Global Church: The Church in the Holy Land

Watch the short videos provided in advance of the live discussion here: Church in the Holy Land

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below


  • The term “Christians in the Holy Land” includes a diverse population of Christian individuals and groups. These groups speak different languages, live in different countries and play different roles in Middle Eastern society. (7:12)
  • Christians make up a very small percentage of the population in Israel and Palestine. This presents challenges to them due to their status as a minority group lacking political power. (11:44)
  •  “When it comes to the distribution within that minority, when it comes to denominations, there’s a lot of variety. It’s a very heterogeneous group when you look at denomination.” (Daniel Schwake, 14:36)
  • “A lot of hope comes out of this group [Christians in the land). I personally lived outside of this country for 15 years, and came back here, because Christians here [in the holy land] have a role. That role is a significant one, and it is a romantic role if you so want. Because from a theological and historical perspective this land means something to us. But it is also because we care for the region and we want to change it for good.” (Daniel Schwake, (24:18) 
  • The Tantur Ecumenical Institute offers an immersion experience into the sacred places, people and traditions of the Holy Land. It offers an immersion into the complexity of what life in the Holy Land is like. (25:15)
  • “To enter into an encounter with another person, you really seek to get to know them, their story, their experience. And you learn something about that person, but in the process, you learn something about yourself. In this encounter you are being changed, the other person is being changed, and you grow together and both become agents of further change.” (Rev. John M. Paul, S.J., 30:52)
  • The Notre Dame efforts in the Holy Land seek to create agents of change and foster interreligious dialogue. These efforts were supported by Father Ted Hesburgh and his collaboration to build the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. (32:18)
  • Visiting the Holy Land can make biblical narratives come to life. It can make your faith come alive through exploring the lives of early Christians and Jews. (33:08)
  • “The Tantur Ecumenical Institute is really seen as a welcoming atmosphere of learning, of dialogue, of encounter, of conversation, of really trying to seek to know the other.” (Rev. John M. Paul, S.J., 32:18)
  • “We are invited to be agents of change for ecumenism, understanding, reunification and greater interreligious dialogue.” (Rev. John M. Paul, S.J., 39:56)
  • “The diversion within this group [Christians in the holy land] is what really makes it beautiful. If you go to a Church and you have people that are Arabs, some are Hebrew-speaking, some are Filipinos, some Americans or European. It’s something that is very telling to what we all are, searching for that thing that we want to be. You feel less “strange”, because everyone else around you is as colourful [as you]”  (Daniel Schwake, 1:01:56)

Event Recap

The final event in The Global Church and Islam series featured Reverend John M. Paul, S.J., the Rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, and Daniel Schwake, the Executive Director of the University of Notre Dame at Tantur. While the other events in this series have focused on Muslim-Christian relations and the common roots of Christianity and Islam, this event highlighted the experiences of Christians living in the Holy Land. The speakers covered the diversity of Christian groups living in the area, the challenges they commonly face, and the effects of the University of Notre Dame’s efforts to foster interreligious dialogue through the Tantur Ecumenical Institute.

Schwake began the session by explaining the term “Christians in the Holy Land”. He identified five groups of Christians living in Israel and Palestine, including Palestinian/Arabic Speaking, Hebrew/Speaking, Long-term expatriates, Migrants and Pilgrims. Individuals in each of these groups play different roles in society and contribute differently to the Christian community in the Holy Land. Before moving forward, Schwake emphasized the fact that Christians make up a very small percentage of the population in Israel and Palestine. Though this percentage has been around 10% in the past, it has dropped to about 2% today. In addition, this small percentage is made up of a number of Christian groups, including Greek Catholics, Orthodox Catholics, Roman Catholics, and a sprinkling of Protestants and other groups. Therefore, the population of Christians in the Holy Land is not only small, it is incredibly diverse. Both of these characteristics present challenges to the Christians living there. However, Schwake highlighted that the Church in Israel and Palestine also faces the same challenges that the Catholic Church faces throughout the world, including but not limited to liberalism and secularism. He ended his portion of the discussion by voicing his opinion that the Christian population in the Holy Land displays great hope. Those that struggle to maintain their position in the society truly care about the history of the Church and the faith, believing that they have an important role to play in its present day worship.

Fr. Paul then stepped in to discuss his role with the Tantur Ecumenical Institute and its vision and mission. This institute was founded in 1972 due to the commitment of Fr. Ted Hesburgh to build on the values of reconciliation and conversation demonstrated by Pope Paul VI after Vatican II. It was created to offer an immersive experience into the history of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as to explore the beliefs of each and each religion’s influence on the biblical tradition. Fr. Paul described the institute as an “oasis to encounter”, a welcoming space to truly get to know other individuals and their experiences in an ecumenical environment. He emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue and uniting to create change.

To close the session, both speakers responded to questions from participants on topics such as Notre Dame’s further efforts in the Holy Land, the concrete advances in religious conversations in recent years and the aspects of the Middle Eastern countries that resonate most deeply with them personally. Before concluding the final session in the series, the following questions were asked of participants in breakout groups: What does the Holy Land mean to you personally? What do you think it means to the Church? How has this presentation changed your thinking about the place of the Church in the Holy Land?

View the discussion recorded on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, with Daniel Schwake, Executive Director, Jerusalem, and Rev. John M. Paul, S.J., Rector, Tantur Ecumenical Institute Leadership. Register to receive information about how to join future live events. 

Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:

Learn more about the series and register here.

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