Job: Dean of Arts at the Bethlehem University
Rite : Latin
"The Church should raise its children connected to their land"
Would you say you are involved with the church ?
I grew up involved in the church. But recently, I am not involved in any meaningful way. I come from a family that has always been active in the church. My family showed me how to believe. My grand-mother used to take me every Friday to the Way of the Cross. Not every family is like that. That is what concerns me. Growing up in an involved family you become very much part of your faith.When I was young, I was part of the Holy Land choir, where I served until I was 22. Additionally, I was very lucky because I had teachers at school, like fathers, Rafik Khoury and George Sabbah, who connected my faith to the land, to the places, to the streets, making it part of my identity. When my faith was connected to who I am and where I am from, it made it alive. It is not separated from my daily life, but part of it. Prayer is something I do all the time, not just every Sunday. I pray at work, with the family, when I am teaching… All of that is my prayer. Nowadays, what the youth learn from school, is how to separate their faith from the rest of their lives. Faith becomes an empty shell.
From where you stand, do you feel that the Church is talking to you ?
I think I am talking more to the Church than the Church is talking to me. One of the major difficulties in this part of the world is that religious leaders don’t involve themselves in the life and concerns of the people. We live in a part of the world where politics is everything and is a concern. I felt more belonging and closeness to the church, a long time ago, when patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah was there. He was the voice of peace with justice. His prophetic words and insistance to connect peace to justice became the realization of the teaching of the church ; it made us a bit more connected to the Church. I understand that the institution for many logistical and understandable reasons tries to avoid politics as much as possible. But there is a fine line between avoidance and witnessing for truth and justice. Today, the church is not talking to me in that way. I am still part of the Church. I am still a believer. I like that I am Catholic. But I don’t feel my Church is involved in all the things that I worry about. Part of my concerns is the national pain. Also, for a very long time, Christians were taught to receive.They expect everything from the Church : a house, a job, a school for their kids…etc. Many among us think that we need to give, not to take. We need to break that cycle of charity mentality. I understand that the Franciscans, who live on charity, need to do show achievement. I appreciate all that they have done to help people survive in this land. But, there needs to be a shift in the relationship. The church and the people need to become partners for the common good.
As a woman, do you feel part of this Church ?
Even though the establishment of the institution is composed of men, women have traditionally been the engines of the Church. Unfortunately, most often than not, they are not recognized as such. Both men and women in the church need to be treated and recognized equally. If we involve more lay women in the Church, it will soften its image.
Can you sense a will of change in the Holy Land Church ?
I have not yet witnessed something tangible, but I know there are individuals within the Church that are trying to make a change. But they are not working together yet. Some of them do amazing work with the youth, which is great because they are the future. People from the older generation are set in their ways, it is hard to change us. But if you can reach the generation that is growing up now, and help them find themselves, there will be a future for the Christians here. The process is going to be long, but it needs to start somewhere and now. It scares me to think that in the next two decades there won’t be any serious christian communities in the Holy Land anymore.
Is something bothering you inside the Church ?
There is this wall, between the clergy and the lay people. The wall is invisible, but it is there. It is vital that the Church reconsider what a priest should be like, behave like, and talk like.
Is this wall breakable ?
We can infiltrate it. It is going to be hard to break, because it is not tangible and not recognized yet. Once we see it, from both ends, it becomes possible to dismantle. I wish that the synodal process will lead to a change in the way parish priests are educated. Many of them are considered arrogant and drunk on power. It drives people away from churches. They need to work on humility, willingness to listen more than speak, not assume that they know everything. If we don’t break the wall, the Holy Places will be here, as well as the communities that take care of them, but the people, the living stones, they won’t be here anymore. The system is pushing towards that. Lots of the middle class, among the muslims as well, are willing to leave. It scares me. Who’s left here, except for those who cannot leave, the uneducated, and the fanatics… ? Without people in between, there is no future.
Did you ever consider leaving ?
I was abroad. In the United States. But I came back. My son was only 3 years old and already becoming too American. We thought he needed to grow up knowing who he is. I had a good life. But this American dream was an empty one without my land and an extended family. My children are abroad now, studying. A lot of things could make them leave for good, especially if they don’t find a job here. So I am keeping my fingers crossed and keeping them connected to the family and to this land.
Has the Church a role to play in creating this connection to the land ?
Yes. It needs to be more prophetic in its declarations and always call for justice, not only for peace. We hear a lot of “We need to be at peace with our enemies.” Ok, nice. But this does not make us any closer to the enemy. The church needs to raise its children with the love of the land. My children went to an American Baptist school. But they remained catholics, not because of catechism, but because of their actions and involvement within the church : in the choir, the music school… It is what is missing today. I am glad that the parish priest in Jerusalem revived the Catholic scouts. That is a step in the right direction. He was able to do that because he partnered with the lay people who are willing to put in the time and the effort.
Do you have a dream for this Church ?
I am hopeful that one day the doors of this Church won’t be half open, but completely open. The invisible glass wall keeps it half closed. And glass is cold. Once the wall is removed, the church will be back to what it was intended to be, of the people, with the people, and for the people.
Interview by Cécile Lemoine