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HOLY LAND – The pastoral year has begun and new features and changes have been published. Among them, the creation of the Pastoral Service Center. To better understand the challenges of such a project, Father Rafiq Khoury, the Director of this new service has agreed to answer our questions.

Father Rafiq, here you are at the head of a service which will be at the heart of the life of the diocese of Jerusalem. For those who still do not know you, can you describe your journey as a Diocesan priest?

I just have my pastoral journey. I’ve been a priest for 50 years. After studying Pastoral Theology and Catechetics in Rome, it was only natural that I was called upon to invest in this area for the diocese. Responsible for more than thirty years of Catechetical service, I also have had the chance to be involved in the Synod of Catholic Churches of the Holy Land. I was its General Secretary during the eight years that we were drafting the General Pastoral Plan that was presented and discussed at the Great General Assembly of the year 2000. Until 2010, the Synod Office continued to work to ensure that this plan was implemented throughout the diocese. Of course, I also was in charge of parishes, as a parish priest, especially in Jifneh and Birzeit, which ensured that throughout fifty years I’ve had permanent contact with the pastoral journey.

Can you tell us in a few words about the general objectives of this Pastoral Center that Archbishop Pizzaballa and the Presbyterate wanted to put in place?

We started from the obvious of the Church’s life: pastoral activity is at the heart of the life of a diocese, it is the reality that gives vitality to the Church. Our diocese is called to be a living church that lives and testifies to its faith, in the Holy Land. This activity should be divided into four areas:
Koinonia or Communion includes all activities aimed at the unity, communion and internal communication of the diocese,
Kerygma, includes forms of the proclamation of the Word of God (catechism in all its forms, adult catechesis, bible formation)
Liturgy includes the pastoral activity concerning the liturgical actions (celebrations, sacraments, ways of prayer)
Diakonia or service of charity brings together works of charity in its most diverse forms.
It seemed to us that the co-ordination of this work belonged to the Diocese and parish priests cannot carry out everything. In addition, it’s essential that the link between these two entities are strengthened: a parish without a diocese is doomed to death and a diocese without parishes is no more than an institution. A service is therefore indispensable for the promotion and development of this pastoral activity in the heart of the diocese. It is the mission entrusted to the Pastoral Service Center.

 What are the goals of the service?

The Pastoral Service Center is a permanent office led by two regional secretaries, Father Ibrahim Shomali for Palestine and Israel and Father Ala Musharbash for the Jordan, and I who will coordinate all. Mariana Kanzoua, a young layperson here at the Center has been trained in the pastoral theology at Fribourg University will assist the priests’ team.
The Center will work mainly for the three territories cited: the diocesan reality in Cyprus is still very different and agrees to let it organize what is best suited to its own situation. However, the Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics has proposed autonomy to propose a pastoral that meets the needs of its faithful.
In Amman and Jerusalem, two Pastoral Commissions have been contributing to collaboration with the main office. They are composed of priests, religious and laity so that the different states of life, different movements and different regions are well represented.
In Jerusalem, the Pastoral Commission is one of the most prominent members of the pastoral ministry, the family, the youth, the preparation of the sacraments, the pastoral counsels and the Holy Scripture. Among these five topics, the priests of the Patriarchate chose, at their monthly meeting in September, to work on the family this year in order to develop the family ministry in the parishes and on the diocesan level.

On October 6, the Commission will meet to develop this theme into a pastoral project. That day will be a time of work but also a time of retreat and prayer.

Amman,  on its part, will take the same initiative in accord with its own schedule.

How do you imagine this year of work?

We are still in the early stages. The work is organized as we go along. I refuse to make it a big dream. We are start and so we must move forward step by step. As I have already had the opportunity to say it to the Commission which met in Jerusalem, our plan must be concrete and applicable. I must say that the good will on the part of everyone has given us a lot of courage and hope.
Obviously, we hope to open and share this project with all institutions, seminaries, religious and members of the AOCTS but we must take time to work little by little.
We are not going to change the world but simply to put ourselves at the service of all the pastoral bodies of the diocese and especially of all the faithful in the Holy Land!

Interview by Cécile Klos

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