Monday, March 10, 2003

Terror and Goodness

One dismal November Saturday I attended a Pannychida, or memorial service, for the ten million victims of the artificial Ukranian famine of 1932-1933. Coming home in the cold rain, I ducked into the Barnes and Nobles on Fifth that used to be Brentano's, and walked around the basement visualizing how the racks used to be set up so many years ago. My attention was attracted to Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour, a priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and the first Palestinian to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I wanted some answer to the evils of the last and most vile of centuries.

I sat up that night reading, forcing myself to get through the early chapters quickly before anger overtook me, for indignation at what his family suffered comes more naturally to me than the Gandhian spirit in which his father met it. Father Elias went on to found the Mar Elias Educational Institution under the auspices of the great Archbishop Joseph of Nazareth, a man for whom our little family on Mulberry Street has the warmest feelings. The book recounts how Patriarch Maximos, upon his election, summoned Bishop Raya from Alabama to replace him in Galilee, and I recalled how young Father Raya, then of West Paterson, had been the first priest to associate himself with the ministry of the venerable Catherine Doherty, herself a pioneer of what became the civil rights movement, and a parishoner of ours at St. Michael's. (Dorothy Day would come too, but remained a Roman Catholic.)

I wondered what was left of Father Elias' work after the ghastly decade and a half since his book was published, and found, to my enormous relief, that it still flourishes, supported by an American charity called the Pilgrims of Ibillin. I commend it to your prayerful and generous attention.

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