• March 22, 2006
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    George Khoury brings unique perspective to Rapid City
George Khoury brings unique perspective to Rapid City Khoury is also the newest staff member at Catholic Social Services in Rapid City. When he emigrated from his home in Nazareth, Israel, to Rapid City five months ago, he brought along his family, an impressive res! ume as a clinical psychologist and his abiding interest in interfaith dialogue.

The Khoury family includes his wife, Amal, and their 20-year-old daughter, Marianna, and sons, Mario and Mike, who both attend Stevens High School. They came to Rapid City to join George?s brother, John, and his family, who own and run the Khoury Mediterranean Restaurant in west Rapid City.

The family surname ? Khoury ? is a form of the Arabic word for ?priest.? Like his father and 165 other Khoury men before him, George Khoury is an ordained priest of the Melkite rite, a Byzantine church that is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

While most Roman Catholics belong to the Latin rite, about 12 million other Catholics worldwide belong to one of about 25 Eastern rite Catholic churches. Eastern Catholic Churches are groups of Christians whose traditions are based on the style of Constantinople but are in union with the church of Rome. Eastern rite Catholics hold the same do! ctrinal beliefs as Roman Catholics and recognize the authority of the Vatican and the Pope, but they differ in language, liturgy, customs, church laws and traditions.

For instance, in the Melkite tradition, married men may be ordained to the priesthood, although single men who enter the diaconate cannot later marry, Khoury said.

?In my country, salaries for priests are very low,? Khoury said, explaining his dual career path as both a clinical psychologist and cleric. He has held numerous posts as a psychologist over the past 20 years, but he also served as pastor of a Greek Catholic parish in Nazareth and he spent two and a half years as chancellor to the archbishop in the Archdiocese of Galilee.

Among the four languages that Khoury speaks fluently is Italian, which he learned during the 10 years he spent in Rome, earning seminary degrees in philosophy, theology and pastoral theology and psychology. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University o! f Bucharest.

His speech carries hints of that Italian accent, as well as his native Arabic language. As a citizen of Israel, he speaks Hebrew and if he has to, Khoury also can communicate in German and French. He also knows a little Israeli Sign Language, thanks to his job as senior psychologist and principal at a school for the deaf in Nazareth.

CSS director Jim Kinyon is thrilled to have Khoury on staff, but wonders a bit about how to best use the unique mix of professional credentials and personal qualifications that he brings to CSS.

Khoury will provide a variety of outpatient mental health services at the agency, where his fellow staffers call him Abouna, an Arabic word for the clerical title of Father.

The combination of his clinical and clerical backgrounds gives clients a counseling option never before available at CSS, Kinyon said. ?It is a fairly unique piece to have a Ph.D. psychologist who is also a clergyman.?

The other gifts that Khoury brings to the agency are many, Kinyon said. Not only has CSS never employed a doctorate-level psychologist before, but Khoury?s expertise in race relations, interfaith dialogue and social justice ministry may be useful in building racial and cultural bridges in western South Dakota communities. CSS provides mental health services on four American Indian reservations and in other underserved areas of the state.

?He brings a unique set of qualifications and skills to help us address some of the issues of peace and justice that are part of our agency?s mission,? Kinyon said.

Mediation services, too, might be an area of expertise for the man who defies common labels.

?Because I am in the middle of everything, perhaps I can be a mediator, I can be a bridge. Working in the mediation field, perhaps I can help others avoid conflicts.?

In Israel, Khoury was a member of the Israeli Interfaith Association. Four years ago, he co-founded the Interfaith Encounter Association.

He came by his interest in interfaith issues naturally, Khoury said, when he was born into a tiny minority of Christians in a town of 20,000 Muslims. His father was also a Catholic priest and educator who believed strongly in interfaith dialogue. ?He was a positive example for me. He taught me to bypass barriers and to see the other person as a human being first,? he said.

Khoury was one of just 130,000 indigenous Arab Christians living in Israel, a Jewish state that also has more than one million Muslim residents. As such, he faced religious discrimination from Muslim Arabs and racial and political discrimination from Israeli laws and policies that are anti-Arab.

In Israel, it may be hard to be a Muslim or Christian minority, but it is hardest of all to be an Arab Christian, he said. Many Americans don?t even realize that there are Christians living in Israel, he said. ?But we have been there since the beginning, and we are struggling, we ar! e fighting for our identity,? he said.

His professional roles as priest, psychologist and judge raised his public profile as an advocate of interfaith dialogue between Jewish, Muslim and Christian interests. But it also eventually prompted his departure from Israel.

?My high profile in the community made me more of a target for discrimination from both sides,? he said.

Perhaps because of their minority status, Arab Christians tend to be a highly educated group of people, Khoury said. His own education included legal training. That led to his appointment as a judge in the Catholic Religious Courts of Israel from 1996 to 2004, where he had the responsibility of deciding a variety of family legal issues, including divorce, child custody, alimony and inheritance.

Family courts in Israel are divided by religion, based on the fact that there is no civil marriage in Israel.

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