summer they will have to undertake programmes separately, he said. “In the past it helped to keep a good relationship between young Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem and Palestinians from Israel to learn about the lives of each other,” he said. Their aim was to train leaders and they hope to encourage them to know Jesus and to be active in their own youth groups as well as in areas of reconciliation, peace and justice. Archbishop Naoum added that they engage young people in all aspects of the diocese.

Identity and Politics

Archbishop Naoum spoke about what was happening in the Middle East in terms of fanaticism and identity. “We are grappling with extremism which is growing in the Middle East – whether Jewish or Islamic… We need to think about the serious threat to defend the narrative. Unfortunately in that role, Palestinians are paying the heaviest price,” he commented. He observed that October 7 2023 was seen as the beginning of the conflict but stated that the conflict went back decades and creating the narrative became controversial. On the issue of US involvement, the Archbishop said that within the Biden administration’s blind support of Israel there had been moments when they had asked Israel to do significant things. They had asked Israel what its plans were for after the war and for access for humanitarian aid. “In the politics in which we are living now it is complicated. There is no black and white. But what all agree is that there are a lot of people suffering in Gaza. There is no medicine and no education – there are 625,000 students not going to school in Gaza. We are trying to talk about a ceasefire but I hope what is happening in the world, including Ireland’s recognition of Palestine, is the beginning of a new era [in which] peace is the only answer,” he stated.

Archbishop Michael Jackson, Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun and Revd Dr Khalid Freij.
Archbishop Michael Jackson, Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun and Revd Dr Khalid Freij.

Daily Life

Canon Dagher explained that life for Christians changed tremendously after October 7 with relationships with their Jewish neighbours becoming more challenging. After October 7 people were more sensitive about communicating with each other and it was very difficult for people to express their opinions. He said it would take years to rebuild the good relationships and the Church had a role to play in that.

Fr Rahmoun added that things had changed a lot in terms of freedom of expression. He also spoke of the situation of young Palestinian woman Layan Nasir from Birzeit, a member of St Peter’s Anglican church, who has been taken into administrative detention by the IDF.

The recognition of the Palestinian State by Ireland, Spain and Norway which happened on the day of the panel discussion was significant, Archbishop Naoum said. “We are delighted,” he said. “The significance is that the whole world will realise one day that this is the right step… We are a step closer to the realisation of the dream of Palestinian and Israeli people living side by side in peace and harmony. That is the only way we can guarantee security and peace to both people. It has to be a just and lasting peace.”

Diocesan Link and Al Ahli Hospital

The link between the Diocese of Jerusalem and the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough is important to both dioceses. Archbishop Noaum explained that from their point of view, they were discovering more and more similarities between the dioceses and he said Dublin and Glendalough had shown a lot of love and support to the Diocese of Jerusalem.

He spoke about the future of Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza and said while the hospital may be damaged, their spirits would not be. “The hospital is an ethos. We will continue to exist and we will continue our ministry there no matter what. As a sign of this we opened a new clinic in Rafah. The story of the hospital in Gaza reminds us of the resilience of Christians, like the resilience of Jesus. We are being tenacious because we are the living hope of Jesus Christ. And we will not give up because this ministry is about God not us. The Shine a Light [campaign in Dublin and Glendalough] is wonderful and we will go back to the diocese with good news – the Palestinian flag flew in Dublin today and the generous gift of Dublin and Glendalough. That will help us persevere,” he stated.

After concluding remarks from Archbishop Michael Jackson, those gathered sang a rousing rendition of part of Psalm 122: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.


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