• FEATURES \ Nov 24, 2004
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    Priest Highlights Arab Christian Challenges
Priest Highlights Arab Christian Challenges
Fr. Emil Salayta spoke on Monday night to raise awareness of the Palestinian Christian community and to dispel common misunderstandings of Arab Christians.

A parish priest from the West Bank and co-founder of the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation, Salayta began with a broad overview of the region, and noted that for Christians, the region has special meaning.

?The Holy Land ? Jordan, Palestine, Israel ? are all places our lord Jesus Christ lived, preached, walked and died with the passion,? he said, speaking in White Gravenor. ?The Holy Land is the center of faith and life.?

The current conflicts center around the controversy rooted in Biblical interpretations, he said, adding that biblical scriptures with references to a chosen group and promised land has been abused by right-wing Christian groups with Zionist affiliations.

Salayta said that many people often assume that all Arabs in the region are also Muslim. ?Arab Christians have been forgotten or misunderstood,? he said. ?[Many] ignore the existence of Arab Christians who have been in the Holy Land since Biblical times.?

Today there are 15 million Arab Christians in the Middle East and many Muslims families descended from Christian backgrounds in the region.

For Salayta, the conflicts lie between ?those who believe the state of Israel will hasten the coming of Christ? and those who do not.

?It?s an insult for us or for others to try to justify injustice based on the Holy Scriptures,? he said,

Salayta said that for Christians, there is no longer a single group of chosen people. After the death of Jesus these concepts ended and the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled, he added.

Calling his parish a ?suffering church,? Salayta went on to note the problems that the Arab-Christian community faces in the region.

?Because the Christians in that part of the world are Palestinian they are subject to oppression, discrimination and injustice,? he said. ?They suffer the same.?

With a population of less than 2 percent, Christians are a tiny minority with little chance of gaining followers through conversion from among either Muslim or Jewish communities.

Salayta spoke about the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, a charitable organization that donates scholarships and starts schools for students in Palestine. Believing that Arab Christians could play a unique role in the peacemaking process because of their biblical connections to the Jews and cultural ties to the Arab Muslims, Salayta called for greater reconciliation between the groups.

?By faith we are called to be concerned whenever there is injustice, called to partnership extending our hands to those in need and reach out,? he said.

Moreover, he appealed that the American public should become more aware of events in the Holy Land because of the U.S. government?s financial support of Israel.

?We are a part of what is happening over there, whether we know it or not,? he said.

Toward the end of his presentation, Salayta discussed the role of suicide bombers, adding that Israelis have suffered in the conflict as well.

He said there was no justification for such attacks, but that the attacks came out of frustration.