Before we left the United States, our group read the book "Blood Brothers" by Father Elias Chacour. As a child, Elias Chacour lived in a small Palestinian village in Galilee. He was proud of his ancient Christian heritage and lived at peace with his Jewish neighbors. But early in 1947, his idyllic lifestyle was swept away as he became among the thousands of Palestinians who were exiled from their villages and watched as their village was destroyed to create the modern State of Israel. An exile in his native land, Elias began a years-long struggle with his love for the Jewish people and the world's misunderstanding of his own people, the Palestinians. After becoming a priest, he was sent to a small town in Israel called Ibillin and ministered to the people there despite encountering many hardships. He later started a school, one of the most sought after in Israel, and preaches reconciliation, justice, and peace.
Our first stop for the day was up to Bir'am to see Father Chacour's original village. We were able to see the town's original church and synagogue and also see the destroyed homes from before 1948. Unfortunately, the original villagers are still not allowed to return to their original village. We had a quick chance to discuss the obstacles to peace between Israelis and Palestinians and what changes could be made to improve reconciliation between the two groups.
After Bir'am, we drove to Ibillin, Fr. Chacour's current village, to see his church, school and eat a DELICIOUS lunch. The kids were a blast to see, full of joy to see us and we to see them! For a very short period, we couldn't find one of our pilgrims. When we went to search for her, we found her surrounded by a group of kids giving her hugs and high fives. Fr. Chacour's church was stunning and the group ate a huge feast all made by only ONE lady at the school.
On the way back from Bir'am, we drove through Cana and celebrated Mass at the main church inside the town. After Mass the couples in our group were given the opportunity to renew their vows inside the church, a very emotional moment for many. We were also able to see a stone wine jar from the time of Jesus inside the church.
An earlier night back in Nazareth allowed many to sneak out and explore the city on their own. The Rosary Sisters Guesthouse was positioned on top of the hill overlooking Nazareth. To find our way down to downtown Nazareth, we walked down countless steps in tiny cobblestone alleys behind homes and through a closed market, finally ending up in bustling Nazareth. A group explored the city and ended up in a restaurant to celebrate their renewal of vows. Others ate pizza. Still others stayed at the Sisters' guesthouse and enjoyed a night in. Katherine and her family found themselves in a taxi with a Palestinian Muslim driver who, upon their arrival at the guesthouse, took out a black label Johnnie Walker bottle, poured drinks for them, kissed their cheeks and said, "WELCOME TO NAZARETH!" We truly did have a wonderful welcome in Nazareth for 3 days. Tomorrow we depart at 6:30am to cross the border and head into beautiful Jordan!