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The scouts help provide a sense of order and build character but, according to the Rev. Bashar Fawadleh, a spiritual leader for Palestinian youth, the group currently puts more emphasis on exteriority — modes of expression such as as music, art and performance — instead of investing in spirituality and religion. He stresses a desperate need for an “inner growth,” adding that “a scout should belong to his country, the church and himself.”

As he explains it, these three pillars are crucial for forming identity. “My identity starts from within me,” he says. “If I know myself, then I can advance. If I don’t know myself or who I am as a human being, then I am unable to proceed with my life in any shape or form.”

Complicating matters is a broader sense of disengagement from the institutions that have traditionally played so central a role in identity formation: church and home.

“The role of the home is very important,” Father Fawadleh says. He adds that Palestinian Christians are starting to lose their sense of family — an issue he calls “the main problem” facing young people.

“As long as there is a home,” he says, “then there’s an umbrella which can contain the individual within a group. But when the home is broken, we lose our identity.” He pauses then shrugs his shoulders. “By then it’s too late. It can take a really long time to rebuild this.”

CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun, says the scouts are one way to help rebuild the Christian identity among Palestinian youth — but just the beginning.

He explains that CNEWA is working with the local churches to develop formation initiatives, such as the local Christian Youth Ministry that, in his words, “helps raise awareness about the land of the Bible and of the early church, instills an appreciation of the land of their ancestors, and, hopefully, reconnects the younger generations to the land of their birth.

“This should help strengthen their spiritual ties, their faith, to the land we call holy.”

The ultimate goal, he emphasizes, is not only spiritual, but practical: to encourage the young to remain in their homeland.

“It is very important when we come to think about the challenge of emigration,” he explains. “In the past, Christian leaders thought that what would keep the younger people from leaving would be to give them good job opportunities and housing.

“But we have learned that housing and employment opportunities are not enough. Our youth lack something that is fundamental, and it explains the disconnect between Palestinian Christian youth and their homeland, and that is an incomplete understanding of what it means to be a Christian living in the land of Jesus.”

And he sees a deeper significance, as well.

“We are trying to foster a new generation who will understand their history and their faith and will be able to explain it — announce it! — when asked or questioned. We want them to recognize the unique role of being Christians in the Holy Land, in the land of Jesus, where the Gospel first took root.

“We want them to see it as a mission, as a vocation.”

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