PALESTINE, Holy Land - On Saturday, June 27, 2020, the Catholic Church and the Jerusalem Diocese celebrated the priestly ordination of Beit Jala native Deacon Firas Abedrabbo. The celebration was presided over by H.E. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, at the Annunciation Church in Beit Jala. On this occasion, the Media Office has met with the new priest and talked with him about the vocation of priests and the experiences that they live, as well as his time working as the personal secretary of Archbishop Pizzaballa.
1. What were your preparations for your priestly ordination during this past year?
It was a very rich year of new and interesting experiences. It helped me discover another aspect of the life of the diocesan priest at the Latin Patriarchate. The discovery of new aspects of the life of this local church made me grow in my feeling of belonging and my attachment to the Church in the Holy Land, in all its diversity.
2. How important is it to take one’s time to answer God’s calling? In your personal experience, what factors should one take into consideration to answer it?
The “time” factor is very important for discernment. Letting time pass matures a decision. I like a sentence of a Benedictine monk which he applied to spiritual life, when he said: “when the fruit is ripe, it falls by itself.” When an important decision is ripe, it rises by itself to the surface, in due time it becomes clear! Of course, this does not exempt us from our duty to make use of our God-given intelligence, but discernment is not a purely rational activity, it is also an act of faith, a “spiritual” and “existential” act in which our whole being undertakes to orient our life towards God.
Besides time, another very important factor of discernment is inner peace, spiritual consolation. We are called to joy, and if consecrated life makes us sad, it is a sign that something is wrong. We must, then, prolong our discernment to know if sadness is a temptation or if it is a sign of a distraction.
3. Do you think the vocation demands certain personality and character traits?
Of course! For each vocation there are important personality and character traits. For a priest, it is important, above all, to be mature from a human point of view, to be able to understand, to empathize and thus to accompany the people we meet on the way to ministry. And being humanly mature means being able to love, to center oneself, to discern situations and people, and to be able to commit to and remain with them, even when feelings change.
Then there are also important moral qualities: the priest must be a just, honest man, detached from the love of money and power, capable of living consecrated celibacy as a free gift and not as a burden, and being able to endure the loneliness that engenders misunderstandings or even sometimes persecution.
4. What kind of temptations do priests face nowadays in the Holy Land?
There are temptations that we have in common with all priests around the world, such as activism, careerism, withdrawal, and clericalism.
One of the great temptations of priests in the Holy Land would be to live in too narrow realities and environments, forgetting the rest of the inhabitants of this land, and even sometimes, the rest of the Catholic Church in this Holy Land.
It is easy for a priest in the Holy Land to reduce himself to a “kibbutz chief” that would become his little kingdom, where he would be everything for everyone! This reality can be a parish, an administrative post or even a social environment. In a country like ours where there are three religions, thirteen Christian churches and two territories separated by a wall; this “ghetto” mentality can easily flourish and generate priests acting in parallel or even sometimes in permanent competition with each other because they no longer think of the common good, nor in a Christian “Catholic” logic, that is to say - say universal.
5. If you were to continue your studies, in what area would that be, knowing that you already have a master’s degree in History of Law and Institutions?
It is true that I am a lawyer by training, but it was always theology that attracted me. And in theology I am particularly drawn to biblical, spiritual, and fundamental theology. These three different specialties, seem to me intimately linked, because theology without spirituality is rationalism and intellectualism, while theology which does not deal first with “fundamental” questions in the light of the word of God and of the Tradition of the Church, remains an ideological discourse which cannot claim to be a path towards the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate goal of all Christian life and of the mission of the Church entrusted particularly to the bishops and priests.
6. You have been the personal secretary of Archbishop Pizzaballa for a year now. What did this post teach you? How is it working with the Apostolic Administrator?
This service, which I have been providing for almost a year, was an exciting experience for me. After the pastoral experience in Hoson, in the north of Jordan, three years ago, and the experience of Chaplain of students at the university of Bethlehem last year, it is an entirely different experience which despite a very administrative aspect, it is no less pastoral than the others but on another level and with a different approach.
It is also a community life-experience that I really enjoyed. It is far from perfect, but it is satisfactory. It was a good school to discover where its own limits are, but also an extraordinary meeting place. Tensions are also a good school of life, which gradually help me to mature and detach me from the eyes of others without being completely indifferent, because in what others say or think of us, there is always a part of truth which is good for our personal conversion.
I am particularly happy to work with Archbishop Pizzaballa, who is a man of God, who fears God, who loves the local Church and gives himself wholeheartedly in his service. With him, I learned a lot, not only at the “technical and professional” level but also and above all at the “human” and “spiritual” level. He is a man who already has a long intellectual and ecclesiastical journey, his common sense allows him to look at reality with the eye of a prophet.
As a Franciscan, he is a good example of one who is detached from material goods and who takes care of the poor. He is a man who likes simplicity in relationships, which suits me very well, because it is difficult for me to live on a daily basis with a personality that is too formal, or who would spend time revolving around the subject without ever entering it. Fortunately, this is not the case with our Archbishop, who is a man who knows how to combine clarity with the prudence of discretion.