Vicar in Israel: Hebrew-speaking Catholics 'peace workers' in the Holy Land
The small and "vibrant" Hebrew speaking community was born in the 1950s. "We help young people to form a clear, fearless, open Christian identity ". Commitment to interreligious dialogue. The need to bring the "two Christians sides " closer together. Religious and social work with the children of migrants.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The vocation of Christians in the Holy Land is to be "peacemakers", to work to bring people closer, without being "for or against", states Fr. Rafic Nahra, describing the faith experience of the community entrusted to him. Since October 21, he is the new head of the Vicariate of St. James for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel.
Fr. Rafic Nahra worked in the vicariate alongside his predecessor Fr. David Neuhaus SJ, and says he wants to act as a sign of "continuity," following the commitment to educating young people and for dialogue between religions and Christian communities in the Holy Land. In Jerusalem since 2004, he was sent to the Church of Paris to study Jewish thought. Since then, he is very active in establishing contacts with the Jewish community.
He says that the modest Catholic Church in Israel is not engaged in proselytizing, but lives its testimony of faith in being "openly Christian" and being a bridge of dialogue distant from political discourse.
"Politics is discussed everywhere in the world every day, this is not our mission. Our mission is to help people establish contacts. Jesus says 'Blessed are the peacemakers' and I think this is a particular vocation for Christians here. Our role is not to promote one or the other, but to help bring people closer. Building peace rather than tension and hate. "
The Hebrew speaking community was born in the 1950s, after the creation of the State of Israel. It is a small community, that started with mixed couples - Catholic and Jewish – who arrived in the new-born country. At the time, in Hebrew "there was nothing, no missal, nor books of spirituality. It started from scratch. " Yet there is no complete Hebrew mass. Along with mixed couples, volunteers and religious also arrived. It was important for them to work to improve relations between Christians and Jews. Today there are about a thousand Hebrew speaking Catholics, and they are divided between the parish of Jerusalem, Beersheba, Jaffa, Haifa, and Tiberias. The community is alive, full of young people, some of whom have participated in World Youth Days.
"It is possible to live as Christians in Israel, only if we really want to integrate ourselves into society we must be strong and courageous and not become ghettoized. We help young people to form a clear, fearless, open Christian identity. We have the same challenges everywhere in the world: a kind of 'secularism' in the sense of 'living without God', a materialist society. We try to convince young people not to take on this mentality, but to live their faith industriously. There is a lot to do, but it is a beautiful community. "
From the outset for Israel's "Little Churches", the interreligious aspect was fundamental. In recent years, events and relationships with Jewish communities have multiplied, such as monthly meetings to study the Torah and the New Testament together. "We try to get to know each other, to go on a journey of discovery together. We also carry out interfaith charity work, Jews, Muslims and Christians together. For us it is important, it is our testimony of coexistence."
Christians "on both sides"
One project that is “very dear” to Fr. Nahra is to bring the "Christians of both sides", that is, the Christian Arabs and those of Jewish expression closer together. According to the vicar, the first difficulty between the two groups is not political but linguistic and cultural: "Although in Jerusalem, they live in the same city, there are two different cultural worlds. The pace of life is different. There is difficulty in establishing contacts and maybe some psychological resistance to going to the neighborhood of the other, but these can be overcome. In the coming years, with the help of God and those who are interested, I really want to be able to bring Christians closer, so we can encourage and help each other. "
The "new reality" of Catholic migrants
Five years ago, the community added "a new reality. We started working with the children of migrants who came to work in Israel, who go to Israeli schools, speak Hebrew, and are very similar to other children. “ It is difficult to put a number on the amount of these children is, because while there are tens of thousands Catholic migrants, not all families have children and some cannot stay in Israel. "Some stay here, grow up here, sometimes they are forced to return home, but often if they accept to do military service they may remain. We welcome all those who come, not knowing who will stay and who will not. We make no distinction, we have these children who speak Hebrew, the Lord sends them to us, so we do what we can. "
Launching catechism in Hebrew "we realized that it is not only a religious, but also a social issue. They are very poor, have few means and their mothers work all day. That is how we came to open a place in Jerusalem to welcome children. Those from zero to three years we welcome them all day because their mothers work all day, while those from three to 11 come every afternoon and we help them study. It has become an important part of our work as a vicariate."