20 December 2011
Msgr. Kozar visits Archbishop Mar Swerios Murad, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.
After an early morning Mass with Father Guido in a small chapel at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, we walked through the New Gate of the walled Old City and visited with Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad of the Syriac Orthodox Church. After he warmly received us, I extended to him my congratulations on his recent celebration of his 25th anniversary as a priest. He laughed when I said, “I heard you had quite a party,” and shared with me that Sami El-Yousef, our regional director in Jerusalem, had attended this event, too.
He was a most engaging host and we enjoyed our exchanges. He also expressed his thanks to CNEWA for the seed monies we had provided for various projects of his community. I especially enjoyed our tour of his complex. He invited us to view with him ongoing excavations under his church and chancery. It was a real treat, as we began our tour in the church and then he unlocked for us a room that according to Syriac Orthodox tradition is the Cenacle Room in which Jesus gathered with his Apostles and mother Mary for the Last Supper. There was a real holiness to this space. Then he led us to another area just discovered and very much in need of excavation that has some precious antiquities. What most impressed me was that he personally took us into this work area and very proudly explained his master plan for all of this restoration and development work.
We then proceeded to our appointment with the senior church leader in Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. The patriarchate is rather newly renovated and is a visual gem upon entry, with a magnificent staircase and beautiful receiving rooms. We were escorted into a medium size room that had about 60 chairs neatly arranged.
His Beatitude entered and greeted us warmly and immediately offered congratulations to me as the new president of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He introduced us to his secretary and, as is the custom in the Holy Land, he summoned his attendants who offered wine for a toast, then coffee or tea and chocolates. We had what turned out to be a rather lengthy and most cordial visit, which lasted over an hour. The patriarch made light of some things and enjoyed some laughs with all of us. We even exchanged some convivial banter about the Catholic/Orthodox differences. I left in friendship, accepting his invitation to return for another visit when next in Jerusalem.
We returned to the Pontifical Mission office for a special visit with Dr. Bernard Sabella, who represents the Near East Council of Churches. We partner with this organizing committee in supporting three health care clinics in Gaza.
This gentleman, who Pope Benedict XVI invited to participate in last year’s special assembly for the Middle East of the synod of bishops, is a storehouse of knowledge and experience. He is no lightweight nationally and even internationally, as he is a real champion for the cause of Palestinian refugees. Among many insights and shared experiences, he offered thanks to all of you for your support and highlighted Sami’s professionalism, organizational skills and his leadership in the greater Jerusalem community.
We followed up this visit with a lunch with Mr. Tony Khasham, Chair of the Coordinating Committee of the many Catholic agencies involved in working with the Palestinians. He, too, is a most interesting and experienced reference. A professional tour operator, president of the local St Vincent de Paul Society of Jerusalem (which by the way was founded in the mid-1800’s) and chair of this coordinating body, he is most knowledgeable in the history of Christian outreach to the Palestinians, what has worked and what has failed. His words were very affirming to me, in terms of the challenges for CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission as we continue to address the needs before us. And, as with so many people in Jerusalem involved in helping the Palestinian people, he had high praise for the work of Sami and his entire staff.
From this luncheon we traveled out about 20 minutes to visit one of the high visibility projects in which CNEWA and its Pontifical Mission serves as administrator, a housing program that will eventually house 80 Palestinian families. This is not about giving away free housing. Rather, it is a well-thought-out program sponsored by the Latin Patriarchate to offer seed money and loans to Palestinian families who have been approved as good candidates to purchase these housing units, which will be theirs upon completion of payment of their loans.
I was privileged to meet with a group of these soon-to-be homeowners. Even though construction is still in progress and there is no road yet, they are very excited about the dream of having their own “home.” They are most grateful to CNEWA for administering the program and giving them a real future, and one for their children. Rodolf Saadeh from our local office has given his heart and soul to this program as administrator and we are proud of him and the people trust him and love him.
I had the privilege of blessing the buildings. Their joy in seeing their future being built before their eyes could not be contained. A number of their children were there, playing on the piles of dirt, wood scraps and stones, but for them it was their new backyard and future picnic area. This is an exciting project and hopefully will serve as a model for other churches and agencies to imitate.
The final event of the day was a delectable dinner at the Notre Dame restaurant in the company of three specials guests: Archbishop Youssef Jules el-Zereyi, Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal vicar; Bishop Boutros Malki, Syriac Catholic patriarchal vicar; and Father Pietro Felet, S.C.J., the secretary of the Assembly of Latin Bishops of Arabia. What a delightful trio. Father Guido, Sami and I really enjoyed our company, had a delightful meal and even better conversation. It sounds trite, but I truly felt as if I had known all three for quite some time, as their gentle manner and refreshing spirit of honesty and humility were very uplifting to the three of us. We came together as strangers and parted company as extended family.
Tomorrow we head to Bethlehem for some pastoral visits and end our day with a dinner at Sami’s home. That should be a wonderful family experience, and Sami has also invited some special guests to join us. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.
May God bless all of you. You are in our prayers and the prayers of the poor.
Msgr. Kozar takes in the sights along the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem. (photo:CNEWA)
Tags: Jerusalem Msgr. John E. Kozar Syriac Orthodox Church