Sunday, June 21, 2009
I met Archbishop Elias Chacour a couple of weeks ago in Toronto, together with a number of Melkite Catholics, the parish council, and above all Fr. Georges Farah and Fr. Michel Chalhoub. Archbishop Elias Chacour, Melkite Catholic archbishop of Galilee in Patestine/Israel was in Toronto to open a conference of the Presbyterian communion. He is frequently invited to speak to Christian denominations in the U.S. and is venerated as the voice of Eastern Christians who endured much suffering in the land of Christ at the hands of both the state of Israel and more recently the Muslim extremist government of Hamas.
Elias Michael Chacour was born in 1939 in Upper Galilee in Palestine to an Arab Christian family, members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. At the age of eight he was evicted along with his whole village of Biram by Zionist forces and became a deportee and a refugee but remained in the region. Because he remained in his homeland, he was granted Israeli citizenship when the state was created in 1948. Completing his schooling in Nazareth, he studied theology at St. Sulpice Seminary in Paris, returning home in 1965. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop George Hakim of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee, who became Patriarch Maximos V. He later studied the Hebrew Scripture at the Hebrew University. Chacour is vice president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. Seeing the lack of educational opportunities beyond grade 8 for his Palestinian fellows, he started his project of creating schools, that today number 10 schools, in his Mar Elias Educational Institutions. Chacour is the author of two best selling books, "Blood Brothers" and "We Belong to the Land." "Blood Brothers" covers his childhood growing up in the town of Biram, his development into a young man, and his early years as a priest in Ibillin. This book has been translated into 28 languages. His second book, "We Belong to the Land," recounts his work in the development of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, from humble beginnings to major schools for educating Palestinian young people and for helping to bring about reconciliation in a land of strife. This book has been translated into 11 languages.
Appointed by the Melkite Catholic synod to the bishopric service, Chacour currently serves as Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee. His most recent educational work includes the building of a university in Ibillin. His diocese, the largest Christian in Israel, counts 76,000 faithful in 65 parishes. He speaks 11 languages, and has been twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. For years Archbishop Chacour has been invited to lecture in conferences and to "Mega church" audiences in the U.S. and Europe. His ecumenical service that started in Palestine is bearing fruits worldwide.
His message echoes that of his Master, Jesus Christ, "Be Not Afraid" uttered almost 2000 years ago in the same place where he serves now. He reminds me first of Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh who was called "The Lion of the Council" at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Above all, he reminds me of Elijah, the great prophet of Israel, who in the time of the great apostasy of the people of God, dared to stand alone at Carmel and call back Israel to God. This calling (in this 21st century) is as needed as ever. When today's Christianity is facing annihilation in the Middle East at the hands of fundasmentalists, both Jewish and Islamic, Christians must be encouraged to hope against hope and continue to live, albeit being persecuted, in the holy land. This is what Chacour says. But how can this "New Elijah" preach the Gospel to a hostile surrounding? Without a moment of doubt he answers "by defending peace based on justice." Is not that what Pope Benedict XVI indicated in his visit to the holy land this past May? Let us hope that this prelate of ours will succeed in his worldwide mission.
For more info please refer to the many sites about Archbishop Elias Chacour using Google.
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