Two New Ordinations for the Holy Land Franciscan Custody

(Custody) Fr. Fadi Salim Azar, a thirty-three year old Palestinian was ordained a priest in Ramleh, Israel, on Saturday, the 25th of October. Exactly ten days later, Fr. Luai Bsharat, a thirty-one year old Jordanian received the same sacrament.

Good news times two for the Custody of the Holy Land!

Parishioners of Saint Nicodemus and Saint Joseph of Arimathea Church in Ramleh, where Fr. Fadi has been a deacon since last March, came in large numbers to participate in the historic event on Saturday, October 25th. “The Franciscans have been in Ramleh since the end of the 14th century, but our church has not yet held a priestly ordination,” points out Farid Jabran, an active member of the parish, a large smile lighting up his face.

A total of about 700 people participated in the mass, with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch Fouad Twal, presiding. Also present were Bishop Giacinto Marcuzzo, the auxiliary bishop for Israel, and many Franciscans and other Catholic priests. Members of the Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches were also present, as were some twenty members of Fr. Fadi’s family, including both his parents. But to come from Jordan, where these Palestinians now live, is often complicated: unable to obtain a visa, his brother, for example, had to stay home.

Since the church was not large enough for everyone, chairs were set up in the forecourt. “These past few weeks, many parishioners were engaged in helping make our church able to receive all these people,” says Farid Jabran. The weather was fortunately mild that day and a video feed allowed the congregants outside to follow without missing a moment of the ceremony. As for the speakers placed outside the church, they were set at an impressive volume. No one in Ramleh in the heart of Israel could be unaware that the Palestinian Christian minority was celebrating!

The ceremony was mostly in Arabic, with some Italian and English mixed in, demonstrating the cultural and linguistic variety of the Custody of the Holy Land. A number of hymns were also sung in Latin, notably Cesar Franck’s moving Panis angelicus at Communion. The Magnificat choir sang the prayers of the congregation from the choir loft.

The gospel reading (Mark 16:15-20) invited the ordinand to go out on mission like the eleven apostles whom Jesus commanded to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Why choose this text over another? “It is Jesus who is sending me on mission,” explained Fr. Fadi the day after his ordination. “Since he is sending me, he will help me with my task and take care of me. I will not be alone.”

For Fr. Fadi the poor come first.

Speaking to the future priest during the homily, Patriarch Fouad Twal reminded him that, like Jesus, he must love the poor. As it happens, that is one of Fra Fadi’s central charisms. The Franciscan has lived with Hispanic communities in the United States, as well as with Haitians after 2010 earthquake and disabled people in the Faith and Light community in Maryland, USA. “Saint Francis,” he adds when asked, “gave first place to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized. I evangelize them, and they evangelize me. They confirmed my vocation.”

After the homily, Fr. Fadi lay face down in the transept. Another Custody Franciscan, Fr. Raphael, intoned the Litany of the Saints in prayer that his vocation would lead him, too, in the ways of sanctity. Then, the approximately fifty priests who were present in the church’s choir stalls, lay hands on him. As the patriarch placed his hands on Fr. Fadi’s head, the ordinand felt the Holy Spirit upon him and the grace of God that made him “worthy of his mission”. The newly ordained priest then received the liturgical garment, the white stole, and all the priests, one after the other, came forward with fraternal congratulations and an embrace, and then the palms of his hands were anointed.

“I believe that it was in Washington, where he received his formation, that Fadi got the taste for cultures that were different from his own,” observes Fra Stéphane, the guardian of Saint Saviour. Last year, when he was a deacon, in a Jaffa parish, the Palestinian Franciscan felt particularly close to the many foreign communities there: Arabs, Indians, Filipinos, Africans. “I am more comfortably working with immigrants, because I speak several languages and my parents themselves always lived in Jordan, far from their native Palestine,” explains the young priest.

Another ordination in Amman

It was in Jordan, in fact, that another priestly ordination for the Custody of the Holy Land was held a few days later, in the church of Terra Santa College on Wednesday, October 15th. Fr. Luai Bsharat, thirty-one years old, chose to be ordained in his native country rather than in his present parish, Saint Catherine, in Bethlehem. “If I had chosen Bethlehem, where I was ordained deacon, my parents would surely not have been able to come,” he explains.

Around 500 people attended the Mass celebrated by Bishop Yasser al-Ayyash, Greek Catholic Archbishop of Jordan. Among them were some twenty friars of the Custody, and Bishop Maroun Lahham, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Jordan.

The gospel reading (John 13:1-20) was the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. The last words, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” were a wonderful description of the mission that had been confided to Fr. Luai. In his homily, Bishop Yasser al-Ayyash emphasized the nobility of the priestly vocation and expressed his gratitude to the Franciscans of the Custody for their work in the holy places.

Mélinée Le Priol