‘Get Your Hands Dirty,’ Archbishop Challenges Audiences

He’s not an imposing-looking man. But each time he took the podium, he didn’t mince words, but neither did he belittle his hearers. In turn, the audience was often visibly moved.

Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Arab, Christian and citizen of the modern state of Israel, brought his call for human understanding and practical response to the protracted conflict in the Middle East to the greater Harrisonburg area, Oct. 23-25. He addressed a service club, an interdenominational pastors group, students and faculty at two local universities and the broader community.

Elias Chacour
Elias Chacour (l.) talks with former EMU President Myron S. Augsburger of Harrisonburg.
Photo by Jim Bishop

In every setting during his three-day visit, Chacour underscored the critical need for active peacebuilding in his strife-torn region.

“Every time you take the side of one of the peoples here, you become just one more enemy to the other,” he said. “What is needed are bridge builders who start in the middle to reach each side.

“Humanity today is waging war against an idea – against terrorism – that when responded to with violence only breeds more violence.

“Help stop the generalizations – calling persons radicals, fanatics, terrorists,” Chacour pleaded. “Don’t condemn an entire people because of the actions of some who act out of desperation in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip, in the refugee camps.

“Peace needs no contemplators,” he told his audience. “It needs actors, persons who are willing to get their hands dirty, to be salt and light, connecting people with each other and to God.

‘Rediscover what God has created’

“If I would have one message, it is for persons to look in the mirror and rediscover what God has created all of us to be – that includes reaching out to those we don’t agree with, our enemies,” Chacour said.

“We don’t need more Christian groups coming to view the historic sites of the Holy Land,” told an ecumenical gathering of church leaders. “What we need is your friendship, for you to stand in solidarity and to build bridges to people on all sides of this conflict, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian.

“Go to your own Galilee and serve others, forgive them and help them live together in peace,” he challenged.

Chacour, a three-times nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is president and founder of Mar Elias Educational Institutions in the Galilee area of northern Israel. The school system serves 3,000 young people, aged kindergarten through college, from the major faith traditions in that area of the world