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A Startling, Memorable Encounter with Archbishop Chacour

by David Rhodes Stipp-Bethune

Spirituality Program Director Tom Lewis with MEEI Student

 

During Columbia Seminary’s Journey of Faith pilgrimage to Israel in November 2009, we had the privilege of visiting the Mar Elias Educational Institute (MEEI) in Ibillin, an Arab village in northern Israel.. 
This institution – which provides schooling from kindergarten through college – is under the direction of Elias Chacour, an archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
Noted for his efforts to promote reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, Archbishop Chacour has authored two renowned memoirs about the experience of being a Palestinian in present-day Israel: Blood Brothers and We Belong to the Land.
Having read or re-read Blood Brothers as part of our journey, we were looking forward to meeting Father Chacour. 
Our day began with worship in the new cathedral – the Church of the Beatitudes. We reached the cathedral by way of an inspirational ascent upon “beatitude-imprinted” steps with Hebrew, English, and Arabic lettering. Excitement energized our circle, as we sang and prayed together beneath the magnificent dome’s amazing acoustics. 
Father Chacour greeted us with an astonishing question:
“Why have you come here – to use our water, waste our electricity, clog our already crowded streets, and eat our food?”
His startling way of getting to know us! Then, he patiently answered our questions about his life’s work and ministry, far exceeding our desire to leave filled with love, refreshed for ministry, and re-inspired to help the world. 
“I do not possess the fire,” Father Chacour says. “The fire possesses me.” 
Like many before us, we found our encounter with this man, Abuna (“father,” in Arabic), to be life-changing. 
But while Abuna inspired us, the children at MEEI captured our hearts. When we asked what the school needed, someone said, “Twenty computers.”
Desiring to stand in solidarity with Abuna and these children, we left Ibillin knowing our experience of a lifetime should include provision for the computers. God’s design had matched the need for 20 computers with the willingness of 20 pastors. 
So, on our return, together we raised $16,502 to purchase the needed computers, igniting a better way for Abuna and the children of MEEI.