Living Stones Pilgrimage – Oct 18-31

For photos and additional record of our trip, please visit Pilgrims of Ibillin’s Facebook page: Enjoy the 3 most recent posts from our current pilgrimage on this page, then visit here for all earlier ones:

An Everyday Life (Kind Of…)

By Ellen Rasmussen 10.29.2016

For most of us, today is our last overnight abroad and it was an ordinary kind of day for me (almost), which, upon reflection, makes it an extraordinary day. It began with a good night’s sleep and waking refreshed at MEEI after a fabulous feast at a local home last night. A choice was made to go with a later group to visit a middle school class and so the day got off at a leisurely pace.

Feast at the home of a wonderful family whose children/grandchildren attend Mar Elias

Feast at the home of a wonderful family whose children/grandchildren attend Mar Elias

Late morning, I joined a handful to journey to Nassar’s 7th grade English class. I was invited to sit down by one of the students who shared his workbook with me. Ahhhh, I fondly remembered the days of teaching in the middle school. Similar behaviors. Similar energy. Children will be children and it was wonderful! In the midst of all that surrounds them, in the midst of struggling to gain equality in a system that will attempt to hold them down and back, these children laughed and giggled, shied away and brazenly showed off (all with great respect for their teacher). It was a gift to be with the children.

The blessings continued as we headed toward special guests for lunch---young men from the high school to share stories and teachers coming in when they could.

The casual conversations and shared laughter are signs of hope----of a reality being lived out, yet not fully realized. Sacred time. Holy conversation. Thank you, Lord, for these opportunities.

Following lunch, we gathered to journey to Saffuriya, or more accurately, the ruins of Saffuriya (about a half hour’s drive) with freelance journalist Jonathan Cook. He used to write for The Guardian, among other papers. He has also written Disappearing Palestine; Blood and Religion: The Unmaking of the Jewish and Democratic State; and Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.  He shared many stories and included poetry by Palestinian poet, Taha Mohammad Ali. He taught us about Palestinian filmmakers, Elia Suleiman (The Time That Remains, Divine Intervention) and Hany Abu Assad (Paradise Now, Omar ---both Oscar nominated films).

The stones of the village, even though hidden among trees and cacti, continue to tell a story that is witnessed by the ancient olive tree.

Dinner with Abuna Elias Chacour closed our last day at Mar Elias: a gift both ordinary and much more.

Our Living Stones group with Abuna Chacour

Our Living Stones group with Abuna Chacour

Mar Elias School Immersion; Nazareth Visitation

By Mary Ann King and Mary Beth Spooner

We are thinking that the influence of our Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been felt in Ibillin, where we are today. Schools here are experiencing drastic budget cuts. In spite of this the students of Mar Elias schools are getting a good education and scoring highly on their ACT/SAT type tests We spent 45 minutes with 10th grade English students. They peppered us with questions, and we assured them that we did not know Justin Bieber personally.

Mary Ann with Mar Elias students

Mary Ann with Mar Elias students

Another bus ride took us to Nazareth. We visited with a winner of the Martin Luther King Award, Nabila Espanioly, who is the director of a local nonprofit which assists women and children. We enjoyed lunch with another new food and a talk by Habib Karam, a friend of Pilgrims of Ibillin who lived in California and decided to return to Galilee. The owner of the cafe also told us about creating this traditional meeting place in the old city.

Liwan Cultural Cafe

Liwan Cultural Cafe

Our afternoon continued with visits to churches and historic sites. The Basilica of the Annunciation and St. Joseph’s were moving examples of important events in Biblical history. We also viewed excavation sites of homes in caves, one supporting a church which was built over it.

After a late return, we determined that we won’t have to take our evening walk. (Oh, wait, we don’t do that anyway.) After 8 days together it is apparent that we have melded (perhaps that should be melted) as a group. All in all, this journey has been a remarkable experience. We have come to learn that the US media does not cover everything in Israel or Palestine.

Hospitality and Connections - from Palestine to Israel

By Ellen Rasmussen

Our day began in Zababdeh at the homes of of incredible hosts---all members of the St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church led by Father Firas. We had breakfast, said our goodbyes to our hosts and journeyed through the town.


Our host family: Khaleda and her son and granddaughter

We first journeyed to the Latin Patriarch School where Father Firas showed us around. We visited a 10th grade math class, toured the school and church. Much to my surprise, I found a quilt hanging in the hallway, made by some familiar names---including South Hampton District Methodist’s Women’ Network, Quakers for Peace and Justice in Palestine and Women in Black. It was a delightful discovery.


Wall hanging: Latin Patriarchate School Zababdeh

Following the tour of the school and church we headed just a bit down the road to the Rosary Sisters Convent where we gazed upon 6th century mosaic and columns. It was once the site of a significant Byzantine church! Afterward we traveled back to St. George’s for some olive picking and along the way spotted great neighbors.

Olive picking in Zababdeh

Olive picking in Zababdeh


Palestinian flag flies over Roman Ruins

Soon we were off to Sebastia---once a great capital city, now a site of Roman ruins and the childhood home of John the Baptist. Walking where John the Baptist once played was a mind-blowing experience. A Palestinian flag flies over the ruins.

Following a delicious lunch, we were off to Burqin to experience the Church of the Ten Lepers---the 4th oldest church in the world! We also visited the Canaan Fair Trade Company and tasted freshly pressed olive oil before heading to the Jalameh checkpoint where we were asked to get off the bus in order to have our passports checked.

Icon in Church of the Ten Lepers, Burqin

Icon in Church of the Ten Lepers, Burqin

We arrived safely in I’billin where we settled into our rooms before sharing in a magnificent welcome feast!


Mar Elias Welcome Feast


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