What does Khoury

Rafiq Khoury is seen by many Palestinian theologians as the mastermind of a theology in the context of the Holy Land. He is a Catholic Latin rite and lives in the Orient. As a Catholic he is part of the great Catholic tradition with all its diversity. He understands "Catholic" in the original sense of the all-embracing, universal Church. The connection with the Latin rite brings him - together with the many young churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America - closer to the West without becoming a Latin. Inculturation of theology is required. The reference to the Orient has a double meaning for him: The oriental culture and ecclesiastical reality shape his identity through and through. In addition, today the Orient primarily means the Arab world. This is his world. The connection with the various spheres of reality is a great opportunity for him, on the one hand, to be specifically connected to this Arab world and, on the other hand, to enjoy enormous freedom and distance from this world, which offers him great opportunities for reflection and commitment.

Rafiq Khoury had his key theological experience in Rome in 1970 during a congress on catechesis in the socio-political contexts of the various countries of the world. He wondered how oriental Christians present their catechesis in view of their socio-political situation. This question never left him. For Rafiq Khoury, theological reflection is inseparable from pastoral activity. Theological reflection must start from reality, question it, lead to pastoral action and be nourished from pastoral action. His theological contributions thus first describe reality in detail, without questioning, before theological conclusions are drawn.

Even before receiving his doctorate in Rome, he taught at the seminary of the Latin Patriarchate and later also at Bethlehem University. From 1992 to 2000 he was general secretary of the Synod of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land and since 2000 general secretary of the Catholic Pastoral Committee. He had a decisive influence on the pastoral plan of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land. In Rome he is consultor of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue with Muslims (since 1988) and for the past five years also for dialogue with Jews. He co-founded the Al-Liqa Center, which has given decisive impulses for a contextual Palestinian theology. As a member of “Justicia et Pax” Jerusalem, he has long been concerned with social developments from a Christian perspective.

Rafiq Khoury lives in the Holy Land with Palestinians and Israelis, with Jews, Christians and Muslims - a society full of problems and tensions. As a Christian Palestinian, he mainly deals theologically with the problems that arise from the founding of the State of Israel, the experiences of the Christian communities in the Near and Middle East, as well as the difficulties and opportunities that arise from the coexistence of Christians and Muslims and devoted to Jews.

His theological thinking is shaped by the incarnation: "How does the Christian faith incarnate in the Holy Land today?" The first task to answer the question is to grasp the context. In 1980 the Jerusalem commission “Justicia et Pax” brought Christian faith and the political situation of Palestine together for the first time in the documentary “Our Christian Faith and Political Conscience”. The questions outnumbered and so there was still a long way to go. At the conferences of the Al-Liqa Center, Rafiq Khoury further shed light on the relationship between belief and politics.

The basic component of a contextual theology must be the experience of the Christian Palestinians that with the Zionist movement a Jewish state was established on historical Palestine and that as a result injustices arose which led to a huge movement of refugees. Rafiq Khoury tries to fathom the theological meaning of the suffering and oppression of the Palestinians without denying the theological meaning of Israel. Four topics are in the foreground:

How can the Bible be read in the light of the Palestinian experience? Is the Jewish understanding of the Old Testament, which regards the land as the exclusive property of Israel, the only correct one? Rafiq Khoury sees the key in Jesus Christ. From this point of view, the Old Testament can also be understood by Palestinian Christians. The second theme is the universal God and his connection to the Chosen People and the Promised Land. He sees the country as a central theme of theology in the Palestinian context. God had chosen this at a certain point in history and given it to a people "as a sign that God is interested in the whole earth and for all peoples".

But the big issue of Palestinian theology is justice. The difficulty lies in the different perceptions of what is wrong and what is right. Justice - a key issue in the Old Testament - is also the key to a peaceful future. The thorniest problem is Jerusalem because it is claimed as a holy city by all three Abrahamic religions. But that is precisely why Rafiq Khoury sees Jerusalem as the key to the peaceful future of the region.

As a minority, Christians face a threefold problem. Although they take it for granted to be Arab, they must emphasize this emphatically. Rafiq Khoury sees a danger in this if this affiliation is emphasized so strongly that being a Christian can only burn on the back burner. He sees the other danger in an overpowering Israel that wants to see Christianity without national affiliation and thus drive a wedge between Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Christians are tempted to bow to it. In relation to the many pilgrims - if they come to the country - Rafiq Khoury sees the danger that the local Christians will want to hide their Arabism in order not to be immediately associated with terrorism.

According to Rafiq Khoury, the Christian communities in the Holy Land have a special calling. When political events permit, large crowds of pilgrims come to the Holy Land. Some Christians come forever or for a long time. The resulting openness to the whole world is a specific calling of the Holy Land. It is the task of the native Christians to do justice to this.

According to Rafiq Khoury, religions should make a contribution to peace, but the three religions in the Middle East in particular are at risk of being used for political purposes: Judaism has become an instrument of power and the Old Testament is used to justify political claims. Islamic fundamentalism also abuses religion. Rafiq Khoury also sees such tendencies in Christianity. The cause of many conflicts are the different memories: for the Jews the Shoah, for the Muslims colonialism and the invasion and for the Christians the frequent suffering as a minority. The memory of the other becomes a threat: for the Jew the goyim (non-Jew), for the Muslim the unbeliever, for the Christian the persecutor. The ability to make peace depends above all on the answers to the questions "Who is God?", "Who is the other?" And "Who am I?" Rafiq Khoury believes that all three religions can use the answers to these questions to develop a perspective that promotes peace, reconciliation and understanding.

HARALD SUERMANN
Theologian and orientalist, head of the missiological institute Missio e.V., Aachen