Friday, January 20, 2006

Is reconciliation just a dream?

Palestinian Priest posits on peace

Express Staff Writer

Father Elias Chacour in his office at the Mar Elias Educational Institution.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church is hosting a speaker next week who's a living contradiction and yet renowned for uniting people. Father Elias Chacour is a Palestinian, a Christian and a citizen of Israel.

A three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Man of the Year in Israel in 2001, he is speaking on "Reconciliation Between Jews and Palestinians: Dream or Utopia?" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at St. Thomas in Ketchum.

"I heard him speak on tapes when he spoke in San Francisco and thought he had a message people needed to hear," said Don Liebich of Hailey. When the Liebich's traveled to Jordan in 2005, friends had a direct contact. Liebich called him to ask if he could speak here and he agreed. Chacour is also speaking in Boise at St. Michael's, Summit County, Colo., and at the University of Denver.

A Palestinian priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Byzantine Rite Church, Chacour, 66, grew up in a Palestinian Christian family in the village of Biram in Upper Galilee in British Palestine. At the age of 8 his family and other members of the village were evicted from their homes by the Israeli authorities, thus becoming refugees. His family had resided in the same place since the 16th century. He was granted citizenship of Israel when the state was created in 1948.

After studying theology in Paris, he studied the Torah and Talmud at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well as Aramaic and Syriac. He was the first Arab to gain a higher degree there.

It was when Chacour was sent as a young priest to the Palestinian village of Ibillin in Galilee that his influence began to be felt in full. There he started a school to educate disadvantaged Palestinians children. Today, the Mar Elias Educational Institution has 4,500 students, representing all major religions and ethnic groups in Israel (as does the faculty).

An advocate of non-violence, Chacour travels often around the world. In addition, he has received many international peace awards and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three times. In 2001, he received the Niwano Peace Prize.

Christianity Today magazine expressed "its great esteem for his dedication to preach through the means of education."

Chacour, who in 1994 won the World Methodist Peace Award, is known for his robust defense of peace and justice in the Holy Land. He is a highly articulate preacher who is welcomed warmly by Christians around the world.

He is also the author of "Blood Brothers," which 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 the development of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, from its 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.

For more information, contact St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 726-5349 ext. 24.

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