Friday, November 13, 2009

Amazing Man

Blood Brothers
by Elias Chacour

I had read this book about six years ago, but reread it just before my trip to Israel, when I found out that our pilgrimage group was going to get to meet Elias Chacour. Chacour's story is a real tribute to the power of faith to keep us from hating, and a source of hope for eventual reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Arabs. Chacour's family are Palestinian Christians who had lived in a Galilean village called Biram for several generations. In 1948, they were among the thousands of Palestinians who were thrown off their land when the state of Israel was formed. Chacour followed the beliefs and advice of his father, a simple Christian man who stuck wholeheartedly to his faith in the power of love and forgiveness. His father always said that Jews and Arabs were "blood brothers," because of their mutual ancestor Abraham. He (and now his son) maintain that they are called to love each other and live together in peace. Chacour has suffered at the hands of the Zionist movement, but nevertheless also recognizes the suffering of the Jewish people and wants for the two groups to find a way to live together in peace. He sees the humanity of his Jewish brothers and sisters, and is able to recall a time when they lived together in peace with their Palestinian neighbors. Against all odds, he sincerely believes this could happen again.

Blood Brothers is the story of Chacour's personal journey from refugee to peacemaker. He was fortunate enough to escape the refugee camps and be sent to an orphanage to study. He later went to Paris to prepare for the priesthood. It is a narrative of hope as well as realism. The original version of the book was published in 1984, but an updated version came out earlier in this decade (around 2003, I think). In light of some of the horrific events that have happened in the past 10 years, the book is worth reading again even if you read its original version. In the middle of all the demonizing of "the other" we must heed the voices of those who recognize the humanity of all people and who sincerely want all cultures and faiths to thrive. Dr. Chacour is one of these people.

A little over a week ago, our pilgrimage group met with Dr. Chacour at his school, the Mar Elias Educational Institute, in Ibillin. He founded the school to bring together Christian, Jewish, and Muslim children in hopes that they will grow up knowing and understanding one another and help bring an end to the tragic cycle of violence that has characterized Jewish/Muslim relations for so long. In addition, Chacour is an incredibly brilliant man - he speaks 11 languages fluently! In 1995, he was named Archbishop of Israel. He has become an internationally recognized voice for peace and justice. The two hours that he spent with us were among the most inspiring and hopeful of my adult life.

In spite of his accomplishments and renown, Dr. Chacour is a quiet and gracious man with a gentle sense of humor. With tremendous humility, he acted like he had all the time in the world to sit and talk with our group, when there are endless demands on his time. He is one of those persons who, when you are in his presence, you feel as if you are in the presence of grace itself. There were two things he said that especially stuck with me. One, when a member of his group asked him how he keeps "the fire" for peace going in his own heart, especially in the face of so much opposition and discouragement, he responded "I do not possess the fire. The fire possesses me." In other words, he cannot NOT continue to work, pray, and agitate for non-violence. Secondly, as he closed his remarks to us, he looked each of us in the eye and said "I believe in every one of you. I spend this time with you because I HAVE to believe that each one of you can make a difference in this world."

Wow. I hope he is right. I've thought a lot about that and will continue to pray that I find my own way to make the world a better place. We need more like this man.

Reverent Reader


At 11/13/09, 2:28 PM , Blogger cajetano said...

I agree. This past summer our book club read all three of Archbishop Chacour's books, Blood Brothers, We Belong to the Land and Faith Beyond Despair, and I was deeply touched and inspired. As a small group we are searching for ways to spread the truth and hopefully somehow help in the cause to bring about peace.

At 11/16/09, 7:27 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

thanks for telling this story!


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