On a beautiful sunny day in September, the Ansari Institute was pleased to host Sir Jeffrey Abood for the first of two lectures planned at the Ansari Institute in honor of Fr. Drew Christiansen, SJ. Sir Abood’s talk titled “The Church in the Holy Land and the Quest for Human Dignity” focused on the Catholic Church’s presence in the Holy Land and the living conditions of the Catholic people, sometimes referred to as the “living stones” of the Church.
Sir Abood’s talk began with clarifications that the Holy Land refers to land that is currently called Israel, including what are currently recognized as the Palestinian Territories, and it also includes present day Jordan and Cypress. However, he noted that his talk would focus on the particular situation in Jerusalem and its environs.
Sir Abood reminded participants that Arab-Christians have lived in the Holy Land for over 2000 years. Their presence for the first Pentecost as a particular ethnic group was acknowledged in Acts 2:11 in the Holy Bible. He noted that the significance of Arab Christians in the Holy Land goes beyond its place as the “mother church.” Their presence means that Arab Christians “have kept not only an unbroken living witness but have also kept the sacramental life of the [Catholic] church” alive in the Holy Land since its inception. Sir Abood noted that ethnically the vast majority of permanent Catholic or Christian communities and individuals within the Holy Land are Palestinian. Those Arab-Christians live throughout the land including the West Bank and Gaza.
Sir Abood also noted that Old City Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, and Beit Sahour (the site of the Annunciation) are all located in today's Palestinian areas. In this community Catholics are referred to as “the Latins” and they are led by the Latin Patriarchate, who in turn answers to the patriarch of Rome. The people who live in that community are called “the living stones” because they carry on the work of the church in the Holy Land. They live a life, Abood notes, that is “very much the Way of the Cross.”
The Way of the Cross is a life of much suffering. So, for the remainder of his talk, Sir Abood discussed the root causes of suffering for Arab Christians, which is in line with the plight of all Palestinians. That suffering includes a lack of freedom of movement, the demolition of homes, and the disturbance of socio-economic life. He notes that Church Bishops and Patriarchs have stated that “occupation remains the root cause of the conflict and of the continued suffering in the Holy Land.” Sir Abood illustrated the current condition of Arab Christians in today’s Palestinian areas through a number of pictures that he has taken during his numerous trips to the region.
To summarize his talk, Sir Abood noted that Fr. Drew was one of the original organizers of the Holy Land Coordination. This Coordination brings a delegation of bishops from European and North American countries to Jerusalem each January, after which they deliver a report to the Vatican. In 2017 that report stated:
“For fifty years the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation, violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and other Israelis. Our Coordination has called for justice and peace every year since 1998, yet the suffering continues. So this call must get louder. As Bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action. So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity.”
About Sir Jeffrey Abood
Sir Jeffrey Abood chairs the Catholic Advisory Council of Churches for Middle East Peace and has been knighted by the Vatican into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Jeff also serves on the Board of the Caritas Baby Hospital Foundation, the U.S. fundraising arm of the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem. He coordinates a support program for Holy Family School and summer camp in Gaza.
Abood’s book, A Great Cloud of Witnesses: The Catholic Churches Experience in the Holy Land, collects 70 years of the Catholic Churches statements on the situation in the Holy Land. He has also edited with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, their book entitled Is Peace Possible? for its’ North American release. Similarly he has also just finished co-editing a new book collecting Fr. Drew’s writings on the Holy Land to be released by Georgetown University Press in 2024.
About the Fr. Drew Christiansen, SJ Lecture Series
The Fr. Drew Christiansen lecture series is coordinated by Churches for Middle East Peace and its Catholic Advisory Council. It is named after the Rev. Drew Christiansen S.J. who served as director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Catholic Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and as editor-in-chief of the Jesuit weekly America. He taught at the Jesuit School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union-Berkeley and the University of Notre Dame, where he was a member of the founding team of the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies. He was also a frequent consultant to the Holy See and a member of the steering committee of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network.
About Churches for Middle East Peace
Fr. Drew and Sir Jeffrey Abood served together on the board of Churches for Middle East Peace. Churches for Middle East Peace is an NGO based in Washington DC that has consultative status with the United Nations. Its stated mission is “ to encourage US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”
About this Lecture
This is the first of two Fr. Drew Christiansen lectures planned for Fall 2023 on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. The second of these two lectures is scheduled for Thursday, November 16th and will be a hybrid event featuring Dr. Bernard Sabella, a retired associate professor of sociology at Bethlehem University in the Holy Land. Dr. Sabella’s lecture was planned prior to the recent outbreak of violence. The topic has been revised to address the current situation. Due to the circumstances, Dr. Sabella will participate virtually from Jerusalem alongside in-person panelists from Churches for Middle East Peace.