Birzeit Town
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History of the Latin Parish in Birzeit‎

History of the Latin Parish in Birzeit

Mediator of the Church: Our Queen of Peace Guadalupe Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

The year 1856: Started working with it by the Baptism of the first daughter Maria Ibrahim Abu Jaser under the Patronage of Fr. Partholomious Karditto the Parish Priest of Jifna at that time.

The Fist Church: Abu Jaser House which is situated in the Old City of Birzeit.

25. 09. 1857: The first wedding ceremony for Khalil Abu Sehadeh Mariam the daughter of Butros.

The year 1858: Establishing the Latin Patriarchate School in Birzeit.

27. 02. 1859: Parish's Official Opening.

06. 07. 1859: The first funeral in the Parish.

The year 1860: Building the first Church.

The year 1868: Building the first convent.

The year 1885: Establishing the Rosary Nunary.

The year 1955: Building the New Church started (at the age of Fr. Anton Buzo).

The year 1975: Inauguration & Blessing the New Church (under the patronage of Patriarch Alberto Ghori).

The First Steps

The History of the Latin Parish particularly in Birzeit & generally in Palestine has been connected with the historical developments which took place in the area. It was known that the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem was closed by the end of the crusaders war and with the departure of the crusaders from Palestine at the end of the 13th century. Therefore the chair of the Patriarch still in Rome till the year 1847 when the chair of the Patriarch of Jerusalem was reestablished at the age of Patriarch Valerga, since the declared aim at that time was preaching the Jews in Palestine and transferring them into Christian Religion.

At the meantime, the Patriarchate found that preaching the Jews is not an easy task. Meanwhile, some persons of the Greek Orthodox Church with full contentment have joined the Catholic Church and among them a person called Michael Yasmeneh from Jerusalem who opened a mission in Ramallah & went to Jifna and opened another mission there, that appeared and proceeded with a preaching task calling upon the Christians to join the Catholic Church. Some of Birzeit Inhabitants heared about him and they accustomed to go to Jifna in order to have prayers at the Latin Church there. One person of Birzeit inhabitants named Ibrahim Jaser who was deeply enthusiastic to join the Catholic Church. That was in fact the first steps of joining the Latin Catholic Church in Birzeit. The Situation of the Christians Arabs after Crusaders which it was known as The story of Priest Yousef.

The situation of the Christians Arabs was moved back after the defeat of the Crusaders and the control of the Mamlokians. Threfore, it was said that in a small village near Birzeit, Prtiest Yousef really witnessed that some of his followers became Moslems and some of them moved to another villages, finally the Priest followed them over there, since he became Imam & transformed the Church into Mosque. Furthermore, as the time was passing quickly, Priest Yousef and his followers accustomed for the new religion, but when the Mamloukians retreated the Priest and his followers they were looking to the past, then the Priest (Imam) decided to perform the mass according to the old Christian Religious Rites, consequently, the Priest kept with him the ornaments and mass equipments. Meanwhile the desire of the Priest was already known by the inhabitants for the village, as their desires were curiously waged in their hearts, so that they returned back to their old mass system.Therefore,in one of the Fridays, the Imam of Renegades had celebrated with the Holy Mass,and it was said that the celebration done quietly, and when the Priest (Imam) Yousef divided the bread into pieces after praying on it, some of those who attended the mass witnessed clearly the blood slipping from the broken pieces of bread. After his death Priest Yousef got the honor of being buried in a place which was matching to his rank, it was known with the Tomb of Priest Yousef which is situated in Surda Area exactly at Birzeit–Ramallah Road which was recently known as Shiekh Yousef Shrine, this place was transferred into small mosque after making some changes internally by putting al-mihrab in the southern side, as this mosque was serving another small village which is situated just 200 meters into the south,since then,both villages were vanished or even demolished during the wars of Al-Qais & Al-Yeman which was spreading over Palestine during the Mamloukian & Othomanian Times as informed by one of citizen of the neighboring village.

Ibrahim Jaser’s House – The First Latin Church

When there was no Transportation between Birzeit & Jifna, since the sandy road from the village to Jifna is passing through Al-Hamra Mountain, the inhabitants of Birzeit faced difficulty in going to Jifna to have prayers especially in the hot and cold days. In the light of this connection, Ibrahim Yasser called upon Priest Koderk to come to Birzeit to perform prayers, and he offered his house for this purpose, since it became the first Latin church in Birzeit and still existing till now in the old of the town. Therefore, the Priest started coming to Birzeit every Sunday but some group of persons in Birzeit rejected the presence of the Priest in Birzeit, so they sent a number of boys who they trapped the Priest and attacked him during his return to Jifna, such action raised the rage of the Patriarch,then the Counsel of France interfered, as a result of this, many of Birzeit inhabitants were detained. Mousa Abu Naser (The Chief of Aranika Clan in Birzeit went to Jifna to apprehend with the Priest and the Patriarch, and during his attempts to solve the problem he agreed with the Latin Priest to work in the school which was established in Birzeit in a room in the old avenue,then Mousa Abu Naser had sold a land belonging to him in the year 1860 for the purpose of building a Latin Church in Birzeit,the construction of that church started in the year 1863 and it was completed in the year 1865. During that period many Birzeit families have joined the Latin Church and they started forming a kernel for the Latin Parish, so that their children were studying in the school of the church which became afterwards a school for the whole village, and of those families who have been endorsed as individuals of the Latin Parish are: Saadeh family, Shehadeh family, Ziadeh family, Alloush family & Yaser Family.

Constructing the First Church

Constructing the Latin Church started in the year 1863, so that the Patriarch Valerga requested the Priest John Moritan who proved genius in building Beit Jala Church, to help him, but Motiran says that he did not draw the Chart of the church but the Nazareth Num named Karkwet did this chart. Priest Koderk was interested in the financial help affairs, also Priest Jolly was interested in designing and building. The Church which costs 5000 francs and the construction was completed in the year 1865. Priest John Moritan said in his notes which he sent to the Patriarchate in Jerusalem:

“I did not work on the Birzeit Church's Chart, in fact this work was done by the Nun Karkwet of Nazareth Nuns, but I have attended purchasing the land and ranging the place of the building. I was holding a compass, and I set the directions in which the church should be directed to the east. I remember what had happened in that occasion: the field was planted with beans & hummos and it was blooming. Therefore, we have no right in the Land until the corps is completely cultivated, and because I was not always presented I preferred before my departure to give the directions to the Future Church, so I walked alone having the small compass till the middle of hummos field accompanied with Fr. Bost who was the Parish Priest in Birzeit at that time. At the meantime, all the inhabitants of the village attended, and everybody wants to know what I am going to do, people walked on the hommous field. Therefore, the owner of the field started shouting and cursing but nobody paid him attention, he could not have any control on the situation and he saw how the corps was damaged, I and the Priest Yousef could not get the people out, and what I have to do is to end the work and put two marks as a sign for the direction of the Church. As a result of this, the people left the field and left behind them a big destruction, because the field was damaged and the people went just to satisfy the owner of the field and drinking coffee with the Chief of the village."

The Locust

Birzeit city was affected by the Locust as well as it was widely spread all over Palestine in May 1866 which already created a catastrophe on the country which is mainly depending on agriculture, and because the event was surprising, and since there is no existence for global organization who are interested in following up such these subjects, the size of damage was bigger than expected. Furthermore, Patriarch Valerga wrote a report and set it to Lion & Paris describing the depth of catastrophe and tragedies that the inhabitants were facing saying:-
“Since more than twenty years as I was responsible for the Church of Jerusalem, I did not feel with the bitterness in which I have felt with it this time: damage & tiredness covered the area from Hebron to Nablus".  The Locust stayed in Palestine for two years, devouring everything since it became impossible to find any single tree with its leaves over or a piece of land with grass appeared on it. Furthermore, the inhabitants in Ramallah, Jifna, Taybeh and Birzeit were facing an undescribed condition, they were living without resources and without hope for future, they were despaired and they did not have any activity, they are waiting to be died of hunger. They became unable to take a decision. Beit Sahour Parish Priest Fr. Moritan described in his diaries the attack of the Locust and the useless attempts proceeded by the inhabitants to defend their land and the failed attempts of Priest Jolly. Fr. Moritan, Parish Priest of Beit Sahour wrote his report about Locust also, especially after his visit to Birzeit, he said:-
”At the beginning the Locust was very small and he can not fly, but it was creeping towards the same direction being obedient to its master, the Locust came from the road which leads to Saint Saba, on the width of the road and in surrounding fields. Therefore the creeping Locust appeared in the ascending day on 10/05/1866,and when we were informed about its arrival we came to watch it and we walked over it, then Fr. Jolly said to me : give me "gunpowder" and I will show you what will happen, and started drawing the gunpowder lines in the place the Locust is passing through, we have spent three francs in burning up just three Locust, finally the battle ended and the Priest Jolly was the only looser”.  I would like to mention that the Locust who came through Saint Saba Road have mistaken with 300 meter but it amended its creeping line till it reached Bethlehem Road, and it was like an army having recovered leadership, it was settled in the area full of olive trees beneath Bethlehem waiting for the flying type of Locust which was arising from 15 to 20 meter over the ground. The days of 31 of May and the first two days of June were a storm of  Locust which it differs on all previous waves of Locust, and it had never seen like such catastrophe happening in Palestine and Syria, since peasants started weeping and they believed that the end of the World is coming, so that the Patriarch Valerga did his utmost effort in order to help the peasants whom their corps were damaged, he ordered financial helps from Europe to compensate the damages".

Fr. Yousef Koderk: The Founder Priest

Stability of the Parish Priest

At the end of the year 1865 Priest Istifan Jolly was transferred to Biet Jala & Priest Yousef Koderk replaced him, at the meantime Priest Bost was in Birzeit, but the Latin Patriarchate sent to Birzeit a small Italian Priest called Alexandro Macanio he was 27 years old, the people were calling him " Abuna Iskandar ",but when Priest Bost transferred to Nablus, Priest Iskandar stayed at Birzeit since the number of the Latin Parish in that year was (92) persons .Therefore, the Priest was supervising on the school which was consisting of (16)male students & (20) female students, so that teaching at masculine school was separated from the feminine school. Meanwhile,the school female teacher found difficulty in persuading female students to be registered in the school, but her continuous efforts achieved positive results.In addition to registering girls in the school, a development happened concerning the attendance of women into the church which was scarcity at that time, and more than that they confessed and had the communion.
But in respect for men, the Priest was pessimistic because they were having no response with him, but they were closely related to land, they were not so much interested in God, they are namely Christians only, Fr. Iskandar described them as " poors & miserable, every year they receive a new Priest who has no experience since he does not know their language and when he starts apprehend with them he will be transferred to some other place. Fr. Iskandar Macanio had supported the demands of Birzeit inhabitants in stabling a permanent Priest for a long period, and notified the Patriarchate that a delegate headed by the school's teacher Mr. Mousa Naser have the desire to meet with them to raise these demands, also the Priest himself came just to persuade the Patriarchate and acknowledge them with the real reasons for his decision. In the light of the preceeding, the efforts done by Fr. Iskndar led to a Patriarchate's approval on his demands, so that Priest Iskandar Macanio became the first permanent Priest in Birzeit.

Priest Bishara Abed Raboo (1863 - 1943)

The priest Bishara Abed Raboo had served in Birzeit for (30) years, he was of the Patriarchate's second generation. He was born in 1863, attached into priesthood being (12) years old and he drawn as a Priest in 1889 in a young age. Therefore, during the period in which he gave his service in Birzeit, the Parish faced a lot of hazards such as : the danger of being slaughtered at the final age of Sultan Abdul Hamid The Second but the revolution that happened against him in the year 1909 stopped him, also the inhabitants faced to many hazards during the First World War, so that the young Priest has to face the Protestant Preaching Activity, since the Anglican Diocese had extended its activities in the year 1851 by establishing schools and ordinating Deacons, and they established the Protestant Church in Biezeit that was developed into University College and then into a big University in1975.In this way the Protestant fastened their foots in Birzeit through the help of Teacher Mousa Naser who was a teacher at the Latin School in Birzeit.

Under Danger:-

The Christians of the Holy Land felt with danger and feared of being victims of massacres which were happened at the end of the Othman Rule. At the age of Sultan Abdul Hamid who was called with " The Red Sultan" since many massacres were done in Balqan,the most terrified one which had happened in the years 1895 & 1896 against the Armenians, it was known with the most famous Armenian massacre and was perpetrated as the danger of massacres returned back threatening the area in the year 1908.I the light of this development, a Turkish movement called" Turkia Al-Fatat" imposed on Sultan Abdul Hamid to establish eh liberal constitution for the year 1876 by which all phonetics between Moslems and Christians were ended, and the Government members of Turkia Al –Fatat were facing big political difficulties. They lost some of their popularity. Sultan Abdul Hamid wanted to get benefit out of this by starting a new wave of violence exactly in the year 1909 aiming to get rid of Turkia Al-Fatat Movement. In April 1909,The Christian in Palestine and East of Jordan have lived hours of frightening and horrifying, since they remembered Damascus massacres of the year 1860 & the Armenian Massacres of the year 1895.Consequently,they called upon the Counsels of Europe as they had also great intention to ask the religious associations in the country to defend and protect them,but the abduction of Sultan Abdul Hamid from being a ruler and the orders issued from the Constantinople preventing massacres put an end to this horror. In the East of Jordan Christian were greatly horrified, but in Ajloun Christians had resisted against the Turkish orders, and after the Turkish Manager received the bloody orders,he called the Sheikh of Kufranjeh who was considered as one of the most important man in the area and he showed him the order he had received which consists of slaughtering the Christians in Ajloun. Therefore,as Sheikh had an excellent relations with his Christians neighbors and with the Clergymen, his responsive stand of refusing the massacre was honorable, but the Turkish Ruler told him" I ask you to keep yourself aside and don't make anything, because you will loose your life & we will slaught you first". The Turkish Ruler tried to explain his embarrassing stand in respect of none implementing the order, but the Sheikh insisted on his idea, then the counter order came from the Constantinople. The Turkish Ruler of Kerak was Phonetic, since he was ready enough to implement the order of Sultan. Actually, he gave a secret order to start the massacre since the bombardments of the cannons was a sign which was agreed upon in the midnight of April 1909,but a large number of the Turkish Officers from the "Liberal Turkish Officers Movement" were disgusted from these orders, some of them had visited Jerusalem and made good relations with the Patriarch as they were enthusiastic when they received a telegraph from the Ruler at 8:00 pm stressing on the abduction of Sultan and canceling his orders, then the Ruler denied that he received the telegraph which came directly from the Constantinople. As a matter of fact, the Liberal Officers have raged and threatened to kill the Ruler and they forced him to send men to announce the decision to the inhabitants of the City. In this respect, they sent solders to the Bedouin Tribes announcing the decision of stopping the massacre and explaining to them that the Cannons shooting is only a sign for greeting the New Sultan.

The First World War

Birzeit town found itself in a war courtyard in 1917, also Jifna town found itself in the same circumstances. After Jerusalem was occupied by the British Army in 21/09/1917 they have settled in Al-Nabi Samuel & Ain Areek, and the Turkish Army were settled in Ramallah and Al-Nabi Saleh. Therefore, at Christmas Day the Turkish army waged an attack on Jerusalem from the East and the North until they reached to Mount Scopos,but the British Army moved them back to the East and they attacked all Turkish sites in the area till they reached Ain Areek moving towards Ramallah which became under control of the British Army.The Turkish Army left the city. In the following day of the British incursion to Ramallah City the British Commander called upon the Parish Priest named Emanuel Habash accompanied with a number of the dignitary persons just for asking them where they can bury the dead people who were placed in the church.During the meeting, gunfire shouting was heard, and the Priest Emanual Habash was injured, when he put his hand into his thigh he found it covered with blood, and then he was transferred into Saint Joseph Clinic hospital for medication and stayed there for a while. In Jifna the Turkish Army came to the convent in Christmas Eve and investigated the convent, their Leader named Esmat Inunu who afterwards became the second President of the Turkish Republic after Mustafa Attaturk, and Inunu got permission from Priest Mansour Jallad to stay at the convent with his soldiers.The Priest left the convent to stay at one of the village's houses leaving for the General the freedom of using the convent, because of the continuous English strikes, Esmat Inunu decided to transfer his leadership into the North.The British Army knew well that the Turkish Army had occupied the Churches and stayed inside it, so that these building in Birzeit, Jifna & Taybeh were a target for bombardments, so that the inhabitants moved to the near caves,but Birzeit damages were more than any other village.

The Immigration of 1918

The First World War happened and the age of Priest Bishara Abed Raboo, and in the war last year, a great number of people from the neighboring villages were gathering in Birzeit, preparing themselves for the confrontation. Priest Bishara and the two nuns went to Jifna and took it as a “Shelter" for them because it was more secured than Birzeit which was under the British Bombardment, and then there was a rumor about transferring the residents to the north of Tab arias, after the Turkish Army withdrawal. As a result of this, some of Birzeit men, had meet secretly and decided that when the night comes they will try to go through the Turkish Defense Lines and being surrendering for the British Army who were settling in Ramallah (9) kilometers away, fortunately,the night was dark since there was no moon or stars, some of them were succeeded in passing by the Turkish groups ,but those who could not run away the old and disabled persons,they were driven by the Turkish Army into the North where most of them were died on the road because of hunger and thrust. The immigration started on 1918, but those who run away from Birzeit walked into Surda.The British Army moved forward and collected the people who were preceded by each of the Priests:Priest Bishara Abed Raboo from Birzeit and the Priest Mansour Al-Jallad from Jifna. Moreover, Taybeh inhabitants knew about the " Transfer " just before two hours of its issue and they run towards the Jordan Valley, so after the residents immigration and the increased British shelling against the Turkish Defenses in Birzeit,so that Birzeit became a place for theft & vandalism either by the thieves or by the Turkish Army,they were taking everything such as:furniture,doors & windows for the purpose of rekindle fire in them and warm the Soldiers. Moreover,Birzeit had an intensive shelling,so that the church lost a big part of its tile, and two room of the convent were destroyed and the rest were shocked and shirked.During his first visit to Birzeit after the end of the war, he wrote a report saying that: " We found that the Turkish Army when they entered into the church, they either torn or stole its components such as: crosses, statues, bells,cups & the Priests cloths,also the glasses and ornaments have been vanished from the hall of the convent,but the Patriarchate center is the only place that remains as it is.

From the Immigration Incedents: the Story of The Two Childs:-

One of the stimulus and interesting stories which had happened during the deporting of Birzeit Inhabitants who were forced by the Turkish Army to leave their homes in the dark at one of the most rainy and very chilly weather into the Northern Areas of Palestine towards the joint Syrian–Turkish boundaries is the story of the two Childs: Yousef Qustandi Alloush and Jamil Salameh Alloush both of them was about (11) years old in the year 1919,and when the inhabitants reached to the village called “Al-Maghar” which is situated closely to the City of “Nazareth”,who both worked under the sun in rehabilitating the road worth of one “Loaf” daily.Therefore,the two child used to go daily to “Ain El-Ejleh” to collect their wages which situated in the Syrian Hills Area which was known with the Houran Plains. When Jamil went to “Ain El-Ejleh” some people watched him and advised him to return back but he did not response to their advice. Exactly at the same night, the inhabitants received an order to return back to their village “Birzeit”. Anyhow,to implement this order the inhabitants choosed a road integrating with the East of Jordan and they started their long Journey of returning back to Birzeit leaving Jamil who nobody knows anything about him till our recent days,it was said that he died,his relatives still searching about him but without reaching to any specific evidence which points out that he is living,his mother “Mariam” was weeping against him all through the days of her life,then she died without knowing anything about her son, but Yousef who did not walk for a long distance, felt that he was tired,his face became yellow,he became fainted and falled down ifront of a wooden shed as his relatives and most of his townspeople had left him returning back to Birzeit.At that moment, a Syrian native Moslem good man who was passing by wanted really to reduce what the Child was suffering from,he splashed some water on his face until he was completely awaked of his dazing,the man adopted him and asked him to stay at his house and treated him as one of his children and he told him that he needs him to help him in peasantry and he also frankly promised him to give him his daughter named "Zakieh" being his wife in future when he grew up.Yousef stayed with the unknown strange family for four months only. But when he heared the men gathering ,whispering to each other saying that the convoy full of wheat,seeds and goods will move the next day morning directly to Jerusalem,Yousef made his mind to follow them in order to return back to his town Birzeit.The men with the Camels started their Journey towards Jerusalem at 3:00 am,Yousef followed them walking on his foots,one of the men noticed him,shouted on him and prevented him many times from following up the convoy,he retreated a little bit but he insisted to complete his marching despite of all these obstacles. This time an old man felt petty for him when he notice him, he called him to come & told him to get up on the back of the camel, then he wrapped a strong rope around his body to protect him from falling down into the ground while the old man was catching carefully the chain which was tightly fastened to the neck of the camel.Because he was tired enough from walking, Yousef slept during this long hectic journey. Finally, when the convoy reached to “ Wadi Al- Balat”,Yousef waked up,quickly got down into the ground and started walking until he reached to his city Birzeit searching for his relatives,he found them being well waiting for his arrival,but when they asked him what happened with him he told them his story. We would like to mention that Yousef returned back to his city and to his relatives while Jamil did not return back since nobody knows anything about him till this moment, and this is exactly what happened with most of Birzeiti Families according to the real and credible information provided by Mr. Issa Yousef Alloush the son of " Yousef" who his father told him his story when he was young.

Girl's Story :-

Those Birzieti Immigrants have choosed to return back to Birzeit City directly from Al-Maghar which is situated into the North of Palestine or what is called the area of " Trans- Jordan",they were gathering in small groups consisting of one or two families.The road was long ,the weather was chilly,the food was either less or even vanished.On the road a woman called " Hilweh" who was returning back with her sister "Rosa" had felt with faint,tired and weak,so that she became unable to walk or to continue her marching, she falled down into the ground without any sign of movement,then some of the relatives who escorted her urged her to walk a little, but she counld not as they want to move quickly before the beginning of the night hoping to protect themselves from the heavy rain searching for a place to sleep and spend the gloomy night, but Hilweh could not talk to her escorts. Suddenly,when they are looking around them they noticed a light at the end of the horizon,as they left her walking towards that light searching for shelter they became face to face with the Bedouin who was spreading his tenants all over the area rekindling an oil lamp,the man greeted them when they told him their story, some of them returned back to bring Hilweh,they started shouting loudly but unfortunately nobody responded to them making sure that Hilweh was killed and or even eaten by the fierce hungry foxes.

War's Compensations:-

The priest Bishara