Archbishop Naoum: 0:00
Maybe we can’t see abundance at this time. We see scarcity and need and lack of everything, but I think we trust and hope that God is there and God will, with his abundance, shower us with his love and grace and hope so that we may continue to persevere, to have resilience in order to go through this time and we come out stronger, so that we may bring life to others around us. This is For People, with Bishop Rob Wright.
Bishop Wright: 0:40
Hello everyone. This is Bishop Rob Wright and this is For People. We have a special edition today. We are really blessed and really grateful to be speaking to them. The most reverent Hosam Elias Naoum, who is the Archbishop and Prime of the entire province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, which includes not only Jerusalem but the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf and the Diocese of Iran, archbishop, welcome.
Archbishop Naoum: 1:14
Thank you. Thank you, bishop, it’s wonderful to be with you.
Bishop Wright: 1:17
Thank you for making time for us. We know that there is so much going on in your jurisdiction and in your region. First and foremost, we want you to know that in the Diocese of Atlanta, we are lifting you up in prayer and lifting up the situation in prayer. Please know that you are empowered through the Holy Spirit and our prayers to do this work that you are doing in a region that is experiencing such violence and sadness now. So know that please.
Archbishop Naoum: 1:52
Thank you very much, bishop. We are really indebted to your prayers and support, in Atlanta certainly, but also throughout the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Wright: 2:01
Very good. Thank you, archbishop. Before we get to asking you a little bit about what’s going on as you are there, I just want people to know that you were consecrated in 2020 and installed as Diocesan Bishop and the 15th Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in May of 2021. You are born in Haifa and you are married to Rafa and you have two daughters, so not only a bishop and a bishop in the Anglican Communion, but a husband and a father, and so you come at all of this through those lenses, in addition to being a Bishop. So we watch in America all of the news and we see not only the tragic violence and terrorism of Hamas, but we also see now this constant bombing of Gaza. Tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing from where you sit.
Archbishop Naoum: 3:13
Thank you very much, Bishop Rob, for this invitation again and for this opportunity to share with our people in Atlanta and beyond about the context and the situation in which we find ourselves in the Holy Land, and it is quite ironic to see that the Holy Land itself, Jerusalem, the city of peace, is really not only lacking peace, but they cannot find it at the moment and in times like these. You know, like this is maybe not the first time that we experienced such tragic events of war, but this time is slightly different and maybe more than slightly quite different because of the not only the amount of people who were died and the hostages and the bombing of Gaza and all what is happening this is only like really breaks our heart to see such violence erupting in a place that should be an example for peace, not only for the people of the Middle East but also for the entire world. That’s something that really breaks our heart. You know, for us, you know, as you know, like my diocese, as Diocese of Jerusalem, not the whole province, but the diocese of Jerusalem extends into Israel and Palestine, the Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank, and also Syria and Lebanon and Jordan, and at the moment, you know, what we find ourselves in is that there is tension almost on every border of the diocese. Yeah, whether in the north or in the south, or within the Palestinian territories inside Israel, there is a lot of tension that is going on between different communities. There is a lot of mistrust, there is a lot of anger going on. So it’s not only the sounds of bullets and rockets flying in every direction, but also it is the relationship that you know it breaks our heart to see that. You know the different peoples living there, different religions of Jews, muslims and Christians feeding each other, you know, or kind of doubting each other, more segregation, more alienation, and you know, like maybe war itself has its heavy price on everybody. But you know, the bad news, I would say, is really aftermath of the war, that we have a lot to repair, a lot to tend into in terms of work of reconciliation and peacebuilding.
Bishop Wright: 5:45
Yes, my whole life we have. I have, from America, watched this family squabble, this family violence in the Holy Land, and there have been bright moments Cam David Accords and various documents being signed and the peace initiatives. But here it seems, now that the bottom has fallen out, it seems that we are at a tragic and terrible impasse. How do you preach in this context? What do you preach and how do you preach in this very difficult context?
Archbishop Naoum: 6:30
Yeah, this is a really great question, bishor, because, as we all know, like in times of war, the language that is normally used is a language of revenge or retaliation, or payback or what have you and the voices of peacebuilding reconciliation not only diminishes but also is not welcomed in any place. However, the churches in the Holy Land, including our church, the Iskupal church in Jerusalem, we continue to maintain the language that is spoken throughout. We encourage, you know, like ceasefire, the end of war, and, of course, you know like justice has to happen, but we continue to promote the language of coming together and having a solution that is lasting and just for both Israelis and Palestinians. We stress the point that Israel has the right to defend itself and the right to exist, the right to be secure, but also the right for the Palestinians to have their own state according to international law. Going back to the peace accords, two-state solution, preserving the dignity of every human person. That’s as Episcopalians, we are committed to the governor, like our baptismal governor, and that’s our preaching. You know we continue to preach that. We continue to discuss and talk to people on the across the divide and again, maybe it falls on deaf ears, but at the same time, we will not give up, because that’s eventually going to be the only path in which we can achieve peace and pursue it.
Bishop Wright: 8:12
You know, it’s so heartening to hear that you’re staying connected to this, to this idea of respecting the dignity of every human being, and that Israelis have the right to safety and security, but also so do the Palestinians, and that the two-state solution, with dignity and freedom for all, is really the only way forward. As you know, America has been politically divided for a very long time, and there’s vitriol on every side. And then when we watch the news, we hear the language of payback and vengeance. And so, you know, sometimes I feel like a Christian. I feel that our message is ridiculous in the world. People look at us like we are impractical and perhaps naive and silly-minded, and so how do you find, where do you find the strength to continue to assert what we believe, which is dignity for everyone, when people are looking at us as totally ridiculous as Christians?
Archbishop Naoum: 9:27
Yes, indeed, Bischop, you know one thing that I think you know. You absolutely right again, many people think that we speak foolish language, and this reminds us of Pauline literature, at least, where foolishness is actually God’s wisdom that people see eventually, but it is sometimes too late, or somehow late after the price is being paid by the blood of innocent people and all of that. But eventually, like I think what we find our strength in this preaching is through our connection, and this is something maybe unique to the Holy Land in a sense, and I’m sure that it applies to all Christians around the world. But for us it’s more metaphorical and physical, and it’s the empty tomb. The power of death is defeated and the empty tomb is a continuous witness that Christ is not there because he has overcome death. The living hope of Jesus is resurrecting from the dead continues to be our aspiration of our hope for this world and for the world to come. I know that this can be idealistic in a sense for people to say, like, how do you then translate this? Like, pragmatically, like how do you translate this on our daily life, and especially in times of war? And this is when we come to understanding of just war or what happens in terms of violence eventually becomes hearing God’s voice in the midst of suffering and death, and that’s why we are empowering people to go beyond the sense of rage and the vengeance and anger and what is going on and learn as well from previous experiences. Like you know, this is not the first time that war happens between Gaza, between Hamas and Israel. This is maybe the fourth eruption of such a war. Maybe now it’s bigger than ever. But if something that happened in the past and then we had a ceasefire, and then we come back to the same square one again and again and again, then I think we need to just again listen that what we have tried in the past did not work out. So that’s why we need to try something else, and the only alternative is that we sit and we negotiate, we talk and we have to eradicate extremists on every side. This is what making our lives so difficult in this region that people think of exclusion, of expulsion, of not accepting the other, alienation. And what do you expect the outcome to be after such a long history of hatred and resentment and blockade and the violence on every side? That’s what we’ve been trying to see. We need to focus and to see to find a language, a common language where, as you said, cam David, and the peace occurs, that are happening. That’s the only way forward for assuring a life of dignity and peace to everybody.
Bishop Wright: 12:39
Hi listeners, thank you for listening to For People. A space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. And now back to Four People. Your family connections to this land run deep and run long. I remember hearing you talk a little bit about the generations of your family that have been in this land. Say a little bit about your connection to the land.
Archbishop Naoum: 13:13
Yeah, so basically I come from Galilee, myself, from Nazareth area, so I’m a Galilee. We can make some connection there. And you know like I remember this one too. Bless His Soul, used to call me when I studied in South Africa. He used to call me the kid from Nazareth. Yeah, so basically my family goes back hundreds of years in the region and we are connected to the land and we trace our faith to the day of Pentecost, where Arab Christianity existed way before Islam and is authentic to the land of the Holy One, the Holy Land, wow, as in the Book of Acts 211, the 15 nations that are listed there. So Arab Christianity is really goes back to and that’s why people say like, oh, you are Israeli, Palestinian, what are you? But how come that you? When were you converted to Christianity? And we tell them 2000 years ago we were converted. That’s where it first happened. And but also, I want to say, even recently. Imagine that somebody like myself who is an Arab by nationality, I am Palestinian historically, but I am an Israeli citizen, yeah, so when I when I speak, you know like about the situation today, I can speak an Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel but also who is also Palestinian by origin, and I can really, when I speak the situation about how to bring people together as Palestinians and Israelis, I see it in my own identity.
Bishop Wright: 14:57
Archbishop Naoum: 14:58
I speak out of experience, you know, like out of living together with these different and sometimes conflicting identities. Yet I am there to say that I’m a Christian person who believes that we, as Abrahamic face, Jews, Christians and Muslims we belong to the one family here in the Holy Land. That’s how we feel. We studied together, we work together and we can live together. There’s a huge potential for all of us, but we need to respect each other and then say that, yes, there is great potential for our Holy Land to be an example of living together, for coexistence and tolerance, and for we use that word, but, but I think for us it’s living together. That’s how we should be.
Bishop Wright: 15:43
You are the father of a son and two daughters, and so what do you tell them now? Are they in the region or have they gone off to school? And what do you say to them about the state of the world? And how do you encourage them to have faith when they are no doubt seeing the images and hearing the stories?
Archbishop Naoum: 16:03
Yeah, quite often we have these discussions, especially now, as they are now older. We used to. When they were younger, of course, they were asking questions and we answered them according to their age and trying to explain things. But now they are grownups. You know, wadiah is in university doing architecture, the recent thing in high school, this year she’s senior and the little one is 13 years old. So, and for the first time you know, I during this war, I hear them saying like what are we still doing here? Like that you can get a good job somewhere else. Why are we still here? Yeah, and I tell them like see, we belong to this land, you know, like this is where we belong and we need to be here with our people to strengthen them and to empower them. Maybe now you can think about your own future and how we’re going to manage relationship back in university and school with the different identities and with all the suspicion that is going around in the community we fear of the other and how they can react to this and that. A lot of questions that they have, and I don’t have answers to all of those questions, but I tell them listen, that you know we are here so that we can make a difference. We need to bring transforming. We are called and I don’t know if it is a good or bad for you, but you know your dad is somebody, is a leader in the community, and you are part of the family. God has called us at this specific time to be agents of transformation and hope to the people whom we serve.
Bishop Wright: 17:38
You know, I find that my most difficult questions to answer don’t necessarily come from the members of the diocese. They don’t come necessarily from the clergy or the lay people though I get some pretty tough questions there but it’s when I get home. You know, I’m the father of five two daughters and three sons and it’s their questions. You know, in those moments where you they really push you and put you to the test and in my answer sound a lot like your answers is that we have been called to be stewards of hope even in the darkest moments, and it’s not an easy calling, but but it is a calling and what we would, what I would say and have said to them in a weird way, it is life. It is life, is the life we proclaim, is the life we’ve been connected to through God. I wonder, as you try to minister in these very difficult circumstances, I wonder is there a scripture or an image of God that that continues to play in your mind and that you continue to minister out of?
Archbishop Naoum: 18:52
Yeah, I know it might sound a bit strange and I just in the last few weeks they have been, they have been a few incidents that were very difficult for me personally as a leader, as a bishop. Within my diocese, we had these two major incidents One is the bombing of our hospital, our own hospital, in Gaza, and the other one, another boy was shot in front of the cathedral gate here two, three days ago. And and for me, like I asked myself exactly that question what, what verse would speak to me most at this time? As, as, as solace and as reassurance that God is with us. God will continue to guide us and guard us as we go through these difficult times. And I couldn’t find any verse except the one that was my like motto, like that was the theme of my ministry as a bishop, and that is John 1010. I came that they may have life and have it in abundance. Maybe we can’t see abundance at this time. We see scarcity and need and lack of everything, but I think we we trust and hope that God is there and God will, with his abundance, shower us with his love and grace and hope so that we may continue to persevere, to have resilience in order to go through this time and we come out stronger, so that we may bring life to others around us.
Bishop Wright: 20:29
You sound like that first kid from Nazareth there and I tell you, just listening to you is an encouragement to me to hear you where you’re standing now, to have this hope strengthen you, I think will strengthen those of us who are listening in. The grief is palpable, even at this great distance from Atlanta to Jerusalem, and and so we have no illusions about the difficulties, and yet you are finding strength in your relationship to God. What we learned here and this is not apples and apples, but what we learned, some of us learned here in COVID, which was a great trial for us is that it’s not that we have faith right, but it’s that faith has us. It is a resource that pours into us and out of that faith that comes to us as a gift, we have a gift to share. I hear that as you talk. Say a little bit about the hospital. A lot of folks don’t know that the hospital that was bombed was really an expression of a pissable ministry there in the region. Say a little bit about that.
Archbishop Naoum: 21:47
Yeah, so the hospital itself began its ministry in 1882. Where a Christian Church Machinery Society, which is CMS it’s an English machinery began a medical mission in Gaza and established a chapel there called San Philips Anglican Church. And of course you know that because we reminded with the story of the unique and the Ethiopian you know like on the way to Gaza and with Philip, san Philip. So that’s why it was San Philips Episcopal Church there until now. It’s a wonderful compound that has several buildings in it, but its witness has been absolutely a beacon of hope throughout the history of Gaza and we continue to offer these services to all people, despite their ethnic background, religion and most of the people in Gaza, as you might know that they come from an unprivileged background, very poor people living in refugee camps, and it is entirely a charity work that we do and with the help of our partners around the world, we were able to sustain the ministry in Gaza. There it is the only hospital that is not affiliated with a political fraction or it’s totally independent. It’s Christian based mission in the heart of Gaza City that continues to do that now and even despite that it was hit badly, where many people were killed in that incident two weeks ago, we reopened the hospital partially and we continue to minister to the people who are there, and that’s really kind of for us, the mission that is entrusted to us, that we will continue to do our work, god’s work, jesus’s work, and you know, I just want to remind everyone that we have more institutions than congregations in the Diocese of Jerusalem, and because we come to a place where we are convinced that Jesus’s mission, his earthly mission, was based on two main principles. The expression of his mission was teaching and healing, and that’s why these hospitals and schools and rehabilitation centers, and caring for the disadvantage and the special needs, and all of that is really at the heart of our mission reaching out to their communities, different faiths, different ethnic groups. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out to everybody, to the whole world, and this is what they continue to do, because these are the voices that will make a difference in people’s lives, and especially in Gaza at the moment, where people still need to hear that sheer sound of God’s gentleness and love in the midst of suffering and death.
Bishop Wright: 24:54
One of the great strengths of our church is that it’s an international church. It’s the, it’s both domestic and foreign, and it’s a missionary society. And so we are connected to you and you are connected to us, and that is how it is. We are local expressions and yet we are a global church. We are global brothers and sisters and siblings. In this time of need, what do you direct people to do? I know that people have been reaching out to you and to offer expressions of help. How can we help?
Archbishop Naoum: 25:33
You know, over the past weeks and even beyond. You know we have, as you know, with the literal resources we have, because of the big demand on the different institutions that we have, if it was only the congregations, it’s easy to manage. It’s not the operations deal, but having hospitals and these massive institutions, they demand a lot of resources. And our friends, as you said, the bigger family, our greater family, the global family, has always stood with us because they felt that the ministry and mission of the Diocese of Jerusalem belongs not only to locally, as you said, to the Diocese of Jerusalem, but the ministry that we do here, because it is the place where Christianity first happened, where Jesus. Jesus is homeland, so to speak. We do ministry on behalf of the whole Christian world and even beyond. So there’s kind of connection, as you said, like maybe you know the world itself, every place is a holy place, as you mentioned in the beginning, but the holy land continues to be a very unique place because it is the place where Jesus lived and died and rose again. So basically, I would say that the response that we have from our partners around the world has been absolutely wonderful. You know I receive calls and visits on the phone or by WhatsApp or you know other means of communication, prayers ascending on our behalf, people writing, and also there are also many people who have been also supporting us financially, especially for the hospital at this time in Gaza, standing in solidarity with us, and they know that what the Diocese of Jerusalem is going through at the moment is not an easy challenge. So I would say maybe in summary to this your prayers are deeply appreciated at this time and also your support in any way possible is also, I would say, reminds us of again, pauline, you know text that says if a member of that body, because we are the body of Christ, sometimes the whole body suffers with it. We have been really feeling that and it has made our life easier. It’s really strengthening and encouraging us to continue to offer these services despite the difficult situation we are in.
Bishop Wright: 28:08
And so if we feel moved to send resources, send financial resources to you. How best can we get our dollars to you?
Archbishop Naoum: 28:18
So basically, I think, in the Diocese of Jerusalem we have our major partner in the Episcopal Church and an organization called the American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem and they have the website and they have a wonderful board from all around the US and now this board is the president, is Bishop Greg Rickel, so until recently the Bishop of Olympia Sure, now in Southeast Florida, and also Alene Spencer is the director there and you can get in touch with them and they will tell you how best you can help the diocese or the hospital or both of them.
Bishop Wright: 29:01
Now that’s wonderful. So say again, the American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem is that right? Yes, of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and that’s correct Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. And we can find that website. Yes, indeed, and I know, actually personally know, Bishop Greg Rickel. I was there in Southeast Florida last weekend with him and the diocese for their annual council. So I will definitely be in touch and you can plan on receiving some support from our diocese.
Archbishop Naoum: 29:29
Thank you. Thank you very much, Bishop Rob, and Atlanta has always been very. We have connections with some of your congregations, like Old Saints and others, and also recently there when I visited the Seab Conference, then Seab Conference in Atlanta, and I also visited the shrine of, of course, in Atlanta, Martin Luther King you know, where I briefly visited there as well. So I hope that I will be able to visit again with you and to be with your people, and thank you very much for your standing with Diocese of Jerusalem, with your siblings in Christ, here at this very special time.
Bishop Wright: 30:12
I hope to welcome both you and your wife to the Diocese of Atlanta at some point soon and in happier times. That is my prayer as we wrap up here. Are there any last things you need us to know? And then I’m gonna ask you to conclude our time with a prayer.
Archbishop Naoum: 30:36
Yeah. So I would just want to again reiterate and say that we are grateful to you, bishop Prab, for your people and your family and just you know, having me here with you today to connect with your people is a great source of solace and encouragement to us, and I will convey your love to my diocese, to our clergy and institutions and congregations, and I hope you know like our partnership in the gospel will continue to be strengthened, and I want to assure you also of our prayers to you personally and all those under your care, archbishop we carry you in our hearts and we carry your people and the Holy Land with us as we go along.
Bishop Wright: 31:23
We are connected, for sure. Thank you, friend.
Archbishop Naoum: 31:26
Thank you very much. Let us pray. Grace is God. We thank you for this time together, and we thank you for both the Diocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Jerusalem. We thank you, Lord, for the leadership of your servant, Rob, and all under his care. We thank you for this moment that you have given us to share the hope, the aspirations and the pains, and as we continue to present all these things before your throne, we also want to bless us so that we continue to be your hands and feet in the world that is in much dire need at this time, and especially praying for the peace of Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name, we pray.
Bishop Wright: 32:13
In Jesus’ name, amen. God bless you, friend. God bless you, Bishop.