THE newly installed Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, says that his priority is to seek a better life for the people in the region, while working for peace and reconciliation in one of the most troubled corners of the world.
In an interview with the Church Times on Tuesday, Dr Naoum said that he would build on the theme that he preached at his installation in mid-April: the passage in St John’s Gospel in which Jesus said that he had come to bring life in abundance. “The one thing that I hope to achieve”, Dr Naoum said, “is to work with my fellow clergy, my people, my ecumenical partners and the people of the Holy Land in order to bring about a better life, a life of abundance at many levels. We, as Anglicans, will do our small part in alleviating the suffering of people through our pastoral care, and through the institutions we run across the diocese.”
Dr Naoum said that he was “a strong advocate of peace and reconciliation”, and that striving for these goals was high on his agenda. He would be “working both for unity among Christians, as well as tranquillity and conviviality among the people of the Holy Land”.
The diocese would continue to support the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his three main goals of prayer, evangelism, and reconciliation. “We are involved in these missions even as we engage in the difficult issues in the Holy Land, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Shortly after his installation, Dr Naoum issued a strong statement denouncing the serious outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians (News, 21 May). He believes that it is his duty, as Archbishop, to make his voice heard — particularly at times of crisis. “I think I’m obliged to speak with the heart of our people,” he said, “while at the same time continuing to be a voice of reconciliation and a voice for peace and justice. I will always try to be true to my faith and my calling. It’s not about being biased or prejudiced, but about speaking the truth about justice and peace.”
Dr Naoum said that he had noticed “a very good change in the past few years, with Britain as a whole, along with the Church of England, being more vocal about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially the Palestinian cause”. Lambeth Palace and a number of bishops “have been very supportive to the ministry of the diocese of Jerusalem, and we’ve seen a lot of solidarity in support of our people. But we are expecting more involvement on the part of the Church of England towards the peace process here in the Holy Land.”
Dr Naoum still believes that a two-state solution is achievable, despite growing obstacles in the form of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. “It’s the only way to a lasting peace,” he said.
Dr Naoum was born in the West Bank town of Nablus, in 1951. He studied at the Near East School of Theology, Beirut, and entered the priesthood in 1977, serving in several parishes in the West Bank and in Israel before becoming diocesan Bishop in 2007. The same year, he was granted a doctorate in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary, in the United States. Dr Naoum is married, with three daughters.
The diocese of Jerusalem extends beyond the Holy Land to incorporate two countries that are undergoing periods of profound crises: Syria and Lebanon. At present, no Anglican priest has access to Syria. “We are trying very, very hard to reach our surviving community there, but they are facing a lot of difficulty in terms of ministry and pastoral care,” Dr Naoum said. “We have had other churches helping our congregation.”
But Syria “is much better than before when it comes to security. I think the more worrying situation now for us is Lebanon, with all the uncertainty, and economic and political turmoil, in the absence of a government.” Dr Naoum hears daily from the Archdeacon for Lebanon and Syria, the Ven. Imad Zoorob, in Beirut, who “is really concerned about the future of Lebanon and the future of our people there. They tend to emigrate when they face such challenges on a daily basis.”
As for the Anglican Communion, the new Archbishop would not be drawn into taking sides in the debate between Canterbury and the conservative GAFCON group. “I say, like my predecessors, that Jerusalem is always a place for unity, and a place where people are invited to meet and have a conversation. And we will continue to hold that position.”
He believes that conversations among bishops which begin next month in advance of next year’s Lambeth Conference, which he plans to attend, will “bring us closer together and appreciate that, as a communion, we have a wonderful gift of diversity, despite our differences”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, he conceded, “has almost a mission impossible on his hands, but it’s possible with God’s grace. And we will always support him in his ministry.”
While Anglicans in the Holy Land were aware of the debates over women bishops, sexuality, and so on, these were not issues that preyed on the minds of churchgoers in the region. “We have so much to deal with,” the Archbishop said, “like basic human rights, access to home and country, migration, and so forth.”
“I’m not saying that issues of human sexuality and women’s ordination don’t exist,” Dr Naoum continued, “but because of the nature of the Eastern culture that we live in, just like the Muslim and Jewish communities here, we are conservative. I think that leaves very little room for people to debate such issues, because they are not on top of the list, so to speak. I’m not saying they’re not important. But in the here and now for us, in our diocese, these issues don’t have the urgency that they do in other places.”
After just over two months in his new post, Dr Naoum says that it “presents challenges on many levels, but it also has many blessings. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to serve in Jerusalem, in such a wonderful diocese where our Lord walked, died, and rose again. This is not an easy task, but we have hope, as Christians.
“I know that many people around the world are praying for the diocese of Jerusalem and my ministry. This is a gift that I will always cherish in my heart as a source of encouragement and empowerment.”