A Blossom In The Waste Land
Archbishop Elias Chacour
Photo: Joy Gwaltney
Nations will go to war over a multitude of issues. Land, especially that dot on the globe known Biblically as the Promised Land, is one of them. The inhabitants of this land are a Semitic people, religiously divided into Jews, Christians, and Muslims, who have staked a sacred claim to the land. Centuries of often bloody strife for control of the land have characterized the divisiveness among these peoples. In the midst of this uneasy, political desert, there has blossomed a man of peace named Archbishop Elias Chacour.
The archeparchy (archdiocese) of Archbishop Chacour encompasses Northern Israel; a section of the Middle Eastern world that is no stranger to conflict. There is, however, a place where a song with a hopeful strain can be heard. That place is called the Mar Elias Educational Institutions. In 1982, Father Elias Chacour proposed the establishment of a site for the education of students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. The dream was to build an elementary school, a trade school, and a college for the youth of the region to come together in the peaceful pursuit of an education that would provide them a better life. He was called naïve, but as Archbishop Chacour said, "But sometimes naïve people can achieve miracles because of their naivete." Indeed, the stumbling blocks were many on the road of fulfilling his dream. People of good will did appear to help smooth the way to obtaining building permits and all the other requirements of creating such an ambitious project. When purpose of a particular project is of mutual benefit, people of differences can unite for a shared good.
Archbishop Chacour sees the underlying impetus and setting of his work to be akin to Catholic schools. The values promoted are similar and the atmosphere perpetuates a beneficial academic and social goal. Archbishop Chacour has suffered from the oppressive and sometimes violent realities of the world in which he lives, but he stands as a man of peace and forgiveness in the hope that others may find a way to make these values more pervasive in his homeland. His is an important and grace-filled effort in a land that needs it most. [Recommended reading: Prophet of Peace: Elias Chacour, by John Feister, St. Anthony Messenger, April 2012]
The problems of the Middle East are not unique, but they have implications that appear more grave than those in other parts of the world. This could be because of the major powers that have interests in the stability of the governments of various nations in that region. Fears that a local conflict could escalate into a world war are not farfetched; sincere and intense diplomatic efforts to maintain some semblance of peace in the area is imperative. One must contend with basic human problems in relationships. Leaders of nations can be characterized much as an average person: one can find smart leaders, incompetent leaders, kind leaders, cruel leaders, wise leaders, and foolish leaders. At the conclusion of the carnage of World War I, a French diplomat lamented over the realization that after twenty centuries of Christianity, millions of men could war against each other without even knowing why. Humanity very easily will ignore the best and holiest inclinations to satisfy some monstrous blood-lust. Somehow, the perseverance of righteous leadership must prevail over the destructive madness that has marred civilization throughout history.
The Mayan calendar ended, but the world didn't; its problems didn't end either. Once again, many of us will pray for peace in the world as a New Year's wish. Maybe this time, with the help of men and women like Archbishop Elias Chacour, we shall not be disappointed. One candle burns brightly in the darkness. Although his light shines in one of the darkest places on earth, still it shines.