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May in the Holy Land
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D. — In this month of May, it was suppose to be my husband’s last month finishing his four year term as Mayor of Taybeh. And, it was suppose to be my last month of serving coffee and tea to everyone I know. Although the service sometimes is to high profile visitors like the Ambassador of Sri Lanka yesterday. However, Hamas and Fatah do not seem to be anywhere nears a unity government so the national elections in Palestine have been postponed. All local government positions have been extended until December 2009 hoping these political parties can agree to something. I hate to be a person who lacks optimism since I place all my hope in Christ but sometimes, I feel, it will take a miracle to bring change to our extra depressed conditions. And, forgiveness and reconciliation do not seem to be in the vocabulary of any political party in Israel and/or Palestine.
In this month of May, possibly all eyes will focus on Jerusalem since Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Jordan already. However, everyone closed their eyes on the weekend of September 16 & 17, 2006 when seven churches were attacked in the Holy Land because of the quote reiterated by the Holy Father from a late Byzantine Emperor. We need high profile persons to speak against the occupation and we need support and solidarity as a marginalized Christian community. I should not have to sign petitions to ask the Pope to visit Gaza. It is straight out of my gospel teachings if you have done these things unto others you have done it unto Me. Gaza, could not be a bigger prison and still under constant Israeli military air raids since the war on Gaza did not seem to stop the armed resistance wing of Hamas firing missiles. The suffering continues because no one is addressing the core problem.
In this month of May, marks the 61st anniversary of the Nakba (Catastrophe), a critical event in Palestine history. After such a long time, millions of Palestinian refugees are still unable to exercise their basic human right to return to their homes. Thus, Israel’s glorious celebration of establishing a homeland in 1948 is when more than 750,000 Palestinians were displaced or expelled by the Israeli military forces and more than 500 Palestinian villages were depopulated and later destroyed. Of the roughly 150,000 Palestinians who remained in that part of Palestine that became the state of Israel on 15 May 1948, several tens of thousands were internally displaced. This unlawful displacement continues until today with the home demolitions.
In this month of May, rests a great spiritual day for me on May 21st on the new calendar that stands out like Christmas because it’s the feast day of St. Constantine and St. Helen. Growing up in Greece with my late father named Constantine it’s like a famous day for me. Living in the holy land, this feast day took on even a deeper meaning although we celebrate it 13 days later on the Old Calendar.
The three major churches in the Holy Land for the birth, crucifixion & resurrection and Ascension of Christ were built by Constantine & Helen while St. Helen spent over two years looking for the True Cross in Jerusalem. Our oral history says this is the time she also built the church in my little village of Taybeh know as Biblical Ephraim at that time. Maybe, St. Helen never saw this church dedicated to the Martyr Saint George finished but Constantine the Great was the first to name churches after the martyrdom of Saint George in 303. The main church of St. George is in Lod, near the Tel Aviv airport.
After three hundred years of persecution in the history of the Church it was most likely St. Helen who influenced her son to initiate the Edict of Milan in 313 which guaranteed religious tolerance for Christians. The close relationship this mother-son team had should not be overlooked.
St. Helen just seemed to have a great passion to document the footsteps of Christ. Everywhere that the local Christians told her something significant happened in Christ’s life, she simply wanted to glorify the Lord and develop the holy place to be free from any Pagan marks. In Taybeh, the people must have told her that Christ was received in the village when he escaped from the Jewish community briefly right before his glorious entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Our area was known for refuge because in the old days certain populations accepted people accused of crimes and the civil population offered such persons a place of brief safety.
St. Helen’s fervor of maintaining all of the early places connected to Christ and preserving them by making them free of Pagan worship was dominant in her life. Maybe she did all this since she went through a divorce. Her husband left her for another woman and sometimes it is by chance of suffering that we come to give glory to God. Her son, however, as the Great Emperor, honored her by granting her the imperial title, “Augusta.” Constantine granted her, power and money to do her work in Jerusalem and he was actually the first to call Palestine, the Holy Land.
Saint Helen died around the year 327 A.D. after finally finding the Life Giving Cross in Jerusalem in 326. But no telephones were available at that time so the sign was a bone fire on the mountain tops of each military post until the word got to Constantinople. And to my surprise in September during the Feast of the Holy Cross, the first time I saw school children in Ramallah having a bone fire, I had no idea why. Because it took me such a long time to understand how deep and precious our Christian roots are of the Mother Church. St. Helen did an amazing job documenting our Christian roots and trying to preserve as many spots as possible since actually the whole land was simply made holy by Christ Himself. It is very fitting the Church recognizes both Constantine and Helen as equal to the apostles.
And in this new Millennium with all of the technological advancements that we have, and all of the wealth and all of the knowledge of our history, we are simply just losing our Christian roots under this awful military occupation. When Palestinians commit violence they are simply “terrorists.” When the Israeli army blows up holy places like the chapel of St. Barbara in 2002, they are “very sorry they made a mistake.” Well, the mistake that the world is making is not standing clear and strong with human rights for all people and a just peace in the Middle East.
In this May, on a personal note, all three of my college children are returning home for the summer. So it means a house full again and someone else to serve coffee, tea and that famous Taybeh Beer!
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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