Many of you who have visited with us at MEEI will know of the great importance of the morning gathering of students at which I and my senior faculty address a range of issues according to the theme of the week.
We have been plunged deeply into tragic international reality.
– Letter from Abuna Elias Chacour
My dear Friends,
Many of you who have visited with us at MEEI will know of the great importance of the morning gathering of students at which I and my senior faculty address a range of issues according to the theme of the week. We are now reflecting on the idea of also inviting parents to join us when possible so have changed the venue. Instead of convening in the parking lot and sometimes having to cancel because it is too hot, too wet or too cold, gatherings are now held in the Auditorium. Now, twice weekly, students gather in two groups 9th and 10th graders, and 11th and 12th graders. Twice a month the entire student body meets in the Gymnasium. College students continue to convene twice weekly in the Auditorium and Elementary school students are gathered for a short time at 8 o’clock each morning before classes.
All of these meetings are extremely important in order to help our students during this time of trial. We do not want them to be influenced by the ongoing culture of fear and of death. We hear so much about preparing to go to war, to smash people, to suffocate nations, to evaporate groups, to flush out enemies. This language of the jungle does influence our students and sometimes they identify with those who are facing the possibility to be destroyed, and at other times unconsciously they imitate those who threaten the poor with their uncontrolled arrogance and pride. Violence is at the door everywhere. What others intend to do to us we do against each other.
The culture of fear and death is gaining ground in the remotest places on our small planet. Therefore it is our greatest responsibility to promote a culture of trust and of peace. Is that not the core of the message of the Risen Christ to his followers? “Fear not, it is I. I give you peace, my peace, not as the world gives peace. You are the beloved of my Father. I do not call you slaves but friends. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth for those who do God’s will. The message inspired by the Ten Commandments tells us: Do not kill! God does not kill! In practice this means to do to others what you would wish them to do to you. Do not judge your neighbor – it is for the Lord to judge. Jesus urges, “Follow me. Walk with God. Practice justice and speak truth.”
The political and military arrogance that surrounds human society today cannot be healed with a similar arrogance and blind power. A nine ton bomb cannot repair the damage done by an eight-ton bomb like those ready to be launched on Baghdad. We need someone with authority to change the hearts of political leaders and to persuade them to destroy their bombs and let people live. How can we blame others when we do things far worse than they might do? Who is worse – the person who steals bread because he is starving, or the one who destroys a whole country to secure more wealth and more luxury for his own people?
We have been plunged deeply into the tragic international reality. Education becomes a difficult task. It is no longer only a matter of accompanying the young generation as they grow and mature, often we must help them to change direction and to go against the prevailing stream. We do no more than dare to speak about the need to change the stream – it may be too early to do that. The pervasive culture of fear of death makes us very humble and modest in our ambition. We resort to prayer while continuing to act beyond despair.
With your prayers and your encouragement we are determined to persevere, never to give up hope and faith in the good positive side of human beings. We shall always fly the flag of friendship of Trust, of special peace. We are created and made to believe in human dignity, to believe in human beings created for life and not for death. We proclaim what we believe: Sanctity of human life is a gift from God. No one has the right or the permission to take away his life or the life of others. It is for God, and God alone to take and give life! God repeatedly says: “Kill not, kill nowhere, nobody under any circumstances, for no pretext or reason. I came to give you life – life abounding with joy!
Please continue to work for justice and for peace. Do not stop your solidarity with MEEI. Together we are stronger than the storm. No doubt since we are together we shall overcome.
Abuna Elias Chacour
President: Mar Elias Educational Institutions
Many voices call
At this time, when Abuna is increasingly needed at home to attend to so many local appeals from within and without the school and the church, he finds himself solicited to travel to many countries in Europe, USA, Australia and to Japan and Korea in the Far East. Although he likes to consider positively all the invitations, it is impossible to accept every one. Abuna still has several overseas commitments for 2003 and already is receiving requests for 2004. Since he is no longer a young man, the burden of age is taxing his freedom of circulation, and he offers his most sincere regrets to those whom he has had to refuse or ask to postpone until a later date.
On World Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2002, an Italian regional community honored Abuna Chacour with the Dante Aleghieri Award for his contributions to the upholding and promotion of human rights through the work of Mar Elias Educational Institutions. The Director General of the community of St Egidio, Rome and the Mayor of the city, presented the award in a ceremony at Castelnuovo Magra near Pisa. An audience of more than 500 people heard Abuna’s speech calling for all to be men and women who would get their hands dirty in working for peace.
Fondazione Mediterraneo Laboratorio (the Mediterranean Laboratory Foundation) have awarded the Mediterranean Peace Prize to Abuna Elias Chacour for his significant and ongoing work in promoting peace through education in the Mediterranean region. The award was presented on 14th March by the Secretary General of the European Commission, His Excellency E Schwimmer, at a ceremony in Naples, Italy.
In January Abuna undertook a week of speaking engagements in Geneva and Nyon, Switzerland where he spoke to a number of parish and community gatherings and renewed old friendships. In March he travelled to the States to Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. In just over a week Abuna addressed more than 3000 people at church, university and community gatherings and spoke to millions via radio and TV broadcasts from the University of Iowa. Abuna was very appreciative of the companionship and organizational work of Rev Don Griggs and the Pilgrims of Ibillin during this intensive journey.
His Holiness, Pope John Paul II recently appointed Abuna Elias Chacour consultant to the Vatican for world Jewish relations with the Catholic Church.
Abuna is still Bishop Elect in the Melkite Church at this time. He reflects that, “All the time we are small, we make roots, once we become big, there are many branches to feed. I am concerned in case the roots might suffer.” This is Abuna’s dilemma as he struggles with the decision if or when to take up the position of Bishop. Please accompany Abuna with your prayers in this extremely important time of decisionmaking and change.
NEWS FROM THE SCHOOLS
Full to Capacity
On February 15th Principal, Ms. Nawar Musallem and her staff began registering pupils for Mariam Bawardi Kindergarten for 2003/04. We are thrilled to see that parents from Ibillin and the surrounding towns and villages are eager to secure a place at MEEI for their children. Last September it was necessary to rent a classroom from a private person in the village as we had expanded to 7 kindergarten classes – a total of 245 children. This year we are unable to accept more children. If space permitted we could in fact add four more classrooms to accommodate up to between 100 and 140 more children. However, we have no more land for expansion.
WE ARE GROWING!
Elementary Classes 2003/04:
3 classes of Grade 1
3 classes of Grade 2
2 classes of Grade 3
1 class each of grades 4,5 and 6
New Classes Added
Mariam Bawardi Elementary School is growing. Nawar also continues as principal of the elementary school and here we have another story. We are working towards our goal of completing the eight grades still adding one more level each year. Last year we found it necessary to add two more classes to grade one level and progressed to Grade 5. Currently the total number of
pupils is 210 however the picture will certainly change in this coming year. We may have need to expand to three classes of grade one and add one more class to each of grades 2 and 3 giving an increase of around 200 pupils this year.
In order to avoid overcrowding we have decided that it would be unwise to add more sections to the higher grades.
Everyone is particularly excited to see the new elementary school building emerging slowly but steadily. The weather this year, although a real blessing with such rains as have not been seen for 50 years, has not been helpful to progress with the construction. Nonetheless, we are determined to pressure our contractor and his band of workers to do their best to complete the first two floors by 1st September. On completion of this four level building, more classes will be added until there are three in each grade level making a total of between 740 to 800 children. The circle of education at MEEI will then be complete. Thus a child could begin kindergarten at age 3 and continue until graduation from university at age 22 to 23, progressing through different institutions but always under the same umbrella.
In February we were delighted to receive Mrs Gill Dye, Secretary of the Elijah Trust, MEEI’s support organization in the United Kingdom. Elijah Trust have played a key role in the realization of the construction of our new elementary school classrooms. It took six years to obtain the building permit and even before then Elijah Trust members were working constantly to raise funds throughout the UK. Their faithfulness is deeply appreciated and soon we shall see the fruit of their work and encouragement.
On March 1st registration begins at Mar Elias High School where some major decisions have been made. The number of students this year will remain at 1250 so there are some prospective students that we shall not be able to accept. The feeling is that if we grow too big too rapidly we will not have control of our development. We have decided to remain a comprehensive school, that is, with both technical and academic sections, as we do not want to exclude students by becoming elitist or selective. We feel extremely saddened because the Ministry of Education has ceased subsidizing a number of areas such as computing and printing so we will not be able to continue offering some classes to all our students. This is the result of the general situation of a weak economy. The poor get poorer while the wealthy grow even wealthier.
Economic Downturn Affects College Students
Mar Elias College (2 years following High School) gives us some serious concerns. Many students cannot pay their tuition as widespread unemployment has tragic results among the Arab minority in Galilee and throughout Israel. Because of this we are suffering a loss of student numbers and hence are struggling to maintain the courses we offer. We shall have to make some hard decisions which will see cutting of courses and also teachers in some departments. All teachers and students are presently involved in promotion of MEC and recruiting of new students. It is important to once again reach our minimum viable number of 600 students.
Perseverance the Keynote
After more than 3 years, the Mar Elias University Project under the leadership of Dr Raed Muallem and the Start up Team has completed documentation for three inaugural degree courses in Environmental Studies, Computing Science and Communications. As soon as we have been granted the right of registration we shall start. We expect the Israeli Committee of Higher Education (CHE) to visit MEEI within the next coming weeks to inspect our facilities and issue a permit allowing MEU to advertise courses and to register students.
One official visit has recently been completed for inspection to ensure that our infrastructure is suitable to accommodate the first classes. As a result of the report from this inspection the start up team must now submit substantial further information as the CHE passed changes in the regulations for higher education applications three days prior to this visit. We shall not be discouraged or diverted from our goal to open this Christian University in the Galilee.
Discovering Our Giftedness
This year it was decided to adopt a common theme among faculty and staff of shared decision-making. We are aware of the importance of each one’s view, vision and responsibility. There is mutual responsibility between faculty members and between faculty and students. Each has a unique contribution to make to the well being of MEEI. The important role of parents and their responsibility is not forgotten either.
Abuna and senior faculty have begun a process of ongoing consultation with faculty members throughout MEEI. It is essential to Abuna to hear and to listen to each one of these 290 people. They have been divided into small groups of no more than 25 according to areas of residence, with the exception of Ibillin in which there are 37 faculty members. To date twelve meetings have been held in Abuna’s residence, beginning at 6 pm and rarely finishing before 9. The time passes quickly but the impressions are lasting and are already yielding positive results. In addition, each of the 40 high school classes has a tutor who plays a very special role in the life of MEEI. So there are still another two meetings to be held.
At the end of this process of listening, Abuna and the directors of each of the schools will convene a general meeting at which a summary report will be presented. The hidden potential of each person is astounding. Each has much to give, to propose, to suggest. The major outcome thus far from meeting together in this way, is that we see better, act more strongly and reach out more effectively. It has been a real eye opener, most inspiring and Abuna’s response is that he can only be very proud of these great individuals and their serious commitment and thinking. They deserve so much respect and attention.
As this is the 20th anniversary of MEEI, the staff decided to spend 3 days together on a trip to Jordan. Ninety-five faculty and support staff participated. We constantly share responsibilities at MEEI but we also want to have a time of celebration together.
INTERNATIONAL GALILEE CONFERENCE CANCELLED
Last October we postponed the Conference because of threats of war against Iraq. As we go to press this war is now a reality and violence is escalating. It is not likely that people would dare book flights for the Holy Land for next June. We had looked forward to having the maximum possible number of friends present and so with deep sadness and many regrets we have decided to cancel the conference.
Instead we will plan for the 25th anniversary of MEEI. By then the elementary school will be running at its full capacity and MEU shall be, hopefully, in its fourth or fifth year. Above all and hopefully, none of the present day political leaders, who are the masters of war, will be still in office.
God willing we shall still be here and together we can celebrate undisturbed and with Joy.