Bishop Selim Sayegh: the Complete Interview

ONE: First tell us a little bit of your background. Where did you grow up?

Bishop Selim Sayegh: I was born in a small village called Rumaimeen in 1935. This is a village surrounded by a lot of fruit trees and bushes, and gardens with a lot of springs. My father was a farmer whose income was not enough for the family, so he migrated in 1943 to Mafraq, where there was a station for the Iraq Petroleum Company. At that time, young people from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon came looking for jobs, since this project was planning to pump petrol from Iraq through Jordan, then to the Port of Haifa in Palestine. In Mafraq, my father took to trading and shoe repairing, but did not succeed.

After finishing the fourth grade, I went from Mafraq to the [Latin] seminary in Beit Jala in 1947. In 1956, my eldest brother migrated to the United States, and the whole family followed in 1962.

ONE: You’ve said that you knew at a very young age that you wanted to be a priest. Tell us about that. What attracted you to the priesthood?

Bishop Selim Sayegh: In my youth in Rumaimeen and Mafraq, I had not considered becoming a priest. Towards the end of the 1946-1947 school year, one of the seminary priest came to Mafraq to meet my cousin Issa, who showed interest in becoming a priest. However, his parents obtained visas to migrate to America. Issa went with them and forgot the idea of becoming a priest. Then the parish priest, Father Fouad Hijazeen, offered to send me to the seminary instead of Issa. At that time I was visiting my uncle in Rumaimeen. My father took me from Rumaimeen to Mafraq at the end of the summer vacation. On the way he asked me, “Do you want to enter the seminary?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He then had to secure a passport for me, because Beit Jala was in Palestinian territory.

A few months after I entered the seminary, Israel invaded Palestine and the West Bank came under Jordanian occupation.

You are asking me, “What attracted me to the priesthood?” I answer: at that time, I did not know. Later, I would gradually discover that “Jesus who resides in the tabernacle” is the one who invited me to him. My confidence in my calling was never in doubt in the course of my life, except when trying the monastic life in Latroun. I was very much into their style of life, their silence, faith and holiness. But I also realized quickly that their lives demanded a rigid strictness that is not in me, so I left the idea of joining them.

ONE: One of your most important initiatives has been Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman. Where did you get that idea?

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