Excerpt from Interview on 9 January 2013
So I would like to just ask you a few questions, especially after reading you book. First of all, I know that your parents had a huge influence in your life. They were great examples for you. In every child’s life, no matter where you were born or what religion you’re born into, a child follows their parents until a certain age when they start to question things for themselves, and ask, “Is this really right?” Could you describe a little about your own process of discovering God, or Jesus Christ as the Messiah, or when you came to know Christianity was true? When did that happen for you and how did that occur?
These questions are typical American questions. They never occur to us to say, when did I see Jesus Christ, when did I discover him. I never saw Jesus Christ!
And I’m not assuming you did.
When I discovered him, I don’t know. I think he discovered me. And it’s a process that starts with your birth and your family. How your family has educated you. What did they tell you. And then you try to test what you have learned. And slowly slowly you discover that this man Jesus Christ means something or means alot to you. That’s how we become aware of God’s presence in our heart. After all, believing in Jesus Christ is not something that you can achieve. It’s only something that you might receive as a gift from God. And I think that I never questioned Jesus Christ, his existence, his presence. He’s a man from my country. He’s my country-man. The trees speak about him, the fountains remind us of him. The funerals remind us of what he said. The death of Lazarus as well as the resurrection of the child of the widow of Nane. They all speak to us. But the cross does not speak less. And his resurrection is so unbelievably great, big, and unique, that we are living in this ambiance. We don’t need to question Christ. We need to question ourselves. How faithful, how seriously faithful and loyal are we to Him?
So as a child growing up, you always believed in God? That was with you from birth?
I suppose so, but I never asked myself whether I believe in God or not. No, it’s not like that. It’s to do God’s will simply in life. Then you fulfill what God wants. God was never absent from my life. But he was not emotionally present and wanted and wished [for]. I never saw God. Christ never appeared to me. Mary never appeared to me. It’s His action, His presence in my soul, in my mind, in my life, that makes sense for me.
When you returned home from the orphanage in Haifa for a visit, your father mentioned, “well, what do you want to do?” In the book, it mentions that for the first time you realized that you had a choice. Whether you wanted to dedicate your life to the church or not. How did you decide that that was a life long… I mean, that’s a huge decision, to dedicate your entire life.
Do you think anyone can say how and when and where did I decide to give my life to Christ. I never decided that! When I was a young child I was delivered to the Bishop, who took me to Haifa with this goal to study for priesthood. I was a young boy. I go along with this idea and this idea was constantly deepened in my mind, in my vision, in how I look to others. How should I look as a man of God who’s a priest to others? How can I help others? That’s all what makes it develop. But there’s no very special moment. There are moments where you touch the presence of God. When you are in touch with a poor person, or a wealthy person who’s transparent. You feel in some families, that there’s something different there. There’s something nice and beautiful, but you cannot touch it. You cannot control it. But it attracts you so much that you feel that this family has something different. That’s how the vocation grows. Whether for marriage or for consecrated life as my life. And now after many many years, 45 years, of priest life, I confess, although I’m an Archbishop, I am in NO way better than many people who got married, who formed a family, have a wife and children, and who live constantly under God’s blessing. While I as Archbishop, I could if I was not faithful, live outside of God’s vision, because I am able to deny God intellectually. But the great thing is that I’m convinced that even if I do that, that God will never deny me.
That’s beautiful. Thank you. So one of the things that touched me most is your personal ministry when you were a young priest in Ibillin. How you individually went from home to home to minister to the people there.
Is there any other better way to get to know people then to be in touch with them?
Oh absolutely. I completely agree with you. And from the stories that I read, it seemed like there was miracle after miracle occurring there. I consider myself to be a man of faith and I was just wondering if you could perhaps share or describe in your own words, a couple miracles that took place in Ibillin.
In fact, to tell you the truth. I’m not aware of any miracle that might have happened in my life. If I look from far away, I see that there is only one miracle that God took possession of me and gave me the power to remain as a priest, despite all the odds and the problems and the disorder that I continually discovered inside the church. There were many outstanding things. I never did any miracle my friend. But the first Palm Sunday in that Parish where everyone is suppose to go to church. He does not need to be a believer. He needs to have the children and want to show his children with their beauty and their smiling faces. He would carry them to the church and that’s what happened that Sunday. They all were present for the first time, after seven months of being priest in that community. So when I turned back to the people, I said, “Peace be to you”. Well, I realized that I’m just saying something that has no meaning. There is no peace. The division between families inside families was so lamentable. So… I was disturbed during that celebration of the Eucharist. Deeply disturbed. And without thinking, before I gave the last blessing, after the Eucharist, without thinking, without having any other idea, I went out to the main door, locked it, we had a big key like that. We locked the door and came back to the front of the church, to the alter. I said to the people, “Well I tried for six months to reconcile you and it seems so impossible. I can not do that. I have no power to do it. I tried to bring in very special dignitaries from the neighboring villages. They were unable to reconcile you together. We failed. And today while I am celebrating, I had this kind of vision that we have Christ among us in the Eucharist. And I told them, why don’t you reconcile the community. So I turn to you in the name of Christ and invite you reconcile together, to forgive each other. And then I will become your real priest. And if you don’t want, please, start killing each other. And I will celebrate your funeral immediately. You cannot go out the church. It’s locked and I have the key. You can have it only on my dead body. You have to decide this side or that side.”
I was frightened with what I said. I stopped there for a few minutes with intense silence. After which, a very strong man, who was one of the causes of friction and division, he stood up and said, “Abuna, I feel something different today. I feel God present in this church”. He said, “I forgive everybody and I ask everybody to forgive me. I’m a poor sinner”. I said, “Abun Moheb, that’s great! That’s God using your mouth. Come, let me hug you”. He came forward to the alter and I hugged him and invited all men to come forth and to hug him and hug each other. The second ceremony was longer than the first ceremony. Then I told them, I remember in a kind of joking way but also serious, you will go home now, do not listen to your wives encouraging you to take revenge or to turn bad for bad. Go there and celebrate the resurrection. And because of that I invite you that we get out from the church. I’ll open immediately. And we go today on Palm Sunday, singing the song of the resurrection in each family. And from there until 4:00 in the afternoon, entering every home, singing Christ is risen from the dead, has trodden upon death and has given life to those who are in the tomb. And that was a new birth of the community. You want to call that miracle. Call it miracle. I don’t call it miracle. It’s just what I needed to do as a pastor.