From behind his desk, shrouded in his dark clerical robe and stroking his long grey goatee, the soft spoken voice of this man, welcomed us warmly but was not afraid to ask hard questions of our group. In particular, one I’ve very seldom been asked, despite having been recieved in many places by many people. This man had my attention from the beginning with this; why had we come? After being given a brief introduction of our group, he said with eyes gleeming “I think you’ve told me who you are, and what you will do. But why have you come?”
And with that Abuna Elias Chacour, Archbishop Emeritus of the Melkite Catholic Church, began his tale. We listened to his stories of becoming a priest, coming to the village of Illibin and the founding of Prophet Elias (Elijah) School, where we were so graciously welcomed today.
This Arab, Palestian, Christian man in front of us told of a life committed to justice for his people. A tiredless advocate for the education of children, Abuna Elias knows no bounds when it comes getting what he needs for them. One story in particular further painted the picture of the man in front of us. Desperate for a building permit hung up bureaucratic nightmare and under the threat of jail, Abuna flew to Washington DC and showed up at the Secretary of State’s home and ended up face to face with his wife. When asked who he was and if he had an appointment, his answer was “I am another man from Galilee. We don’t make appointments. We make appearances.”
Inspired by the original man from Galilee, Abuna Elias left us with this challenge. “Are you ready to raise all hell, when hell needs to be raised on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Do you have the vocation of a people who change their surroundings instead of being changed by them?”
These words hung with me throughout the day. What does it mean to raise hell? How do I do that in my context, with the people in my own life? What are the implications for my security and am I even allowed to factor that in if I truly seek to raise a rucus on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed?
The same questions every advocate for Justice and Truth asks themselves at one time or another rolled around in my head as we said goodbye to the students of Prophet Elias School and board the bus to head to the village of Iqrit, a place bombed by the Israeli government, where Palestianians were forced off their land.
What remains today is a church and a group of 12 committed ancestors. They’ve been there everyday in shifts for the last four years making a public stand about their rights to this land.
What would raising hell look like in the flesh?
I didn’t have to wait long to see the answer in front of me. One of these women, Asul welcomed us into the cool darkness of the church that remains in tact and shared why this hell is one she’s risking to raise.
“This is our land. There is something special about being able to work it, to grow our own food. It’s an inheritance. As much as my hair or my eyes. Caring for this land is God’s work for our hands.”
To sacrifice, to risk, to not forsake a cause, a calling that after so many years is weary heartbreaking work. But still they stay, 24 hours a day, resilient in their commitment to justice for the refugees of this Palestian village.
Twenty four hours a day. And despite my best efforts, somtimes I struggle to speak out, to raise my voice, to challenge the status quo. I find excuses to avoid hard topics when it’s convient and shamefully, sometimes defualt to the privilege I am afforded due to my nationality, race and religion.
Why are we here, Abuna?
It is my deepest hope that our answer would be, to learn and return home to raise all hell.