was born in Ibillin in 1846, and became an orphan at two. As a
teen age domestic worker, she survived having her throat cut, asserting
that it was a vision of the Virgin Mary that saved her life. She
became a Carmelite Sister and in her short life had many visions, and
established a Carmelite Mission in India and a Monastery in Bethlehem.
She was Beatified in 1983, and canonized later.
There are about 10,000 Catholic Saints, so it is the rare that a small
village has a saint of it s own. This has been the week that
she has been thoroughly adored and celebrated in the town of her birth.
We woke up on Tuesday to learn that there would be no school on
Wednesday. This was not a surprise, since the school calendar is
not even well known to the teachers. We made impromtu plans to
visit Nazareth, hitching a ride with Richard, a maintenance - security
worker who lives there, and notifying a guest house in Nazareth that we
were coming. At noon, however, pictures of Mariam began to
appear, and there were organized classes of elementary and middle
school students with balloons and posters marching to the main parking
lot. That is how we learned that Wednesday was the anniversary of
What was most surprising to us was the drum corps, made up of members
of a local boy scout troup. Since we arrived Ruth has thought
that grandson Will could come here and start a drum line, and she has
been looking through the neighborhood for anything that could be
substitutes for drums and sticks, like big tin cans. Well,
here was the real thing right in our midst. Here is some photos
of the Tuesday part of the celebration:
As quickly as the children had assembled, they all headed home for the
holiday. At about 3 pm Richard picked us up and drove us to
Nazareth. Getting there took about twenty minutes, but getting
through to city and down the narrow streets took another 15. We
found the Abuna Faraj Guesthouse closed and empty, so Richard took us
to his house for a pleasant visit until we could make contact at the
guesthouse Here is a picture of Richard, and part of his family
including a grandchild. Next to it is a picture of a house near
his. We notice how houses seem to go up floor by floor as the
family extends. Even a three-story building will have a flat roof
with rebar extending our of the lower supporting joiats ready for the
next floor. this house, wiith its tiled roof, appears to be
We did eventually reach the Abuna Faraj Guesthouse, and met Sister
Martha Bertsch, who, at the urging of Abuna Chacour, renovated the
building and now runs it. Sister Martha is a Carmelite Nun
originally from Austria. She told us the story of the building.
Six years ago it was something of a derelict - an abandoned part
of the high school next door. It is a substantial 3 floor
building with several rooms on each floor. When she first entered
it, the first floor was repairable, but the second floor, with many
broken windows, had become a home for the pigeons. It took a long
time to move those tenants out, and did not always find smooth going in
having the rooms finished to her satisfaction. Her standards were
very high, as we learned during our stay.
The guest house can house groups of thirty or more, in very comfortable
and well-appointed rooms. She and her staff (mostly
volunteers, like us) serve breakfast and dinner - both meals bountiful
and delicious. The guesthouse is about 3/4 mile from the Church
of the Assumption, and other well known sites.
We enjoyed our overnight at the Guest House, both eating and sleeping
well. We shared the accommodations with a group of Pilgrims from
Sweden and Switzerland who were hiking through the Holy Land.
They were good hikers, but did have a sag wagon carrying their
luggage. They were very "Christian", making it hard for a
Quakerly Unitarian (Q - U) to keep up the conversation.
In the morning we watched the Pilgrims start on their way, and then,
after a walk in the garden, set out for the center of the city with
John, a 20-year-old Austrian Volunteer.
Swiss and Swedish Hikers
Sam and John in Guesthouse garden
Though we did not enter any Holy Sites, we did find an accordion player
which was just as good. He was seeking tips from passing groups
by playing music from their country of origin as they walked by.
We pointed out that John was Austrian, and he broke into The
Skater's Waltz - to which Ruth and I waltzed. We hope some time
to receive the photo John took of the occasion.
We spent most of our time in a bizarre establishment opposite the C of
A that is devoted to The Virgin Mary. It is a multi-floored
building starting from archeological digs at the foundation and ending
with a beautiful chapel opening onto the C of A. In between is a
multiroom, multiscreen presentation going from Genesis 1 to the end of
the Gospels. The excavated house foundations near the
entrance could actually have been there during Jesus' early life.
We finished our day with a walk through the Souk, or Market, or Bazaar,
and a climb through the narrow streets and alleys above the city
center, before seeking out bus 343 to Ibillin.
The bus ride was easy, and we returned at about 4 to a quiet and empty
campus. At 5:00 church bells began to ring, and we noticed a few
cars leaving off people in the parking lot. As darkness fell the
lot grew very active, with three drum and bugle corps warming up, and
vendors selling food and LED flashing rods. We followed a growing
number into the Church of the Beatitudes. As we walked down the
central aisle we noticed that many people seemed to be turning to look
at us, that is, behind us. We took two seats, just as a
substantial procession of candle bearers, cross bearers, priests, and
the Archbishop (Abuna Chacour) followed right after us.
The church, which can hold about 1000, was pretty full and filling.
There was a full service, including homily or sermon on Mariam
Bawardi by Abuna from the Archbishop's seat. As the sacraments
seemed to be starting we went back out to the parking lot. There
were, I think, 1000 more people outside - many children and young
people - a truck carrying large pictures of Mariam and of course a
police car at the exit from the lot. We enjoyed watching things
get organized. The Drums and Bugles seemed impatient, and the
crowds behind them in dissarray until finally we saw the Clergy walk
down the church steps and on through a parting crowd to their place,
just behind the drums and bugles. As is the case in any parade,
nothing moved until the Police car started, and we were rather
surprised to see how everyone knew their place. We watched the
parade pass (as we have done in many places that we have lived) but
this time, feeling tired from the day, we did not relish the climb down
the valley and then up to the Melkite Church across the way (and then
back), so we went up to the top of our building to watch and hear the
parade's progress. Here are some pictures of the event, they
suffer a bit from the fact that most of the action was in the dark:
Classes resumed on Thursday, but the physics class I was to attend was
cancelled because of an assembly. Then on Friday, supposedly a
day of no classes, I did attend a physics lab on Snell's Law.
It was done with half - moon plate glass pieces on a rotating
table with a diode laser as a light source. This was one of the
first labs for this class (I think they were 11th graders in their
first physics course. they will take physics for two years.
I recalled that Snell's Law was the first physics lab I did in
high school, and we did it with square pieces of glass and pins.
The results, in either case are n = 1.5 or so. Not all the period
was taken with the experiment. The lab had a "smart board", that
is a projected display controlled by a computer that allows the teacher
to use it like a chalk board, or project anything from the internet on
the board. Touching the board at the right place is the
equivalent of clicking a mouse. Fadi, the teacher, was quick and
well organized, and interspersed the expeiment with interesting
displays and videos of fiber-optic applications. The students
were eager, attentive, and got down to work efficiently (especially the
girls) The class was 10 boys and six girls (the labs are done
half a class at a time). The lab groups were not mixed. The
class reminded me of my stint in Bogota, and the teacher said that this
is one of the best classes he has taught.
We set out in the afternoon to trace roads on the west side of the
town, but ran into the spectacle of seeing a couple of tall palm trees
being cut down. It turned out that one of the maintenance men at
the school, Alah, was involved and he invited us to sit on his porch
and watch. Then we were served drinks and cookies. I can
only report that they tied a rope around the tree and pulled it down
expertly in a narrow space between a power line and a house.
Saturday was a school day, and Ruth was back with her elementary school
students in the library. We are working on setting up emails
between American students and those at MEEI. We have some fourth
to sixth grade contacts from the Richmond Friends School, and we will
proceed with that during th week. In the afternoon we sort of
completed the walk from the day before, and circled differently into
town, so that now we can direct a person to the schools from any entry.
No way is easy, however; every way involves a narrow street
and a steep hill.
Sunday we had another surprise. A certain Abuna Masoud called us
and invited us to Nazareth. One of his sons is married to Nancy
who is a neice of Ibrahim Bisharat, one of our favorite friends in
Whitefish. At 11:30 Abuna Masoud and his wife picked us up at
Ibillin and drove us to his home in Yaffa, a suburb of Nazareth.
As he drove in he pointed out the various homes and businesses of
members of the Bisharat family. There must be hundreds! At
his house we met more of his family including Nancy, her husband and
three children. As usual, Ruth had the Brownie book there to
facilitate the conversation.
Then we were driven up to Nazareth Ilit (Upper Nazareth) to meet
another part of Ibrahim's family. This was his nephew Wadji, and
his family. "Old" Nazareth, the one tourists visit, is a mainly
Arab and mainly Muslim city. In 1948 it was not touched by the
Israeli forces, even though many villages were destroyed in the
neighborhood. Instead, Israel built a new city for Jews on a
mountain to the east of the old city. Once you enter Nazareth Illit,
the Israeli flag is prominent, there are parks with lawns, and, we are
told, schools only for Jewish children. Because the old city is
getting very crowded, about 10,000 Arabs, mainly secular professionals,
have moved up from old Nazareth and make up nearly 20 percent of the
population of Nazaret Illit. There appears to be some conflict in the
city on a political level - Jewish and Arab neighbors seem to get along
well - but items like the establishment of Arab schools are
contentious issues. To give readers more information on the situation
there I have provided a recent article from Haaretz titled Fear and loathing in Upper Nazareth at this link.
We went to what we think is the North-Eastern side of Nazareth
Illit, past a McDonalds, to a sort of warehouse area, and then into the
display area of a very modern kitchen and bathroom equipment business.
There we met Wagdi, who quickly referred to his Uncle Ibrahim in
Montana. His establishment was sparklingly new, and we walked
through it as he entertained some customers and his Russian speaking
assistant worked with some others. It seems that he sells
fixtures, sinks, cabinets, toilets, counter tops, floors, tiles -
everything that would go into a bathroom or kitchen, and installs them
The shop looks so new because it has only been open for two weeks.
He is the youngest of two generations of Bisharat
kitchen-bathroom dealers in Yaffa, and, as youngest brothers often do,
wants to start off on his own.
Wagdi then invited us to a restaurant near by, run by Palestinians (or
Arabs) which he has often patronized in the past as he worked day and
night to open his business. We were treated to a amazingly
sumptious meal, in the company of Father Masoud and his wite
Sade, Wadji, his wife Rula, and their three children, Sama, Razi, and
Shahd. The oldest, Sama, is thirteen and captain of her
tennis team. We thought we should connect her in some way with
our grandchild in Whitefish, 13-year-old, tennis - playing Eric.
By the end of the meal the sun was already low, It was clear that
Wagdi had business concerns, and Father Masoud had to leave quickly to
provide transportation for another part of his family. With some
effort we convinced Wagdii and his wife that they did not need to drive
us all the way to Ibillin, as they insisted. We compromised by
letting Rula drive us to our old haunt from two years ago - the Sister
Margaret Hostel, high above the Church of the Annunciation. We
walked back down the narrow paths to the central bus stop, and caught
the 343 home at 5 pm at dusk. It was an easy ride, The bus
was ten minutes early, and the driver let us off right at the entry to