Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

College Park

Vendors Reflect Faith, Theme Of Congress

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2011

Nabil Rishmawi traveled more than 700 miles to be with the Catholic faithful of the archdiocese for the 2011 Eucharistic Congress. The products he sold at the event have traveled an even greater distance.

Rishmawi occupied a table in the vendor area of the congress, as he has done for the past 10 years, selling unique items coming almost exclusively from Israel. The company, named Bethlehem Gifts, featured various statues, figurines, crosses, rosaries and other items hand carved from olive trees in the Holy Land that were spread out across the vendor table, creating a visual display standing out from many of the others.

For Rishmawi, it is more than just a business. The products he sells are close to his family and close to his heart, he said. The wood used in the company’s items comes from 300-year-old olive trees in the Holy Land and preserves a tradition that has been passed down for several generations, beginning in the 15th century, according to Bethlehem Gifts.

“I always say that I sell things that live more than a lifetime, and that can be treasured between generations,” he said. “Not something that can be eaten or used, then trashed. Giving those people that chance to have something from the Holy Land, may give the chance to be blessed and strengthen their faith.”

Claudia Batres, 13 and her mother Claudia Batres looks over wood from the holy land Saturday in the vendors area. Photo By Thomas Spink

The wood the company uses in its crafts comes from the trimmings of the olive trees, an essential process for healthy and proper growth of the plant, also promoting environmental sustainability. No tree is damaged or destroyed in the process.

In addition, his hometown of Bethlehem is where many of the items are designed and crafted. There is a network of some 200 families that design the items sold by Bethlehem Gifts, a large portion of the Christian community in the area, said Rishmawi.

Coming from Chicago to Atlanta every year for the Eucharistic Congress, Rishmawi knows he has an equally faithful crowd browsing the items. Throughout the day, many adults stopped by the table to view the items, but the kids are also interested in what they saw.

“The kids really like the jewelry,” said Rishmawi, pointing to a youngster inspecting a necklace. “I like to be with this mix of a crowd of all ages, especially young ones. I met so many that appreciate the chance of shopping from the Holy Land.”

While success in terms of facts and figures varies year to year, Rishmawi never seems to be disappointed with the turnout.

“It is always worth it,” he said about making the trip every year.

The vocational theme of the Congress was also represented in the vendor area as several religious orders set up tables with books, information on spirituality and other miscellaneous religious goods.

The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word were just one of the religious orders present, offering items from their bookstore as well as information on the retreats they hold several times throughout the year at Casa Maria, their convent and retreat house in Birmingham, Ala.

Three sisters aided attendees this year as they browsed the items or inquired about the order. “We always enjoy seeing the participation in the Congress,” said Sister Louise Marie, noting that the order has been present in the vendor area a few times before.

“We’re here promoting retreats,” she said.

Sister Louise Marie added that many of the people that come to their convent for retreats travel from the Atlanta area and they felt their presence would be good for the order as well as the participants of the Eucharistic Congress.

The Sister Servants follow the Rule of St. Francis with both St. Francis and St. Dominic serving as their patron saints. Offering mainly weekend retreats, the sisters bring in well-known speakers to present various topics relating to the Church. This year, Casa Maria will host retreats on Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” prayer, new evangelization and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, among others.

Filling a larger space this year, nearly 20 additional vendors were able to participate than the previous year. Joy Place, administrative assistant with the archdiocesan Communications Office, who worked directly with the exhibitors, said more than 80 were present, including local vendors as well, such as the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Go F.I.S.H. and Catholic Bling. The larger space also helped create a more positive shopping experience for everyone.

“With the larger space we were able to make the aisles wider, which, in turn, made for a more comfortable shopping/looking experience. The patrons were able to have a conversation with the exhibitors without being bumped or pushed,” wrote Place by e-mail after the Congress.

“It was a great turnout. People seemed to have a great time and (were) very relaxed,” she said.