News

A New Year’s Message from Archbishop Chacour

Dear Friends,

I have the pleasure herewith to send a letter, which expresses something from the depth of my heart to our friends at ASHRAY. It’s somehow late for Christmas, still we are living in the Christmas events, which were extremely special here in Ibillin. On the 22nd of December the school day was entirely a celebration of Christmas. We did not have one Christmas tree in the school, we rather had a Christmas forest. Each section of the school from nursery to high school celebrated Christmas with the parents.

The last and the most important Christmas celebration event took place in the Mosque of the village with an open invitation for everyone in the village to come and enjoy together for an evening about the birth of Jesus Christ as it is written in the Koran. The celebration was attended by more than 400 persons. It was glorious; it was a fulfillment of my dream since 52 years ago, when I arrived in Ibillin. Back then, I needed to buy a few chairs and a few pews for the Church to fill a desperate need for seating. I decided then to paint on the back of each chair the cross and the crescent. At the time, it confronted the community with a new message, but the fact was accepted. Now the invitation of the Mosque has been an endorsement of my dream to look at what unites us.

I wish you a very very Joyful New Year and much success. Many thanks to the friends at ASHRAY for the responsibility they took for themselves to be our friends and partners. I continue praying for all of you.

Yours sincerely,

Abuna Elias Chacour

Archbishop em. of Galilee

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Archbishop Em Elias Chacour visited Pope Francis in Rome in October 2016

abuna-pope-francis-a-oct-2016-2

Pope Francis welcomes Archbishop Elias Chacour Em to the Vatican. October 2016

abuna-pope-francis-b-oct-2016-2

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MEEI – Great News – 3rd December 2015

We wish to convey to you some extra good news about the schools, mainly about the high school. Indeed the state of Israel published the results of a survey concerning the achievements of all schools in the final exams, mainly the four major topics Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. The results were published in the official state newspapers. Surprise MEEI is rated the first among all schools. This is a step unprecedented, our school in the village of Ibillin being rated the first in the four major topics of study in Israeli high schools. This will help our students to have easier access to the universities. We thank God, the directors of the school and also we do not forget the parents of the students. All these groups united into one effort which is to educate our children with the best attention possible. This is the secret of our success.

Archbishop Em Elias Chacour

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Mar Elias Educational schools open again on 28th September 2015

after four weeks of closure

28th September 2015

The 1st very early arrivals as schools reopen, 7am 28th September 2015

The 1st very early arrivals as schools reopen, 7am 28th September 2015

It was a very emotional occasion this morning when the schools of Mar Elias Educational Institutions opened there doors to thousands of children after a month of closure due to the  drastic reduction of funding provided by the Israel Ministry of Education. Excited children flowed from the traffic jam of parents cars into the school yards laughing and chattering, glad to meet up with school friends not seen since June. All the teachers I met had huge smiles across their faces, the relief they had felt yesterday on learning that their schools would open this morning replaced with a renewed energy and determination to keep on giving their best to these children. The external threat of closure has moved the Christian schools of Israel to a closer solidarity. They are all determined to continue the struggle for their existence. While a temporary arrangement has been made to enable the schools to re-open a final agreement has yet to be reached. The ultimate aim is not just reinstate the funding arrangements of a few years ago but full parity with the Jewish schools which share the same status in the country. So there is still much negotiation to be done.

Staff, parents and school buses arrive with excited children on the first day back at school

Staff, parents and school buses arrive with excited children on the first day back at school

While waiting early this morning for the first children to arrive I met with a teacher who updated me on the arrangements so far, he said –

“We need compensation and equality with the Jewish schools. The staff are newly energized. Everyone is happy that there was resistance against the government plan to convert all the Christian schools to become state schools, taking all authority from the church. This would not only have meant that the Ministry of Education would have appointed all the staff and managed the schools but that the state would have acquired ownership of the buildings and land in the Palestinian Arab villages.

Our demand is for 200million Shekels annually for the elementary Christian schools because the budget has been cut from 75% to 29%. In the last two years the previous Minister of Education has made additional cuts eg. Teachers in elementary schools cannot take part in personal development courses offered to other schools. They also cannot receive sick pay but take time off without pay when ill.

Elementary school teachers welcome the children back

Elementary school teachers welcome the children back

As of today, there is no agreement with the Ministry of Education but a temporary compromise. A one-off payment of 50 million Shekels to be shared between the 47 Christian schools for the year 2015 to March 2016. The Mar Elias share of this will go to the elementary school. There is no commitment to funding beyond March 2016. Soon teachers will be able to take part in special courses offered by the Ministry of Education. A special team will be set up through which the schools will negotiate with the Ministry. The head of this team is a judge from the Supreme Court, Saleem Jibran, and he will steer discussions through the differences between the two sides of the dispute to hopefully reach an accord for future funding and conditions.”

Abuna Elias Chacour addressing staff at the high school as the school reopens

Abuna Elias Chacour addressing staff at the high school as the school reopens

At ASHRAY we are very grateful for all your efforts to raise awareness and support the Christian schools in Israel especially Mar Elias and would urge you to continue to do so as there is no final solution yet and the situation of the high school at Mar Elias is still uncertain.

Audrey Porksen, Chair, ASHRAY

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Christian Schools able to reopen in Israel
27th September 2015
Statement By The Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel
By the grace of God and after long negotiations, the Secretariat announces that it has reached a settlement with the ministry of Education and therefore the students of the 47 schools in Israel who number 33,000 will return to school tomorrow (Monday the 28th of September) after being on strike since the 1st of September.
The secretariat announces that the terms of the settlement are as follows:
1-The Israeli Treasury will allocate a one-time sum of 50 Million Shekel to the Christian Schools in the current school year.
2- Our teachers will be included in the different professional development programs of the ministry of education that they were previously excluded from.
3- Our students will be included in the additional strengthening hours provided by the ministry of Education for different subjects- hours that they did not get in the past.
4- The establishment of an official commission from the Ministry of Education and representatives of the Secretariat (equal representatives of each side). Chairman of commission will be appointed by both sides. This commission will bring forward its recommendations to the minister of Education by the end of March 2016. This commission will discuss the legal status of the Christian schools in Israel- a matter that will impact the funding of the schools.
5- The Establishment of a joint commission for cooperation between the Ministry for Education and representatives of the Secretariat to deal with matters that will be raised by both parties.
6- The ministry of Education will pay the monthly payments for the Christian schools as usual and the schools will commit to compensate the students for the days lost during the strike.
Therefore each Christian school will reduce the tuition by 25% for the Primary school students.
We see this as a wonderful achievement as we have not only got a one-time sum but that the establishment of a committee that will deal with the change of the legal status of the schools will be established and that will bring a long term solution.
The support we got during the last month in the Government and Knesset as well as abroad in addition to the public exposure in Israeli and international media will provide a platform to implement any positive recommendations that the commission will have for Christian schools.
“If God is with us, then who will be against us?”.
With Love and respect
The Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel

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Christian Schools in Israel Under Threat

The first of September should have been the first day of school for 2015-16 at Mar Elias High School, Mariam Bawardi Elementary School, and the Mariam Bawardi Kindergarten in Ibillin. Instead, the teachers and students from these schools and all the Christian Schools in Israel and East Jerusalem are out on strike. Since two years ago, drastic budget cuts from the Israeli Ministry of Education and restrictive rules disproportionately affecting the Christian schools have put them all in an untenable situation in which their very survival is at stake.
Negotiations have been going on for a year and a half, but the Israeli Ministry of Education and the government have not budged. Israeli President Reuven Rivlen hosted a meeting on August 24 between Christian School leaders and the Minister of Education, hoping for a breakthrough, but no real relief was offered.

This strike involves 33,000 students and 3,000 teachers. Almost 3,000 of those affected attend or teach at Mar Elias.

Deserted playground and closed snack bars as the schools wait for news enabling them to reopen

Deserted playground and closed snack bars as the schools wait for news enabling them to reopen

On the eve of the strike, Abuna wrote: “September 1st is the day on which all Israeli schools, among them our Mar Elias Schools, begin the scholastic year. Unfortunately, in the light of the tight and unreasonable restrictions that the Ministry of Education has for years been implementing and imposing on our Christian schools, we have collectively decided not to open our schools unless we reach a fair agreement through which to grant our students their rights to study fully and equally as their Jewish peers. Please share this sad news all around in the hope that it would reach people with authority.
To read a fuller explanation of the crisis facing the Christian schools in Israel go to the Christian website ‘Come and See’

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5th SEPTEMBER, 2014 –  Christian Schools Suffer Drastic Cuts in State Funding

Ibillin, Galilee  –  05/09/2014

Dear Audrey

I am sending you this official reply to your questions about the reduction in funding from the Israeli Ministry Of Education, which amounts by now to 35% of the major subsidy we receive, compared to the other governmental schools.

The Christians schools directors had an urgent meeting at the end of August and decided to close the schools in a sign of protest against the government dealing with our Christians schools.

  1. We asked to meet with the Ministry of Education but they refused to meet with us.
  1. They continue their policy of ill-treating our school.

That was the first time in the history of Israel that the Christians schools decided a strike. Two days later the director general of the Ministry of Education contacted our board of directors that he is willing to meet with them on the 9th of September. And he asked them to stop the strike, which was postponed in a sign of good well from our Christian school. We are waiting for the 9th, without much hope, mainly because the payment of this month already shows a reduction of 180,000 NIS (~ £31,000) from every Christian school and very specially ours, because it is such a large school, we feel the impact of the reduction of funds.

We need that money to pay the salaries of the teachers. We hope that the situation will not deteriorate and thus corner us to consider, God forbid, closing the schools.

That’s it for now.

Thank you for caring and thanks for the donors and for the supporters.

Yours,

Abuna Elias Chacour

Archbishop em.

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27th JANUARY, 2014 – Archbishop Chacour Retires

A Letter from Abuna Chacour

Dear Friends of ASHRAY,

You know I was elected in 2006 to be the Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church in Israel.  While I accepted that with tears of wonder, I couldn’t wait to be 75 in order to submit my retirement from this prestigious and complicated office.  The present fact is that I submitted my request for retirement for a simple reason, that I am 75 years old this year and it’s fair that I leave this office for someone else.  My request for retirement has been accepted.  After 27th January 2014, I will be Archbishop Emeritus and will go back to my house in Ibillin.  In my retirement I will be free for doing three major things I have longed to have more time for: praying, reading and writing.

With this letter I want to assure you and all our friends through ASHRAY that MEEI is persevering with much power and steadfast conviction.  I look forward to being back among the students and teachers whom I love, but I will not be involved in daily activities or decisions.  Mar Elias has been going on with strength during the eight past years while I served as the Archbishop residing in Haifa, and will continue that way.

Greetings to all our brothers and sisters at ASHRAY and very specially the Trustees. We will continue to walk the same road towards the Kingdom of God.

Yours sincerely,

Abuna Elias Chacour                       

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30th SEPTEMBER 2013 – Haifa Falls Silent

A unique event in occurred in Haifa this month, the rare occasion of the coinciding of the Christian day of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Jewish day of Yom Kippur. It could have been a cause for tension between the Christian and Jewish communities but this was avoided by Archbishop Chacour’s intervention.  Below is a link to an account of the lead up to the day in an Israeli newspaper which explains the steps Archbishop Chacour took to avert possible confrontation between the two communities.

As a result, the bustling city of Haifa fell silent for a whole day with only police vehicles and ambulances on the streets; though there were many children taking advantage of the empty streets to wizz around them on their bicycles.  But the children were playing quietly, the air was full of birdsong and peace reigned.

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/171856#.Um5U8ZJFC00

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25th FEBRUARY 2013 – Mar Elias Students visit to Canada

MEEI students visit Canada February 2013

MEEI students visit Canada February 2013
Photo: Mike Deal

As part of the efforts of Mar Elias Educational Institutions to extended the understanding between different religions and cultures, a group of students visited Canada and discovered they all had much in common in their daily lives and had a great deal of fun too.

MEEI student Miyas Drawshi from Arrabi Village (near Sakhnin) speaking to a Jewish student at Gray Academy in Winnipeg.

MEEI student Miyas Drawshi from Arrabi Village (near Sakhnin) speaking to a Jewish student at Gray Academy in Winnipeg.

Two accounts and a video of Mar Elias students on their inter-faith  cultural visit to Canada can be accessed via these links – click  Winnipeg Free Press and CBC News  (Note:  the video is preceded by a short canine advertisement!)

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6th JANUARY 2013 – What About MEEI University?

The explanation of how MEEI university moved to Nazareth and became the Nazareth Academic Institute is available – click here

Nazareth Academic Institute plans to hold its first graduation ceremony in the summer of 2013.

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15th DECEMBER 2012 –CHRISTMAS: Call to Reconciliation

His Beatitude Gregorios III

His Beatitude Gregorios III

from His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, for the Feast of the Nativity 2012.Here is my analysis of the importance of reconciliation in all areas. However the situation in Syria develops, reconciliation is the only lifeline, today and tomorrow.

•             Reconciliation avoids partiality to any particular group.

•             Reconciliation makes an appeal that is equally balanced to all groups.

•             Reconciliation is important for healing wounds, overcoming enmity and hatred and building bridges of social, religious and political dialogue.

•             Reconciliation is important for building up stone and flesh, for fellowship, for regaining life’s normalcy, supporting the poor, refugees and disaster-stricken.

•             Reconciliation is important for resuming dialogue between communities, acceptance of others and mutual respect.

•             Reconciliation is important for bringing back love to every home, town, village, party and person.

•             Reconciliation is important as a global mission. We are all called to take part in it, locally, in the Arab region and globally.

•             Reconciliation is the way for the future of the whole region and not just for Syria.  This can be said of inter-Arab, Arab-European, Arab-(Israeli) Jewish and Christian-Muslim reconciliation throughout the world.

•             Reconciliation is the essence of the Gospel and the content of all Christian doctrines: Trinity, Incarnation and Redemption.

•             Reconciliation has then a global dimension. It is not only linked to the Syrian or other crisis in the region. The future of humanity is at stake. As the Gospel tells us; Jesus would die to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (John 11: 52)

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25th SEPTEMBER 2012 – ISRAEL

The Burnt Door and Offensive Graffiti at the Vandalised Latroun Monastery.

The vandalism of the Latroun Monastery in Israel caused deep concern amongst Israeli Christians.  It is not the first attack on a Christian institution there but caused such distress that the church leaders of the area, including Archbishop Chacour put their names to the following document.  Provocation continues to be a daily reality.  Archbishop Chacour encourages people to demonstrate their committment to peace and reconciliation by not responding to this incitement to hatred, thereby breaking the cycle violence and injustice.  This document also expresses the key role education plays in the mentality of the conflict and confirms the importance of the schools under Abuna’s leadership in fighting prejudice and promoting reconciliation.  For more details of his educational work view the page on Mar Elias Educational Institutions.

Why Are Christians Again The Target?

The Christian community awoke this morning, Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to discover with horror that once again it is the target of forces of hatred within Israeli society.  In the early hours of the morning, the door of the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery in Latroun was burned and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls.

The monks of Latroun have dedicated their lives to prayer and hard work.  The monastery is visited by hundreds of Jewish Israelis each week and they are received with love and warmth by the monks.  A number of the monks have learned Hebrew and promote mutual understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Christians, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Sadly, what happened in Latroun is only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship.  What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoats and targeted by these acts of violence?  Those who sprayed their hateful slogans, expressed their anger at the dismantlement of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  But why do they vent this anger against Christians and Christian places of worship?  What kind of “teaching of contempt” for Christians is being communicated in their schools and in their homes? And why are the culprits not found and brought to justice?

This morning, the Christians in Israel are asking many questions as they grieve and seek consolation and assurances.  The time has come for the authorities to act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a “teaching of respect” in schools for all those who call this land home. “Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:12-14)

Signatures +  Fouad TWAL Patriarch of Jerusalem for Latins President, A.C.O.H.L. + Giorgio LINGUA Apostolic Nuncio for Jordan Rt Rev. Waldemar S. SOMMERTAG Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature for Israel +  Michel SABBAH Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus +  Elias CHACOUR Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Akka Vice president, A.C.O.H.L. +  Yaser Al-AYYASH Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Petra and Philadelphia (Amman) + Mussa El-HAGE Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land Maronite Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem + Joseph SOUEIF Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus +  Boutros MOUALLEM Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Akka Emeritus +  Gregoire Pierre MELKI Syrian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem +  Joseph Jules ZEREY Melkite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem + Maroun LAHHAM Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan +  Giacinto-Boulos MARCUZZO Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel +  William SHOMALI Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine +  Kamal-Hanna BATHISH Latin Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus +  Selim SAYEGH Latin Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Msgr. Joseph KELEKIAN Armenian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem Very Rev. Pierbattista PIZZABALLA, O.F.M. Custos of the Holy Land + Rev. David NEUHAUS, S.J. Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Vicariate Rev. Evencio HERRERA DIAZ, O.F.M. Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus Rev. Raymond MOUSSALLI Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan for Chaldeans Rev. Pietro FELET, scj Secretary general.

Abuna’s philosophy –

“I never pray for gifts of justice for Palestinians without praying for justice also for the Jews.  They are humans too, children created in the image and likeness of God.” Archbishop Elias Chacour.

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24th SEPTEMBER 2012 – UK – Mar Elias Educational Institutions high school is looking to make contact with a high school in the UK with a view to arranging a cultural exchange of students in the late spring/early summer of 2013.  It is a great opportunity for teenagers, probably lower 6th, to extend their horizons.  Please contact Audrey (a previous volunteer teacher at MEEI high school) at office.ashray@yahoo.co.uk for more information.

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21st SEPTEMBER 2012 – USA – Archbishop Chacour begins a  three day series of talks in the USA on Sunday 23rd September 2012.  A great opportunity to meet and hear Abuna if you live in the area.

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14th SEPTEMBER 2012 – LEBANON – Melkite Patriarch sees solution of the Israeli /Palestinian conflict as crucial to world peace.  Read the Address of H.B. Patriarch Gregorios III to H.H. Pope Benedict XVI in the Church of St Paul, Harissa, Lebanon, during the signing ceremony of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation following the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops  (14 September 2012).  Click Address to the Pope on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross 2012 for full text.

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12th SEPTEMBER 2012 – SARAJEVO   In Sarajevo, from 9 to 11 September, men and women from the world’s great religions met according to the Spirit of Assisi for three-days of meetings and prayer at the invitation of the Community of Sant’Egidio.  Archbishop Chacour was invited to discuss the issue – “Peace is a Workshop Open to All”

Click for information on the Community of Sant’Egidio

Peace is a Workshop Open to All

International Peace Making Conference –
Archbishop Chacour Shares His Approach

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17th JULY 2012 – UKRAINE   Archbishop Chacour returned to Haifa today from a four day visit to the Ukraine.  The occasion was the Church of Ukraine’s annual Pilgrimage of Our Lady attended by over 120,000 young people. He found it very exciting to be in a part of the world and culture which were new to him.  His talks were well received and the whole experience he found very fulfilling.

Archbishop Chacour was received by the Church of Ukraine’s Patriarch and all the bishops.  A warm relationship was established and closer ties envisaged for the future.

Abuna’s visit to Ukraine July 2012

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2012 – MOVING  EASTER   In the six years since his installation, Archbishop Chacour has made many changes in his diocese.  But this year sees what is probably the most far reaching change of all.  He changed the date of Easter.  Traditionally, Easter in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church has been celebrated in line with Western churches, with the Orthodox celebrating sometimes a week or more later.  Neighbouring churches, Melkite and Greek Orthodox, in each village being out of step with each other was not ideal, especially when some family members attended the Melkite Church and others the Orthodox.  This is not an unusual situation as both churches have the same rites and the use the same liturgy, mainly that of St John Chrysostom.

The decision was not solely for practical reasons.  Reconciliation is not just a matter for Arabs and Jews but also for various denominations of Christianity.  So Archbishop Chacour decided that the Melkites would join with the Orthodox Church to celebrate this most important time in the Christian calendar.  More than that, he also brought Israel’s Roman Catholic community to change too, so that all the major Christian communities in Israel, Melkite Greek Catholic (80,000), Greek Orthodox (40,000), Roman Catholic (11,000) and Maronite (8,500) joined together in their prayers.

Good Friday (Great and Holy Friday) started with two hours prayers in the churches in the morning followed by three hours in the evening.  Archbishop Chacour was in the Melkite Cathedral in Haifa in the evening.  The church quickly filled up so worshipers gathered in the courtyard and car park outside  But still there was not enough room.  The streets outside filled up too and eventually the police had to come to close the streets to traffic.  The crowd was immense, estimated at 15,000 with a large proportion of young people.  The Archbishop was amazed at the size of the crowd.  “Where did they all come from?” he marvelled.  A tradition on Good Friday is for the entire congregation to process.  The procession along the streets around the cathedral covered over 1km.  All the churches in the city  were processing at the same time.  Many more police had to be drafted in to control the traffic as the Christian sector is in a very busy part of the old city.  The long winding procession took a long time in its slow progress around and back to the cathedral.

When the Easter celebrations were over, the Jewish chief of police of Haifa came to see Archbishop Chacour.  “We had to close off a large part of Haifa to traffic three times during your Holy Week,” he said.  But if it was necessary to do it every day of the year , I would do it for you.

 © Ashray 2012

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