Holy Land speaker explains plight of Christians in Jerusalem

June 14, 2016

HOUSTON — What began with a prayer to God, led by Pastor of Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church Father Sean Horrigan, that the Holy Spirit would “come upon the messengers of the world to bring peace among us while bringing us closer to the land of Your Son,” led to an enlightening hour and a half discussion about the history of the Holy Land and the 5,000 Christians currently living in Jerusalem. 

Rimon Makhlouf, an expert on the Holy Land and senior tour guide working in Jerusalem, presented a lecture detailing the plight of Christians living in the Holy Land and the continuing struggle for peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Israel.

He spoke at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church on May 12 and at St. Michael Catholic Church on May 15. He masterfully traced the history of Christians from Jesus’ time to modern day society. He also urged the importance of the geography to all the issues.

“You have to look at these things geographically,” Makhlouf said. “When cultures began to trade with each other, they had to do a lot of on-foot traveling. Because of this they needed a safe route with water sources. The Holy Land is a natural bridge that connects Egypt and Iraq. First it started with trade, but money breeds evil and wars began. Our land was the battlefield for all of this.”

An active Latin-rite Catholic from the tribe of Ephraim, Makhlouf has experienced the struggles of Christians in the region all of his life. He was born on the Mount of Olives and grew up (and still lives) in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. His father is buried on Mount Zion and his grandfather’s tomb is in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He went through the entire history of the land including when the Persians attacked in 614, The Crusades, when the Islamic forces ruled, and to more modern day Jewish-Palestinian conflicts. He also broke down the meanings of words, such as Arab, Palestine and names for Jesus, how they were created and how these words get confused and contorted in the media. He was clear about the hardships Christians and Palestinians face and the alienation they are subjected to.

“I am an alien in my own native country,” he said. “Even when someone comes to the United States, you have a green card and you can do everything. Not this guy. They never gave us the right as citizens, as human beings. Israel wants to have a Jewish state, so they are trying to get rid of everyone else. In the past, there has been ethnic cleansing and they even closed off water supplies and blocked sewers. What the Israelites are doing is extreme violence.” 

Makhlouf explained the challenge of trying to keep those born and living in Bethlehem in the area. With the highest per capita PhDs being produced in the world, mostly women he commented, there are few opportunities for people once they get done at the university level. He said they are prisoners inside the separation barrier, or The Wall, that separates Israel from Bethlehem, unless they leave completely.

“This is the psychology effect,” he said. “We like to live in dignity and we are not beggars. We have college graduates who work as salesmen because there are no opportunities. We try to work as hard as we can to maintain a good Christian life, but life is hard. We are trying to work on an alternative plan with the Church to help create jobs to help people stay.” 

Makhlouf said that people often leave to go to Australia, Canada or the U.S. to have job opportunities where they can use their degrees. The flipside of this issue is that the Holy Land is being left behind while the number of Christians continue to dwindle.

“We are coming to a point where our churches are just museums if we stay silent about it,” he said. “There will be no living stones. The Church is the living people, not the structures. This is where we need to give hope to maintain the Christian presence there. I’m talking about places where Jesus walked; I’m not ready to give that up.”

Even with all of the issues, devastation and violence surrounding Christians, Makhlouf explained how being a Christian is of the utmost importance. 

“This is what we are really dealing with in a pacifist way,” he said. “I’ve never carried a gun in my pocket. I just carry my Rosary. I’m not really following Jesus if I don’t carry my cross. I love all of them — Jews, Muslims, Palestinians. I love them all.” 

Noting that he was a geographer more than a historian, Makhlouf urged listeners to read Isaiah to better understand what has been happening in the land for thousands of years. He referenced passages from Isaiah and also those linked in the New Testament to help the assembly make connections. 

“There is a lot of history you can understand by coming to the Holy Land,” he said. “I am trying to create awareness about what is happening on the ground, but many people have never been to the Holy Land. I often get asked why the Lord chose that place and not somewhere else? Perhaps, Texas. We must understand that it is all a part of God’s plan for salvation. We must go back to Genesis through the prophecies.” 

Makhlouf has led pilgrims and visitors to Jerusalem since 1980, and is the senior-most licensed tour guide working in the region, having trained hundreds of guides over the years through his teaching at Bethlehem University. He has worked with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to open up opportunities for Palestinians to receive licensing from the State of Israel to lead tours in their own homeland.

“Please come to the Holy Land,” he said. “Your presence shows us we are not alone. You presence defuses conflicts. But do not come as tourists, come as pilgrims. Coming to the Holy Land is life-changing. You live the mysteries and you will see Christians in a completely different way. To learn the word, we have to live the word and to live the word, you have to come to the Holy Land.”

Makhlouf said visitors are safe and do not go to warzone areas, but they stay in peaceful areas. He urged Christians not only to visit the Holy Land, but to keep praying for what is happening in the place where Jesus lived.

“It’s not on your bucket list,” he said. “You’re not a tourist. This is your home. Come live the Scriptures. When you go there and smell the air and see the mountains, you will never forget it.”

For more information about Makhlouf, his tours and his speaking engagements, visit his website at www.rimonmakhlouf.com.