Extension Magazine Winter 2013 - Featured Article III

 

A Newly Ordained Priest from
War-Torn Syria Receives Support
from Catholic Extension

Father Alaa Issa is deeply grateful that
he was able to come to America and
complete his seminarian studies.

While the loss of the Christian presence in the Middle East has long been a concern of Christians (and Catholics) worldwide, there is one new Syrian priest who will not be swayed.

For the last several years, the world has watched as a humanitarian crisis has unfolded in Syria. Yet, in the midst of this incomprehensible tragedy is a story that offers a glimmer of hope. It’s a story about a young Syrian, newly ordained to the priesthood, with whom Catholic Extension donors have a unique relationship.

Father Alaa Issa was born in a small Christian village in Syria. He was raised Catholic in this predominantly Muslim country. In spite of the dangers of his minority status, Father Alaa’s call to the priesthood was strong. He said he “heard the voice of God, calling me to be a priest.” So he entered seminary in Lebanon and spent five years on the path to the priesthood. Then the war broke out and disrupted his studies.

Father Alaa yearned to continue his sacred journey. With the help of his local bishop, in early 2012, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to complete his seminarian studies. He said, “God, through Bishop Gregory Mansour, called me to serve His Church in the United States of America, in the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn.”

The Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn is one of five Eastern Rite churches in the U.S. currently supported by Catholic Extension. Many Catholics are not aware that there are both Eastern Rite and Latin Rite or “Western” Catholics in the Church, who are in unity with one another under the same Holy Father in Rome. Blessed John Paul II described this unity, saying the Church must “breathe with two lungs,” East and West.

Upon his arrival, Father Alaa began taking courses at The Catholic University of America. And, because Father Alaa was now in a U.S. diocese, Bishop Gregory of the Eparchy turned to Catholic Extension to help fund his education.

In December of 2012, Father Alaa returned briefly to the village in Syria – where he was born and raised – to be ordained. The ordination gave the people of his village reason to celebrate. “The ongoing war that the people of Syria are suffering these days has weighed enormously on them,” he said. “The ordination gave them light and joy, especially during that Christmas season.”

After his ordination, Father Alaa returned to Washington so he could continue his training, improve his English and serve in parishes in the U.S. Currently, he is the pastoral administrator at Mary, Mother of the Light Maronite Catholic Church in Tequesta, Florida – a church that receives support from Catholic Extension.

Father Alaa is not sure what the future holds for him, but he trusts that God will lead him. “I believe God stays with me and guides me and protects me and helps me wherever I go – in America or Syria,” he said.

He added, “I appreciate the seminary and you (Catholic Extension) because you helped me. My vocation was not easy, and was hard in a time where the war is devouring my country and the Christians of the Middle East.”

He then noted that helping all seminarians is important because, “The Church, we are one body. We say this as an idiom in Arabic: We can’t use one hand; we have to use both of them to create a sound.” Father Alaa then put his hands together and clapped