Project Description

 Tyler Gathro interviewing Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (April 2014).

Tyler Gathro interviewing Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (April 2014).

There are many who come to the Middle East to venerate shrines of the past, all the while ignoring human beings. They come to see holy stones and holy sand. I have seen this on many occasions as I have watched and spoken with Christian tourists from Japan, The United States, Australia, England, or Brazil, just to name a few. Elias Chacour, three time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church in Israel once asked, “Did you come for the shrines, or do you want to learn about the living stones?” The Holy Land is full of living stones hidden between the rocks, and thus, often ignored by the world.

This project exists to help bring the lives and stories of these hidden stones to light, to see what it is like to be an Arab Christian living in the land of the religions birth. I have spent a total of nine months traveling Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and the gulf region interviewing and photographing Arab Christians of differing denominations to better understand how they live their faith as minorities in Islamic and Jewish States. I have talked with, interviewed, and photographed, shop keepers, garbage collectors, students, UN workers, therapists, nuns, priests, archbishops, and more.

What does it mean to be an Arab? The word Arab has had several different meanings over the centuries and sometimes even today. When most Westerners think of Arabs they think of mosques and women with their heads covered or perhaps suicide bombers and terrorists. The question of Arab identity is a source of much discussion and entire books have been written on the topic. In August 1980, the late Libyan president, Colonel Qadhafi, declared that Arab Christians simply had to convert, since “it is a contradiction to be both Arab and Christian.” … He declared that if Christian Arabs were to be authentic Arabs, they would have to accept the Islamic faith. “Christians who live in the Arab world,” he stated, “have closer links to the Vatican than to Mecca. They have a European spirit in an Arab body.” The statements made by Qadhafi illustrate the contemporary problems that are faced by these two religious sects.