no. 2   april - june 2006
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Early PCM Provincial Mission
Carmelites Still Remembered in Nablus, Palestine

The Carmelite community has been gone for many years. Its building was torn down to make way for a wider street following a tragic accident. But the Carmelites are still well remembered in Nablus, Palestine.

German Carmelite Rainer Fielenbach travels to the Holy Land regularly and during a trip in October 2005, he went to Nablus to see what he could discover of the Carmelites who left in 1950.

Nablus has been known for ages for its soap and candy industries. The monastery, which the Carmelites took possession of on January 5, 1929, was adjacent to one soap factory on a street no more than three meters wide. The main road, a much wider street ended just before our street began.

German Carmelite carpenter and now Servant of God Alois Ehrlich was in Nablus from Christmas 1929 until July 1930. He went to make the furniture for the sacristy and the benches for the church.

Fr. Rainer spoke with three people who remembered the Carmelitesóa Greek Catholic priest, the owner of the soap factory, and the director of a library. All three felt that the Carmelites and the people of the area had "lived well together." The complex included a church and school and was located in the center of Nablus, very much "among the people."

The first person they visited is now the owner of the soap factory which was adjacent to the monastery. He was a teenager when he remembered the Carmelites living next door. He spoke of the ones who "dressed like Franciscans" and remembered when robbers came into the monastery. His family brought their influence to bear and the robbers were turned in. He also spoke of the willingness of the Carmelites to help when someone with a medical problem came to the monastery.

Because of the presence of American Carmelites from the PCM Province in the early years of the monastery, it was commonly known as the "American monastery" instead of the "Carmelite monastery."

The Carmelite side of the story was told by Aloysius Scafidiís "History of the Carmelite Foundation in Nablus," written between October 1954 and January 1955. He recorded the major events: that war was being waged in the streets outside and that the American prior had been interred by the British because of his German heritage. He also recorded the more mundane: what colors were being used in the new murals on the chapel ceiling, and who visited over the years and the aftermath of the first substantial snow fall in Nablus in 25 years.

The mission started as an international center of the Order for biblical research. There was to be a college for the local population. Sadly, Scafidi wrote, "as a result of extravagancy and mismanagement, the college idea had to be abandoned and was later transformed by Fr. Simon [the prior] into a grade school.

Following the war, people whose homes had been destroyed came to live in the building.

In the late 1940ís, the moves began to get rid of the building. Cardinal Tisserant, in his position as Secretary to the Congregation for Oriental Churches, wrote to then Prior General Kilian Lynch on June 30, 1949, noting the closure of the house and the need for the Carmelites to accept a best offer. He asked about the Latin Patriarch renting the building for 20 years at a low rental fee. The Patriarch wanted to transfer the parochial school in Rafidia which is very close to Nablus. The Cardinal suggested the offer be taken because "it would be difficult to find another Christian buyer."

In a letter of December 19, 1949, Cardinal Tisserant noted that a Franciscan, Fr. Gori, had been appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem and he would require some time to learn the situation before the whole complex is ceded for the agreed upon purchase price of US$ 10,000. In a follow-up letter on March 21, 1950, the Cardinal wrote to the Orderís Procurator General, Battista Blenke, noting the sale of the "School of Nablus" to the Latin Patriarch.

So ended a long struggle to establish Carmelite presence in the Middle East.

In 1954, after three children were killed on the narrow street while returning home from school, the mayor went to speak with the Latin Patriarch who controlled the building and it was agreed to close the monastery, tear it down and widen the street. Only the memories of the Carmelites in the memories of the people remained.

Nablus was founded in the middle of the third millennium B.C. Because of its favorable geographic position and the abundance of water, the city prospered and became an important economic strategic center. After several invasions by various people, in 63 B.C. the city fell into the hands of the Romans. In 635 the Muslim Arabs captured the city and gave its Arab character. From 1918-1948, the city came under the British mandate. After the so-called 1948 nakba (calamity), the city was held by the Kingdom of Jordan. The city was occupied by the Israelis in 1967 but was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority in 1995.

The population of Nablus today is estimated to have a population of about 200,000 people.


(1) The cover of a brochure for the town of Nablus captures the street where the Carmelite house, church and school used to stand. The narrow streets were replaced with wide boulevards following the deaths of three children on their way home from school.

(2) A Greek Orthodox priest who remembers the Carmelites from his childhood points to the location where the house stood.

(3) A new building rises on the property that once held the Carmelite monastery in Nablus, Palestine. Still standing is the family owned soap factory. The owner, then a small child, remembers the Carmelites offering help to everyone who came to their door.


Overcoat from the 1920ís Returned
Forgotten Relic of Titus Brandsma Rediscovered

A long forgotten relic of Blessed Titus Brandsma, the Dutch Carmelite killed at the Dachau Concentration Camp in World War II, has been donated to the Titus Brandsma Museum in Bolsward, The Netherlands. The relic is a black overcoat made in the 1920ís by a tailor from Bolsward, the hometown of Blessed Titus. Brandsma is thought to have loaned the coat to Johannes Casticum, a newly ordained secular priest, in 1937.

The coat will be a main feature in the new exhibition "Divine Journeys" which explains Titus Brandsmaís worldwide travels. The exhibition opened April 8th.

Brandsma had accompanied Castricum on a train to France during the winter of 1937-38. During the journey, Castricum did not have a coat to protect himself against the cold and bleak weather so Brandsma loaned Castricum his own coat. It is known that Brandsmaís superiors did not always appreciate his many gestures of generosity, especially in the crisis years of the 1930ís.

Only after Castricum returned to The Netherlands following the war did he learn that Brandsma had died. Out of respect for Brandsma, Castricum carefully preserved the coat. When he died in 1990, he gave the coat to his housekeeper and she gave it to the museum.

Given Brandsmaís slender build, he had to have tailor made clothes. A small tag in the collar of the coat refers to the Catholic tailor Petrus A. Gerritsma whose tailor shop was on the main street of Bolsward until is closed around 1930.

The museum is now looking for a sponsor for the cost of restoring the coat. The outside of the coat is in good condition but the inside is in need of some repairs. Museum officials have been told by professional restorers that the cost of restoring Brandsmaís coat will be a maximum of 1,000 euros.

The Titus Brandsma Museum was opened by the Prior General, Joseph Chalmers, in January 2004. Entrance is free although a donation is recommended. The museumís website is www.titusbrandsmamuseum.nl



 

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