Difficulties faced by the Indigenous Christians in the Holy Land

Sami El-Yousef ist Regionaldirektor der Organisation "Pontifical Mission Jerusalem". Foto: ETWN

Sami El-Yousef ist Regionaldirektor der Organisation “Pontifical Mission Jerusalem”. Foto: ETWN

Sami El-Yousef, Generaldirektor der Pontificial Mission in Jerusalem, hat für das Internationale Katholische Missionswerk missio in Aachen vor Ostern eine Botschaft verfasst. Er beschreibt die Lage im Heiligen Land 2015 und beschäftigt sich vor allem mit den Schwierigkeiten der einheimischen Christen, an den Stätten der Osterbotschaft zu feiern.

Five years ago, and specifically in April 2010, and as part of my anger management technique to deal with the difficulties faced by the indigenous Christians during Holy Week to reach their most holy sites within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, I documented what I went through during the Holy Fire celebrations.

Every year since then and around Easter, I pull my treasured hard copy and re-read the story to compare it to the reality of the current Easter, only to find out that the story could have as well been written then! The same difficulties are encountered every year, as more and more restrictions are imposed and freedom of access to one’s holy sites seem to become more of a luxury rather than a right.

I do not believe there is any other place on earth where you see so much disrespect to a holy site and with so many arms inside

But like all Palestinians, and in a very sad way, with each passing year, our prayer is that the situation does not get worse. In a very sad way, the status quo has become the norm that you fight to maintain rather than hope and aspire to go back to the “good old days” when the ceremonies and access to the holy sites were completely free. We have been accustomed for more military and police officers with full gear in the church courtyard, roof, and inside the Holy Sepulcher itself, than there are worshippers. That in itself is shameful. I do not believe there is any other place on earth where you see so much disrespect to a holy site and with so many arms inside a church as is the case in our treasured Holy Sepulcher during the Holy Fire celebration. The saddest part of all is that all these measures have nothing to do with the so claimed security or public safety!

This year, Israel is just coming out of fresh elections which was a very painful process. The current Prime Minister’s political party won the largest number of seats in the Parliament and together with the extreme right wing and religious parties, they are now in the process of negotiating the makeup of the next Israeli government which will be sworn in office probably in a few weeks. By all predictions, this will be the most right wing government in the history of the state of Israel that was unashamedly voted in power on a platform based on racism, hate, fear, and total denial of the rights of their Palestinian neighbors. Some are very pessimistic about what the future holds while others are cautiously optimistic that this right wing government will not hide its true intentions which will indirectly mobilize the international community to demand justice for the Palestinians.

The Arab spring turning into an Arab nightmare

The situation in our larger middle east is no more rosy with the Arab spring in many countries turning into an Arab nightmare, especially for most minority groups, including the Christians and their long and uninterrupted history over many centuries, among others. Where is all this leading is anyone’s guess. How many Christians will remain and how many will lose hope and decide to move on to greener pastures. How many will have the opportunity to move on and how many will be stuck? How many will be killed and how many persecuted? How many will become refugees?? All are questions that remain unanswered, but given the trends of the past few years, no one is greatly optimistic at this point in time!

Having presented a few thoughts for consideration as we approach holy week, I just wanted to also highlight the positive. For those of us, the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the larger Middle East, we are not here by chance! We happen to have a long and proud history full of accomplishments and contributions to our societies. Our Christian institutions are our pride as thousands of them spread throughout our region continue to provide quality services to all segments of society especially in education, healthcare, and social services. During wars and crisis, our institutions are at the forefront of being first responders and a model for coexistence, respect, care, love, and support to those who are less advantaged than us.

We never existed to support only Christians, and we never will. Our teachings mandate on us to respect others and treat everyone equally and demand a full life with dignity to all children of God

We never existed to support only Christians, and we never will. Our teachings mandate on us to respect others and treat everyone equally, and demand a full life with dignity to all children of God. Thus, during this Easter season, we are reminded again of the dramatic events surrounding our Savior’s life, death, and resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, and we are again reminded that the Master never really had an easy life himself, very much so like our own lives today. He taught us how to give rather than take, to be there for the weak and poor, very much so the path followed by our Christian institutions. Over two thousand years have passed, and the story is repeated again and again, and thus if we continue to face difficulties and hardships, if our life appears dark at times, if we suffer for various reasons, we only need to look back and be reminded how blessed we are to call this Holy Land home and continue to walk in his footsteps.

Going back to my article of five years ago, I concluded the article with the following:

Finally, I look forward to the day when my youngest son, Michael, grows strong enough to carry the banner, and I can pass onto him the honor of carrying it on Holy Saturday. My father passed the honor onto me, and I have already passed it onto my eldest son, Rami. When the days come that I no longer carry the banner, but my sons do so in my place, I will know I have done what I could to keep the tradition and faith alive. Maybe peace will have prevailed in the Holy Land and the celebration will return to how it should be — free.”

Well, five years since writing the article, peace did not prevail, neither are the celebrations free, but my youngest son Michael is now 14 years of age which was my exact age back in 1974 when my dad took me for the first time to attend the Holy Fire celebration to start my journey to carry the cherished banner every year and be blessed with that honor. It is my full intention to introduce Michael to this family tradition this year, hoping that after 40 years, he will in turn introduce his youngest child, and hopefully the tradition continues!

Let us all keep the faith and hope alive. Happy Easter to all, far and near!

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