Archbishop Elias Chacour has been in Britain as a guest of Aid to the Church in Need, and was the top speaker at a conference this weekend at Westminster. The Mass launched the conference and he made a notable figure as he walked to the lectern to preach: the Archbishop is of the Melkite Rite and wore his traditional robe, cross and headpiece - he had us spellbound as he told us about what it is like for Christians today in the Holy Land, caught between the Israeli authorities and the world of Islam, forgotten by much of the rest of the Christian community in Europe and elsewhere, seen as tiresome and an irritant, living almost as refugees in their own homeland.
His message was absolutely rooted in a appeal for kindliness, common sense, neighbourliness, and peace - there was no rancour here and no politicking. Jews and Christians in the Holy Land, he said, do not need to be taught how to get along with one another - they only need to remember how they have managed to do so over many centuries, and claim that heritage. His plea that we should know abut the Christians there, holding fast to their faith and traditions, facing poverty and exile, uncertain of what the future holds.
He spoke with humour - enjoys pointing out that Christ too was "a man from Galilee" - and with a love of his heritage, talking about the olive groves, the smiles of the children, the language and the customs of his people. He spoke with passion and with warmth, recognising the tragic history of the Jewish people in the 20th century, appealing for understanding.
After the Mass, crowds waited in Ambrosden Avenue to pack into the Cathedral Hall for the conference. In addition to hearing about the Holy Land, we had a young speaker from China (a member of the young international team based at St Patrick's, Soho Square), and ACN's own John Pontifex talking about his recent visits to Eritrea and Ethiopia, plus Director Neville Kyrke-Smith giving us the latest news from the former Soviet Union...it was a terrifically interesting, inspiring, and challenging day.
You can help the Christians in the Holy Land by buying some of the lovely Christmas gifts they make out of olive wood - and while doing that, don't miss the beautiful cards and notelets printed with designs drawn by a Bishop while imprisoned in China - this brave man has since died in prison, a hero of the faith - and the range of inspiring books also now available from Aid to the Church in Need.