The Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, discusses life and ministry in the Holy Land in this interview, which first appeared in the newsletter of the Diocese of Jerusalem.
How long have you been Dean and where were you serving before?
I have been dean since 2012 and am the first indigenous dean installed to this church. Before that I was here in Jerusalem as Canon of the Arabic speaking congregation. I started my ministry in Jerusalem in 2005 and spent over a year in the US pursuing my master’s degree at Virginia Theological Seminary between 2009-2010. Before that, I was responsible for two parishes in the West Bank: St Phillips in Nablus and the Church of the Good Shepard in Rafidia, and also a third church building, St Matthew’s in Zababdeh. I started my ministry in these places in 1997 working with Canon Hanna Mansour and was ordained to the diaconate in 1998 and made a priest in 1999.
How does it compare to life in Nablus?
Jerusalem is a very large city on the one hand and second because it is the city of pilgrimage, so there is a huge cosmopolitan presence, a presence of pilgrims and visitors from around the world, so the character of Jerusalem is very special and the pace of life is very fast. I think Nablus was more organic in terms of parish ministry, where you would have a very intimate community where everybody knows each other.
There is more social and family life, whereas Jerusalem is very spread out and people tend to be more individualistic than communal. Also, Jerusalem is a mixed city with people belonging to the three major faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In Nablus and Zababdeh, the population is mainly Palestinian, Christian, and Muslim.
I understand that Archbishop Tutu described you as the “son of a carpenter from Nazareth”. When was this? Why was this?
When I was in South Africa, I got to know Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town. He was the head of the board of the seminary that I was attending between 1994-1996, and I got to see him and meet him on different occasions when the board had meetings and at the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown. But when we met and I explained that I come from Galilee, he said “ah I see! So you are kid from Nazareth whose father is a carpenter.” And so after that, every time I saw him he would introduce me with that line. He is a man who has a great sense of humour and a man of great love for God and for people. Whenever I was in his presence, I would be “all ears” and listen as much as possible to his wisdom and his graciousness.
What is it like to be Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem?
The sign at the entrance to St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: Gavin Drake
Being the Dean in Jerusalem is an interesting and important ministry for both the diocese and myself personally. I think Jerusalem has a great potential in terms of ministry that we can provide for our local community and the expatriate community. As a cathedral, the mother church of the diocese, and of the Anglican Communion when it comes to pilgrimage, we feel that we play a very important role in serving as a community of hospitality, friendship, and reconciliation. These are the virtues that we proclaim here in the name of Christ our Lord, and this space welcomes all people. We believe that it is God’s space where we meet the Holy. God has given us a privilege, but with that comes great responsibility and humbling ministry and service.
What are some of the most exciting parts of your ministry?
Being with the people of God – both locally and internationally. Being of service to them, nurturing them with the love of Christ is a wonderful opportunity. Pastoral care is at the heart of what I love most. Also, being helpful to those in the Cathedral Close including the Archbishop and the different institutions around the Close: St. George’s Guesthouse, College, and School. I believe that being a part of a wonderful team ministry is essential and truly exciting. It is a part of being with the people here and benefits all who come through the doors of the Cathedral. I also love taking pilgrims around and showing and walking with people where Jesus walked. These are the true blessings of this holy place.
What are the most challenging parts of ministering in the Holy Land?
The political situation is the most challenging part of my ministry and the ministry of this place. Jerusalem is a conflictual place, a place of many complexities. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is vivid in our daily lives with all the security incidents that happen around the Cathedral Close – Damascus Gate is less than five minutes away.
With all that is happening we sometimes feel the pressure that is in the air and things are not as you hope they would be, especially in this city, the city that’s supposed to be the city of hope, peace and light. The other two challenges are the extremism we face within different faiths and trying to serve in a multi-faith and multicultural context.
The Dean of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, visits the diocesan Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza with Archbishop Suheil Dawani.
Photo: Diocese of Jerusalem
What’s family-life like here in Jerusalem?
Family-life in the midst of every day’s busyness can be quite challenging with my work, my wife’s work, and the kids being in school. There’s a lot to manage and it’s hard because we don’t often all have one day off. It’s difficult but it is rewarding because we know that what we do is to the glory of God. We feel that we belong to this place and to this community and the children love it here.
How would you describe your faith?
My faith is knowing God and seeking his face in the people around me. I believe that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and leads us to acknowledge Christ in all people, seeking to love God in mercy and in compassion. If I want to summarise my faith, I say that I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, that Christ is all things for me and for my family. I seek to serve Christ through serving others around me. I believe that my relationship with God is reciprocal in the sense that I receive from God and in turn offer people God’s love. I hope that I don’t keep all of that love that God gives me for myself because I am entitled to share that gift of love and life with all people.
What sorts of exciting projects and ministries are you currently involved in or envision for the future?
I’m working on several projects. I am involved in more than one aspect of ministry here in the Cathedral Close so I can’t be too ambitious with working on huge projects. Within the cathedral itself, the first major project that we explored was how can we refurbish the cathedral with what it is missing. We replaced the hymnals, installed a new air-conditioning and heating system, and are working on installing and replacing the stained glass windows. We are about to finish replacing the current tile versions of the Stations of the Cross with a set of 14 icons being written by theological students in Florida, USA. We intentionally keep this place beautiful and worthy of God’s presence.
The other aspect of the Cathedral’s ministry is that of the choir and worship. We are always reviewing the resources in the cathedral and looking at how we can enhance our worship and music program. With the boys’ choir we are planning with the UK Friends of St George’s Cathedral to train a choir conductor in England and then come to Jerusalem to serve either full- or part-time in the cathedral. This will be a huge gift for this place because with so many services on weekdays and on Sunday, we try to make this a place where people can enjoy the musical aspects of liturgy and worship to the glory of God.
I was also involved with St George’s School for the last three years and worked on many development projects including curriculum design, capacity-building for teachers, maintenance, and infrastructure work like a new playground for the kindergarten and facilities in the elementary and secondary school.
If you could list one moral that you cherish, what would you choose? Why?
I would choose justice and compassion as one moral. It’s a combination that I consider a sacred fit, because we are called to be people who seek a just order in our society and in our communities. Therefore, I think justice is part of God’s will for us as human beings. As the Prophet Micah said, “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8) At the same time, Jesus taught us that we should be people who have mercy and compassion. I consider these to be two halves of a whole as be embark on truly being prophetic in our ministry.
Dean Hosam Naoum preaching in St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.
Photo: Diocese of Jerusalem
How can Christians and Anglicans support the Christian community in Jerusalem?
To make a long story short, I once had the “three P’s” and then someone added another “P”. The first P is prayer. We would love for our sisters and brothers in Christ to pray for us as much as we pray for them, because we believe that prayer can transform our lives together as a family of Christ.
The second P is peacebuilding. As people of God we are entrusted to be peacemakers and peacebuilders in the world. As God’s children we to support this place by supporting peace rather than being biased towards this group or the other. If people are biased on one side, they add enmity on the other side. Instead, we ask people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and encourage their officials to support the peace process here in the Land of the Holy One.
The third P is pilgrimage. I am reminded of the Jesus and the disciples encounter, when Andrew tells his brother Simon, “we have found the Messiah.” (John 1.41) For us, pilgrimage here is an invitation to come and see where Jesus walked, died, and rose from the dead. And also to come and see and meet with the living stones, the worshiping Christian community here. I believe every pilgrimage should include experiencing the ancient and living stones.
The last P that was suggested that I add to my list is pounds, not necessarily financially, but also through volunteers and people who can support one of the diocesan institutions.
Closing question: What’s your advice for an upcoming or aspiring pilgrim?
One of the most ancient records of a pilgrim’s diary is that of Egeria from Spain. She wrote about the transcendental experience of being here in Jerusalem in all the different processions, services, and prayers. I suggest that before people come here they read and develop a foundational understanding of this place so they can acquaint themselves. My second tip is that pilgrims should come here with open hearts, open minds, and listening ears. I hope that they can put the prejudices and stereotypes aside and come here ready to experience the multiple narratives of this place. And let God work through these stories so that they can see that gift of God in this place. A place of many contradictions.
Christmas lights decorate the outside of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.
Photo: Gavin Drake