The Christians in Palestine at the Restoration of the Patriarchate 1848-1858

By P. Medebielle

Part Two

Father Pierre Medebielle speaks here about the first missions in Palestine: Beit-Jala and Jafa then about the first missions in Jordan: Kerak and then about the Rosary sisters

The end of the Tyranny

It is easy to imagine the effect produced by the deeds of December 2 and the great prestige these brought for Fr. Moretain. He immediately exploited this in a fight to the end against the tyranny of the Muslim chieftains. Having forced the withdrawal of Abu Gosh, he had established a position of superiority over all of them.

He received the total support of Msgr. Valerga and Mr. Botta, and soon after that of the new Governor, Kamel Pasha, who visited him and on occasion of the visit gave official recognition to the authority the missionary was wielding:

Fr. Moretain was relentless in his pursuit of those who stole from his Christians:

Fr. Moretain was particularly hard on the sheiks of Walajeh, claimed a sort of suzerainty over Beit Jala, and especially on Abou Cheikha, who had taken part in the raid of December 1853. He prohibited them from setting foot in Beit Jala:

Athough he alwavs insisted that quarrels concerning Beit Jala should be submitted to him, wisely and prudently Fr. Moretain usually kept his distance from the problems involved in having to take sides. He would inform himself of the situation, and then:

After the Crimean war the position obtained by Fr. Moretain in Beit Jala could be seen very clearly. The different Patriarchs had lost their judicial authoriy over their flocks in the civil forum. Logically Fr. Moretain should have lost his rights of imprisonment and the quasi-official function granted to him by Kamel Pasha. But in fact nothing changed in Belt Jala, and his position was unchallenged. The Greeks were annoyed at his influence, and wanted to take advantage of the change official attitudes. They once more sent a monk to Beit Jala to open a breach in his authority. It was in vain: indeed, the monk was one of those who were obliged to the missionary for his help:

Fr. Moretain's apostolic plans had worked. His courage and dedication to all the people of Belt Jala, and the incredible way in which he had freed them from the Muslim tyranny had caused a flow of conversions. Fr. Moretain did everything he could to make sure they took it seriously:

If the number of conversions was not as high as Fr. Moretain probably counted on, they were at least serious, as can be seen from trial they were subjected to. The conversions had alarmed the Patriarchate, and the monk was provided with abundant funds to chase the return of the newly converted. Out of more than 250, only were tempted. Fr. Moretain's sorrow was tempered by the fidelity of the immense majority of his flock. The mission was now well established he could now leave it without fears for its future. Latin Petitioners in Galilee When the news of Moretain's exploits reached Galilee it caught the imagination of the people of the village of Jaffa. This was then a small village three kilometres from Nazareth. Nowadays the expansion of both town and village have practically united them. A group of 80 peasants contacted Fr. Tannous, who was from Nazareth and had been ordained a priest in 1865. He persuaded Msgr. Valerga to send a zealous young Italian missionary. When the Patriarch asked him for news of the 80-90 dissidents who claimed to be Catholics, Fr. Fattori replied in all sincerity: In all honesty, who could rely on a people that has no knowledge of the Christian religion. and is distinguished from the Muslims only by an inveterate family custom (tribal spirit) rather than by a faith different from that of the Muslims. At least as far as the country people are concerned, the Greek Church and the dogmas it proclaims are no obstacle to the acceptance of Catholic truth.

The only, but overwhelming, dogmatic difficulty is the total ignorance of all Christian dogma. A natural. but powerful and disastrous result is that they are only interested in material benefits. No one knows, and no one is interested in knowing whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Son, or whether Purgatory exists or not. One is reminded of the people of Samaria who told the Apostles concerning the existence of the Holy Spirit, that they knew nothing about it. As long as the fellah finds a protector whenever he has a problem couldn't care whether it is the Greek priest, the Latin priest, or the Protestant minister. Whoever it is, the fellah is much obliged to him for day, says that he belongs to his religion whichever it might be, although obviously knows nothing about it, except that it exists. What can be done with these people? I believe they need to form their conscience by means of religious instruction. But that requires a priest to be here permanently to make use of all the time and all the means available.

Unfortunately the priest did not reside in Jaffa, and the people were often absent from the village working their land in the plain of Esdrelon, making it difficult for a visiting priest to get in touch with them. However, the Patriarch was able to provide two missionaries to follow them up. One of them was the French Fr. Legrand, a very good priest, who used a little room next to the Church which the Patriarch through Fr. Tannous, had asked the Franciscans of Nazareth to build. These priests initiated the spiritual formation of their flock. Fr, Damiani of Jerusalem, who was resident parish priest between 1879 -1883, was in the position to give comforting news:

The same parish priest also practised the devotion of the month of St Joseph

The presbytery was built in 1883. Latin Petitioners in Transjordan Since the country suffered from constant tribal wars, until 1874 it had been too dangerous to send a missionary to Kerak. Abouna Skandar (Alessandro Macagno 1841-1905), the priest who was sent at that time, was a saint. He, too, found that the Christians were only nominally so, suffering from the same crass ignorance as those in Galilee.

The formation imparted by this saint led to the fulfilment of the prophecy. One of his 3rd generation Akasheh helped in the building of the Church in 1932. He purchased the wood for the roof in Damascus, and donated to the parish priest the money left over from the price of the wood he had bought. His son was to be of great help to the priests in the South in difficult times, and his grandson was ordained as a priest of the Latin Patriarchate in 1978, Father Khaled Akasheh, today workong in the Vatican.

The Women!

The situation of the women was of great concern to the first Latin missionaries, since it was almost impossible for them to have dealings with them. Providence intervened with the creation in 1880 of the Arab Sisters of the Rosary. A girl from Jerusalem was educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph (who had arrived in 1848), and then joined the order. Having assimilated the spirituality of the Sisters, and as the only Arab, she set up the Daughters of Mary and the Christian Mothers in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

In 874 she experienced visions of the Virgin Mary, who charged her with asking the Patriarch to establish the Arab Congregation of the Rosary. Patriarch Bracco(1873-1889) did this, following the indications of the Virgin Mary, and appointed Fr. Tannous as spiritual director of the sister.

In 1883 she joined the new community. She was sent as a missionary to Jaffa of Nazareth, Nablus, Zababdeh, Beit Sahour, and Salt, and in all these places she organized the Daughters of Mary and Christian Mothers, Apart from the Patriarch and Fr. Tannous, no one knew her secret, not even her sister, who was the superior general. This was only revealed after her death in 1927, when her notebook, written on the orders of Fr. Tannous, was sent to Patriarch Barlassina.

There was rivalry among the missionaries to obtain the help of these Rosary Sisters in dealing with the women. They have been providential in the missions and the Latin schools, and instrumental in the cultural and religious formation of women on both banks of the Jordan. It is good to remember this nowadays as we witness the extraordinary development of the girls' schools and the flourishing of religious vocations among the Arab girls. The practically unknown foundress, a soul of prayer, who was ranted miracles during her lifetime, is now well on the way to glorification.