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Pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church for the past seven years, Father Ra’ed heads the Latin Secondary School, the Caritas Medical Center and the church’s guesthouse. He also helps manage the motherhouse of the Rosary Sisters.

Father Ra’ed shares wholeheartedly the Khourys’ commitment to Taybeh. For him, the path to prosperity hinges on developing the village’s economic sustainability by creating jobs for residents, strengthening its social service institutions and encouraging tourism.

“Please stop giving money to Christians in the Holy Land; it has cultivated a mentality of professional begging. People get to thinking you always have to be assisted. I say Christians in the Holy Land would like to work, make high–quality products and live and survive with dignity,” explains the priest.

“At the same time, please don’t leave us alone. Come visit us. Don’t be afraid. The responsibility for the Christian presence in the Holy Land is the responsibility of all Christians in the world: Their faith started here from that empty tomb the day of the resurrection, 2,000 years ago.”

Perhaps Father Ra’ed’s greatest contribution has been the Olive Branch Foundation, a nonprofit he founded and runs. The business includes a small ceramics factory and most recently an olive press and machinery to make and package olive oil and olive–based soap and cosmetic products from locally grown olives.

The priest’s business endeavors began five years ago, when one day at church he displayed some of his handmade white ceramic lamps in the shape of doves. He filled them with locally produced olive oil, placed them near the altar and encouraged parishioners to light them and pray for peace. Delighted by the “peace” lamps, parishioners quickly spread the word to neighbors from other congregations, and in no time, residents inundated Father Ra’ed with requests for lamps of their own.

Seeing an opportunity to promote peace and generate income for the local community, Father Ra’ed intensified production, hiring a small team of local craftsmen, and began selling the lamps to faithful throughout the region and beyond.

“I use the lamp to put pressure on the heavens to make peace in the Holy Land,” says the priest.

So far, the foundation has produced and sold more than 80,000 lamps, “flying them,” as he says, “around the world like little birds until peace comes.”

The lamps’ success subsequently allowed Father Ra’ed to expand the business. Since so many local residents depend on cultivating olives, he naturally invested in the olive industry. Using a newly purchased olive press and other machinery, the foundation now produces premium olive oil and olive–based soap and cosmetics, selling the goods locally as well as exporting them further afield.

Today, the foundation employs 22 full–time staff. A nonprofit business, the foundation donates all profits to local charities and social service institutions. In particular, the foundation covers the operating costs of the five–year–old Beit Afram home for the elderly, which cares for 18 residents. In addition, the Olive Branch Foundation subsidizes the $550 monthly fee for several of the home’s needy residents.

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Tags: Palestine Christianity Cultural Identity Emigration Melkite Greek Catholic Church