The Australians in the room were not at the end of their trip, and yet Abuna (“Father”) Elias Chacour thought to give the American minority among his audience (us) a proper send-off. (The photo is of Abuna with Nancy Fowler, our group’s leader.)
First, he told his some of his own story. How he considers Jesus a fellow Galilean. How, because in God’s sight, a thousand years is like a day (Psalm 90:4), he believes Jesus to have been in his land just the day before yesterday. We have heard this a lot from the indigenous Christians here — a deeper understanding of our Lord’s life because they know what it means to live in the same land. They have not been converted, they say with some measure of offense. They have believed since the beginning.
He told of how his bishop sent him to I’billin, Galilee, for a month, after which they would see about his permanent placement. And how the bishop apparently forgot about him, and the month turned into 38 years of serving as the parish priest for this little hill town — until he himself received the honor of serving as bishop (with a few Nobel Peace Prize nominations along the way.)
He told of building a school for his village, and other schools for other villages in the area; of battling for (and sometimes doing without) Israeli building permits, and of making 37 court appearances to get the permits. Once, completely stymied and very much needing a gym, he flew to Washington DC, and without any kind of appointment, went knocking on the door of our Secretary of State’s personal residence. Unusually, the secretary’s wife answered the door, and awkwardly invited him in to her Bible Study — where he spent two hours teaching the beatitudes. Not long after, her husband, James Baker III, personally secured the building permit from the Israeli prime minister.
He told of how after a terrorist bombing killed and injured several Jews, 300 of his of-age high school students — Muslims and Christians all — volunteered to give blood on behalf of the wounded. He told us to remain friends to Israel, because it is frightened nation, whose weapons only add to their fear, and that frightened people need friends. But he invited us also to befriend his people, the Palestinians — some, like him, (second-class) citizens of Israel; some living under occupation; many living as refugees. He said our tour guide would rush us onto our bus. He did; Abuna had gone long), but that we should remember that friendship with Palestinians need not negate friendship with Israel.
He said that his people don’t need our money, nor our charity, but our solidarity. And now I am sitting in Ben Gurian airport, the rest of my group gone, hours before my own flight, and I realize that as the trip ends, the process of sorting out what solidarity means is only beginning. I look forward to having some help with that.