Christian leaders in the holy land

 

(Archbishop) Abuna (Father) Elias Chacour

Were one to chose two words to describe Father Elias Chacour, those would have to be that he is a man of faith and action.  He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

Abuna (Father) Elias Chacour was born in the Palestinian village of Biram in the upper Galilee in 1939. In 1948 after a United Nations resolution, his country of Palestine became the sovereign state of Israel. Three years later, his own village of Biram would be changed forever. In 1951, Israeli soldiers marched into Biram and told the inhabitants that they would have to leave the village temporarily for security reasons. When the inhabitants of Biram returned, they found their houses, their entire village, bulldozed by the Israelis. They have never been allowed to return.

Many people in Abuna Chacour’s position would have lashed out in rage and spent the rest of their lives plotting revenge on Israel. However, although distraught over the loss of his home, this would not be the course his life would take.

Abuna Chacour became a priest in the Melkite Catholic Church, which dates back to the Byzantine period and Constantine. Father Chacour is a man of faith, of the Christian faith. He is also a Palestinian. It is often assumed that all Palestinians are Arabs and are Muslims. However, this is a very incorrect assumption. There are actually between twelve and fourteen million Arab Christians in the world, and many of them live in Palestine, and are thus often called Palestinians.

Father Chacour is quick to point out that he was not born Christian. "I was born a baby in the image and likeness of God, not more, and not less either." According to Chacour, this is something that unites all of humanity under God. "Jews are also born babies in the image and likeness of God. It is good for them to have a homeland and freedom of expression, but not if that means someone else is to be homeless and not have freedom of expression." We are all human children of God, and we all make mistakes. However, we are also called by God to live together in peace and share all that God has given us.

Father Elias Chacour is also a man of action. The "Arab-Israeli Conflict" as it is often called runs so deep and is so complicated that most people sit idly by, concluding that there is nothing one person could do to help. But not Father Chacour. "Peace needs no contemplators, it needs actors, people who are willing to get their hands dirty, to get up and do something. The same is true for justice." True to his words, Father Chacour has done something.

Israel has a public education system which Palestinians have access to. However, many Palestinian children seem to get left out of this opportunity for many reasons. Some are unable to pay for the necessary supplies and materials for school. Others live in what have become remote Palestinian villages and have no way to get to and from schools. This is where Father Chacour felt he was called to make a difference.

Father Chacour started a school in the Palestinian town of Ibillin in the Galilee to educate disadvantaged Palestinians who were hungry for knowledge. This started in the early 1980's with one class of twenty students. Since then, God has led Father Chacour and his school to heights that no one would have imagined. There is now a kindergarten, elementary, and high school which is open to everyone. There are over 100 teachers in the high school alone, some Muslim, some Christian, some Palestinian, and some Jewish. There is also a teaching center which trains individuals how to teach young people. Ibillin also has a college which is attended by over 600 students, and offers degrees in a variety of fields such as engineering, communications, and food processing. This college has a diverse faculty of about fifty professors, at least forty of which hold doctoral degrees. Father Chacour is now working on getting an accredited university started. Today, there are about 4000 people on the Ibillin campus at any given time.

The establishment of this school was not without challenge and frustration. As the high school grew, Abuna Chacour wanted to build a gymnasium for the young people to be able to play sports and have physical education as well. Father Chacour tried unsuccessfully to get a building permit from the Israeli government for six years. During this time, he began building anyway. The Israeli police stopped him. Chacour began working underground at night. However, this too was stopped by the Israeli government. Father Chacour then flew to the United States to speak with then Secretary of State James Baker. Chacour was only able to meet Baker’s wife. However, it would not be long until Jim Baker would fly to Israel to hand-deliver a letter to the Israeli government. Father Chacour got his building permit.

Abuna Elias Chacour wants everyone to know that there are many Palestinians in Israel who do not desire war, but peace. It is not Father Chacour’s desire to make anyone become one-sided and hate Jews. Palestinians want to be able to live in a land that they have called home for hundreds of years without oppression and discrimination. "The world does not need any more enemies, but common friends. It is much more difficult to move toward peace than to go to war." There are those on both sides of the Atlantic that do not agree with Father Chacour. However, as he has demonstrated, it only takes one person to make a difference. As fellow Christians with Father Chacour, we all have a responsibility to work for peace and justice in the world and to stand up for justice where there is injustice. 

To find out more about Father Elias Chacour and what you can do to help, visit his school’s website at http://www.meei.org.

Also worthy of consideration is Father Chacour's book Blood Brothers.  You can get a copy at our bookstore.