ASIA/SYRIA - The gift of two Franciscan vocations that flourished among the ruins of war

Wednesday, 10 July 2024 franciscan   local churches   vocations   area crisis  


by Father Ibrahim Faltas ofm*

Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) - For 800 years the Franciscans have been responsible for the care of the Holy Places and the "Living Stones" that inhabit them. The "Custody of the Holy Land" operates in various countries: it is present not only in Palestine and Israel, where Jesus spent his earthly life, but also in a large part of the Middle East, in Cyprus, Rhodes, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.
The Holy Land has experienced wars and destruction and still suffers from violence, hatred and division.
In 800 years the Custody has lost more than two thousand members who died professing their faith in Christ and defending the Holy Land.
On July 10, the Church commemorates the Blessed Martyrs of the Franciscans killed "in odium fidei" in Damascus in 1860. Pope Francis announced their canonization, which will take place on October 20, 2024. It will be a day of grace for martyred Syria, which has been at war for 13 years: a fratricidal war that is destroying a people, a great nation, a civilization that boasts a thousand-year history. When I arrived in Aleppo on July 6 with other confreres, Syria, thanks to the grace of God, was able to rejoice in the priestly ordination of two twin brothers who together cultivated the love of Christ and Saint Francis. This was a great joy for the Custody, which already had brothers ordained priests, but for the first time two twin priests!
We left Amman and crossed much of the Syrian territory: we saw villages and towns destroyed and lifeless. To the ongoing war was added the death and destruction caused by the terrible earthquake of February 2023. In these years, 1.3 million Syrians have lost their lives and 8 million have had to leave their land and their history. I thought of the Gaza Strip, which is suffering just as much as Syria, and how the war has destroyed lives and demolished buildings that housed life.

Syria is the country where most of the members of the Custody of the Holy Land are currently located: an important gift and an important presence. Our confreres who are involved in the Syrian communities have suffered and are suffering, but they have never neglected their love for their neighbour and have never lost hope for peace. As we walked along the silent and desolate streets, I thanked God for the new seed of hope that the two new brothers in the priesthood have brought to the Church and to the Custody of the Holy Land.
The deacons, Brother George Paul and Brother Johnny Jallouf, received priestly ordination with the laying on of hands by Bishop Hanna Jallouf, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, in the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Aleppo. Bishop Hanna is the uncle of the two new priests and one of the many holy vocations that Syria has given to the Custody of the Holy Land: may his total dedication to Christ and the Church be an example for these young men and for all of us. Bishop Hanna, who will celebrate his first year as Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo on September 17, ordained two new priests for the first time with the joy of seeing his nephews become part of his own Franciscan order and the Custody of the Holy Land.
I participated in the Eucharist together with thirty confreres, we prayed for the vocations that the people of God so much need and for Syria, a blessed land shaken by war. I rejoiced with the wonderful Jallouf family, congratulating the proud parents on their sons, two brothers so in tune that they walk the path of life together and share the gift of vocation.
After the solemn ordination ceremony, the two priests were celebrated by relatives, friends, confreres and parishioners. I felt the strong participation in the true joy of the Christian community of Aleppo, which on this occasion forgot the war for a few hours and praised God. Before the war, there were two hundred thousand Christians in Aleppo. Today there are only twenty-five thousand.
On Sunday 7 July, I met my Syrian confreres again. I know their commitment well, but I was also able to see for myself the great work done in restoring the “Terra Sancta College”, an imposing complex confiscated by the Syrian authorities and returned to the possession of the Franciscan Custody a few years ago.
Today the “Terra Sancta College” is once again a place of encounter, a place of concrete support for the needs of the people. Part of the complex was used to build an oven in which delicious, fragrant and tasty bread is baked: in this oven I also felt the fragrance of Jesus, who in the Eucharist and gives new life, even in suffering.
I saw the swimming pool again, made safe and equipped to provide relief on hot days and to give moments of serenity to those who have suffered for years under the torments of war. In the afternoon we attended the first Holy Mass of the new priests: a moving celebration in which the sharing of the priestly ministry was evident. Father George presided over the Mass and Father Johnny gave the homily. Every moment of the Holy Mass was lived intensely and accompanied by music: the twins are also good musicians and also praised the Lord with music.
In a country devastated by the tragedy of war, the family of the Custody of the Holy Land thanks God for the gift of vocation and prays that his beloved sons will continue to be missionaries of peace in the land of Jesus and throughout the world. (Agenzia Fides, 10/7/2024)

*Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land