Our dear friends, It is time for us to share with you the latest developments and progress that we have made on campus at MEEI. Indeed, I did not write frequently enough during the past two months. Marie was in Australia. She is now back safe and healthy and communications will be much easier than before.

Our dear friends,

It is time for us to share with you the latest developments and progress that we have made on campus at MEEI. Indeed, I did not write frequently enough during the past two months. Marie was in Australia. She is now back safe and healthy and communications will be much easier than before.

Here on the field we put aside almost everything else except the targeted opening of the Elementary School. Twenty-four hours before the opening, the heavy machines asphalting the playing fields, all the contractors with their workers, the 20 teachers of the Elementary School, all of our maintenance people, and our cleaning team were at work from early morning. Some remained until midnight. We were exhausted. I was afraid that the fatigue would prohibit us from appreciating the outcome of the work.

During the last evening I witnessed the departure of the heavy machines – bulldozers, shovels, asphalting machines, cranes – and I was left alone with some teachers, maintenance people and some friends to decorate the school. By midnight 31st August we were ready for 1st September. What an exciting moment!

The next morning, 1st September, literally hundreds of private cars, minibuses and other vehicles started streaming in with the children to the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School. I am not exaggerating when I say that the school looked like a bride. I stood there greeting every student and every teacher. This was one of the moments of my life where the physical exhaustion disappears and the spiritual elevation takes over. On 1st September at 8.30 am the 450 pupils listened to a short talk and entered school!

There is still a lot to do, lots to add – furniture, equipment, computers, not to mention the completion of the 5th and 6th floors. We postponed the purchasing of the elevator which requires $26,000. All that we needed is to see the children, the teachers and the parents joyful and happy. This was done. Thank God and thank you friends who contributed to make this possible.

Soon we shall start planting trees. We will prepare sports fields. As soon as possible we will install airconditioning but all that can wait. The school is running. Thank God and thanks to you.

At 8.30 on the very same day, 1st September, all the students of the High School jammed into the Auditorium – 1400 students and their 90 teachers. Another one of those great moments where you realize that the beauty of the buildings is in the living stones.

Since then we have had some other exciting moments. On 7th September we were honored with a long visit for a whole day from the Director General of the Ministry of Education in the Northern District of the country. He came with all his entourage. Not only did they admire, they were enthused. More than once the Director General repeated, “Please Abuna consider me to be your ambassador whenever you need. I will do everything in my power to bring to this unique place the General Director of the Ministry of Education of Israel. And I shall do the same to bring to you the Minister of Education himself.”  We have invited the Director General with all his entourage to attend the upcoming concert in the Church of the Sermon on the Mount. He accepted gladly.

This concert will be organized to meet the needs of the joint Arab-Jewish School – I mean Mar Elias School together with a neighboring Jewish school. The Jewish children will come to MEEI for one day each week for 6 months to study with us. We shall send a similar group of the same age to study in the Jewish school. Yesterday, 8th September, was the first day of their joint learning. Together they went to Mt. Carmel to take part in a special study of the environment and vulture preservation.

We have had the honor of a large delegation from the American Embassy, Tel Aviv, visiting the school, meeting with the students and discussing with them several aspects of democratic life. It was a very lively debate. I was privileged to host the delegation at my residence for a friendly lunch.

At the same time we were honored with the visit of the newly appointed Mayor of Ibillin. He could not believe what he saw and was most impressed with the way in which the students welcomed him – relaxed, respectfully and always with the famous smile of hope that I ask each of them to give me and everybody else.

You can imagine the overwhelming feeling of admiration when all these people were introduced to the most beautiful Church of the Sermon on the Mount. Every day we add a new item to complete the Church. It is like a new jewel added to the most beautiful necklace of MEEI. The bronze door, which is the gift of the Spokane community and the fruit of the beautiful imagination and talented fingers of our most beloved friend, Dorothy Fowler, has been fixed. What a great beauty! The other side of the door is Nazareth made. It is also excitingly beautiful, especially the decorative inscription in Arabic and English that says: “I am the Gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will find salvation, will go in and out and find pasture.”

The baptismal font, which is made from the stone of Bethlehem, is an attraction in this small church. The altar with its five columns, stone of the West Bank, is a real beauty. The marble table, which was made in Cana of Galilee, is now resting on the five columns. The side altars in the form of a fish and this altar, like the rest of the Church, have no sharp angles. All angles have been rounded. It is not a matter of the stones’ shape. It is a message to all of us to round our assertions and never hurt with our certitudes.

I omitted to mention that right at the entrance to the Church we admire the Buddhist mandala, in a sign of recognition and gratitude for the amount of money they generously gave us with the Niwano Peace Award. It was the most substantial help we got to finish the Auditorium.

Many more things we would like to share with you our friends. Need I say that the eastern and western cross-shaped windows are being made? One of them is already delivered. It is a special vitrage. Presently we are waiting for the completion of engraving of the Beatitudes on the marble, which will form the risers of the stairs. The inscriptions will be in the four most used languages – Arabic, Hebrew, English and French. Our maintenance people have started painting the Church with the first layer of simple white, leaving the rest for much later on to make the frescoes on the walls. The iconostasis has been made here in the school. It is now being fixed in the Church. Our carpenters and students work with utmost joy to contribute to this prayerful piece of art. The icons, most of them, are supposed to be delivered within weeks from now. They are being made at Turvey Abbey with the generous contribution of so may friends from England. Lots of other small things are added daily and are increasing our joy and our appreciation.

We had to postpone the official dedication of the Church because of the first priority we had to finish the Elementary School. Nothing is urgent. The Church can wait. Nevertheless, we can celebrate the Eucharist, hopefully by the end of next month, in a clean, closed and most beautiful structure. The very special Holy Bible book has been sent from Lebanon. It is there waiting to be deposited on the altar. I start feeling the need to have an outstanding writer to help us in editing a large book about the history of this Church and all the hands who have joined together to make this house of prayer a house of hope.

Surprises! Yes there are still many more. We still need to welcome the Community College students. We are waiting to receive 200 freshmen and women at the University as well. We are still waiting for the reopening of the School for Gifted Children. In that respect we have much hope. Promising decisions have been taken that the School will become of two centers for Arab gifted children in Israel. We shall also open the Teachers Inservice activities sometime towards the end of this month.

I can’t express my joy in watching us reaping and harvesting with joy what we planted with tears, with trouble, with shock and very often with denial. More exciting than all of those is the prospect of developing the small nucleus of the Peace Center, which already exists in the University Campus due to the generosity and the commitment of our dear beloved Swiss friends, Catherine and Pierre Brunner Dubey and their parents who contributed with the first small amount to make this baby exist. It shall be in the future a major center of attraction and of learning.

Just as important as the Peace Center is the success in creating a team-work and a real sharing among all the different institutions that form Mar Elias Educational Institutions. I am proud of all of them.  I pay tribute to their spirit of collaboration and I give them the honor and the merit of all that is being done in this already small village, MEEI, in the town of Ibillin.

One thing is always missing for several years. It is your presence friends, whether from the US, Canada, from the UK and Europe, from Australia and Africa and Oceania. We miss you all very seriously. We want to see you back, sharing your joy as you share our efforts. Please do not imagine that we forget the furnace of suffering that surrounds us in the Holy Land, Israel/Palestine or in nearby Iraq, or in faraway Afghanistan. How can we forget what happened only a few days ago in Russia? We pray to promote an old culture which nurtures trust and friendship – “Fear no more. I bring you good tidings.” Amidst al this suffering we have chosen to look to consider and to admire the still full part of the bottle. We do not want to add tears of lamentation in spreading suspicion and justification of terror and counter-terror.

A smile of hope. This is what we have opted to nurture.
God of life. This is whom we have opted to follow.
Joy in serving. This is what we have learnt and teach.

Yes, giving is more delightful than taking. Now is the moment to say thank you. Now is the moment to say, “Continue with your prayers, friendship and support”. Now is the opportunity to ask forgiveness if we forgot you, anyone of you, in the intensity and confusion of such a busy and fruitful time. Do believe please, without you we would not have been doing what we are now.

Do receive in return our friendship and prayers, and our promise to keep our commitment to peace and justice and our attention, respect and love to all those, who like us, were born babies in the image and likeness of God. By now you know your place. By now you understand our vision. By now you realize what serious partners we are in this unique enterprise, mission and ministry.

Yours sincerely,

Abuna Elias Chacour with the Staff and Faculty of Mar Elias Educational Institutions