Archbishop Elias Chacour in Ottawa

Carl Hétu discusses the planning and execution of a symposium for which Archbishop Elias Chacour will be a guest.

I am very excited to report the visit of Most Rev. Elias Chacour, Melkite Catholic archbishop of Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee, who will be in Ottawa from 19 to 24 October. He will be our keynote speaker at a symposium at St. Paul’s University, which aims to raise awareness about the challenges facing Christian communities in the Middle East and their important role in promoting peace in the region. CNEWA and the Sheptytsky Institute are organizing and sponsoring the symposium.

I first met the archbishop in Haifa, Israel, in February 2010. I had heard of this colorful man, who is not afraid to speak his mind when confronted with injustice and intolerance. I had heard of his history and had read his first book, Blood Brothers, telling the story of his family evicted from their village the year Israel was created and his journey toward reconciliation and peace, refusing to condone violence or to keep silent. I was excited to meet this larger-than-life character and, indeed, he did not disappoint.

During our discussion, I asked him when he had last come to Canada. He replied that it was 20 years ago as a young priest. I said that was far too long ago for someone who travels all over the world and that he needed to pay Canada another visit. He then said to let him know a good time and he would come.

Then from 10 to 24 October 2010, the pope called a special synod gathering of Catholic bishops, priests, religious and lay to discuss the future of Christianity in the Middle East. I was in Rome for this event and, again, I briefly met with Archbishop Chacour. He asked me if I had the dates for his visit to Canada. I replied assuredly that sometime in the Fall 2011 would work. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure at all, but that sounded like a good time to me in the heat of the moment.

Ever since the synod, I thought we should organize a special event in Ottawa but I couldn’t see CNEWA Canada doing it alone. Then in March, I met with Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa, who wanted to organize a special event for the institute’s 25th anniversary. It didn’t take long to figure out that together we could also use the occasion to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the synod. The rest is history.

While in Ottawa, Archbishop Chacour will meet with members of parliament on 21 October, give media interviews and take part in two public events. We also hope to meet with the Honourable John Baird and his staff to discuss the newly established Office of Religious Minorities and with the Honourable Berverly Oda, minister for International Cooperation.

As the Arab Spring continues and a sense of uncertainty pervades the region, Christian minorities are worried as well as hopeful about their future. I believe Archbishop Chacour’s visit to Ottawa is crucial in helping us Canadians better understand and respond to the changing events in the Middle East.

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