JERUSALEM - On April 24, 2020, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, celebrated his 75th birthday. On this special occasion, His Excellency addressed a thanksgiving letter to the Latin Patriarchate family, the local community of the parishes, priests, religious communities, pastoral institutions, and others. Canon Law requires each bishop at the age of 75 to submit an official letter of resignation to His Holiness. On behalf of Pope Francis, H.E. Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem, received the letter and asked the bishop to “continue your pastoral mission, until Pope Francis accepts your resignation and appoints a new bishop”. The letter was also acknowledged by H.E. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
“Abouna Boulos” - as the local faithful used to call him - served in the parishes of Beit Jala and Ramallah as an assistant vicar and catechism teacher. He also served as a priest and a school principal in Malakal, South Sudan. He worked in education in various educational institutions such as Ramallah College, Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala, Bethlehem University, and others, as a specialist in theology, philosophy, and the Arab Patrology.
His Excellency has always been an active member in Church committees and institutions, such as the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, Presbyteral Council, Consultors Council, Conference of the Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions, a consultant for the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, Christian Schools Committee, Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. He also was a member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel.
Bishop Marcuzzo has gained rich and unique experiences in the Holy Land - (60 years in the Holy Land, 51 years as a priest, 27 of those as a bishop) - On this occasion, the Media Office of the Latin Patriarchate met with him to talk about his experience and life among the faithful.
Life and pastoral mission
Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo was born in San Polo di Piave, North Italy on April 24, 1945. On August 25, 1960, he entered the Minor Seminary in Beit Jala, and the Major Seminary on September 1, 1962, where he learned the Arabic Language. On November 1, 1968, he was ordained to the diaconate and on June 22, 1969, was ordained to the Priesthood.
On April 29, 1993, Pope John Paul II appointed him as Titular Bishop of Emmaus and, later that year, on July 3, 1993, was ordained Bishop in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, when he was appointed as the Patriarchal Vicar for Nazareth, an assignment that ended 23 years later when he was appointed Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine in August 2017 until today.
1- What are the most important milestones in your pastoral journey?
My first milestone after the priestly ordination was one of pastoral service in the Holy Land in general, and particularly in Beit Jala and Ramallah (1969-1972) as a Parochial Vicar, during which, my attention was directed towards youth, catechetics, and teaching history and philosophy in schools.
I experienced in depth the meaning of “the Charisma of the Mother Church”, the Holy Land and its faithful, heirs of the early Christians, and the Holy places. These experiences are summarized in my priestly motto “For to me life is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).
The second milestone was my apostolic service in Malakal, South Sudan, where I served as a priest in its different parishes, seminary, and schools between 1972 until 1977. I thank God for this experience in the apostolic work of the Latin Patriarchate priests that was full of genuine cooperation, fruitful efforts, social and anthropological development, and ‘biblical’ adventures. We were the first priests to go back to Sudan, seven years after the Civil War, which had devastating results on society and the church that included the expulsion of foreign missionaries. There was an urgent need for the presence of Catholic priests to respond to the rising numbers of people in Sudan who wanted to convert to Christianity, to guide them, teach them, and give them the proper Christian upbringing. Despite the hard financial and social situation, we were happy to provide them with our priestly services during the prime years of our lives, which had fruitful outcomes indeed.
The third milestone, which I cannot forget, is the time I spent studying Theology in Rome (1980 - 1988). It was a period full of surprises and Roman ‘discoveries’: I was introduced to great intellectual horizons, I lived the “year of the three popes”, and I “discovered” Arab Patrology with great passion, and I was encouraged to write my doctoral thesis on it. Later, I taught this subject at the Latin Patriarchal Seminary in Beit Jala, Bethlehem University, Haifa University, and other academic institutions.
I served in the Latin Patriarchal Seminary in Beit Jala for 14 years, where I was a teacher, a rector, and an active participant in the seminary's various activities. It was a time full of challenges, a time of faith, optimism, and the true brotherhood among priests. When I recall my experience there, I remember St. Paul’s words in his first letter to Thessalonians: “For what is our hope or joy or crown to boast of in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming if not you yourselves, For you are our glory and joy”. (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
Finally, being a Patriarchal Vicar in Nazareth (1994 - 2017) and a Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and Palestine (2017 - present) are the last stations. I practiced this ministry at the prime of my apostolic maturity in my life as a priest. I have lived a cherished pastoral experience among the parishioners on all fronts, especially during the General Diocesan Pastoral Synod.
2- What are some of the most precious moments you hold dear to your heart from your ministry as Patriarchal Vicar in Nazareth?
This experience in Nazareth left a huge impact on my life. First, I strongly experienced the meaning of life between parishioners and priests, as well as the cooperation with other churches and interreligious dialogue (with Muslims, Jews, and Druze) and social, historical, and cultural interaction with the multifaceted community in Galilee.
In these years (1994 - 2017), I was closely following the life of the parish, schools, religious communities, celebrations in the Holy places, and meetings with pilgrims as any other bishop would do. Thus, I was an interactive witness to growing spiritual and pastoral phenomena, such as the ‘Legio Maria’ and the Neocatechumenal Way, and the establishment and prosperity of the Bible competitions aiming at spreading the knowledge of the word among the various parishes; Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican, besides encouraging youth movements.
I have also welcomed a number of new Church movements, on the behalf of the Latin Patriarchate, such as the Chemin Neuf community, Canção Nova, Mary of Nazareth Center, “Peace Movement” in Haifa and Nazareth, Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers - Mother Teresa.
From the beginning of my ministry in Nazareth, the Patriarchate has gained a special grace after instituting a new congregation in Nazareth: the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, with whom I lived a brotherly pastoral experience.
On a socio-political level, and during my ministry, many events had a positive and negative impact on society and even on the church. I recall, for example, the arrival of millions of Russians in 1991, and the ‘Euphoria’ during the Oslo Accords (1993 - 1996), and the following disappointment from the lack of justice and peace, and “the problem of Nazareth” (1997 -2002). Of course, the church had to take suitable positions to face such circumstances.
On the socio-cultural level, we used to meet to discuss social and cultural issues during lectures and workshops held in pastoral centers. We discussed with parishioners, intellectuals, and scholars, the latest events, the church problems, traditions, migration, Arab Patrology, and music. I was delighted by their interest and joy in discovering Arabic Patrology as well as the teachings of the Church.
On a liturgical-pastoral level, I was pleased to participate in animating the Holy Places, and drawing strong ties between the local church and biblical sites, as part of our important historical heritage. It was a pleasure for me to continue celebrating Masses and praying in locations that are directly connected to the Bible, and even starting new traditions. For example, the Beatitude Mass, Feast of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Emmaus Mass, and others.
We were blessed to receive funds from the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and other donors, that enabled us to build a new church in Mouqeibleh, a new convent in Shefa-‘Amr, new schools in Reneh and Rameh, a new high school in Jaffa of Nazareth. The Patriarchate took over the administration of Sisters of Nazareth school in Haifa and also bought two plots of land close to the Vicariate of Nazareth, on which they built the monastery, the Ecclesiastical Court, the Schools Office, and the Patriarchal Pastoral Center. In addition to the purchase of two plots of land near the Latin Church in Shefa-‘Amr, and an ancient church in Jaffa of Nazareth, within a land exchange with the Custody of the Holy Land.
One of the most important achievements for our churches was the General Pastoral Synod, held for nine years, which made a huge impact on the Christian community life. This synod was special with its organization and participants. By the end of the Synod, a general pastoral plan was published to guide the church of the Holy Land. As a result, many initiatives crystallized such as inter-religious dialogue, unity among the churches, religious communities and the local church, pastoral cooperation between laypeople and clergy, harmony among the Holy Places and the faithful, besides the centrality of the family, school, and laypeople. These initiatives and others reminded me of St. Paul’s letter “breaking the dividing wall” which is my Episcopal motto.
Besides, the beatification of Sr. Mary Bouardi (1983) and Sr. Mary Alphonsine Ghattas (in Nazareth 2009) and then their canonization in Rome together in 2015 was one of the happiest and blessed experiences I had. It was my pleasure to organize the celebrations of beatification and canonization.
3- You were known for your passion for working with families and the youth, tell us why?
Families and youth have always drawn my attention during my ministry because I believed in their important impact on parishes. My experience with families, to start with, comes from a personal experience. My family means everything to me, and my vocation would not be complete if they were not my supporters. I believe that we all get our basic and social upbringing from our parents and the rest of the family as well as the school and society. On a personal note, I have engraved my parents’ wedding date on my pectoral cross, which is the date of the creation of my family, and a source of great blessings, therefore I thank the Lord for the grace a family can give.
Therefore, I have worked with engaged couples preparing them to the Sacrament of Matrimony in various parishes in Nazareth, Galilee, Haifa, and Bethlehem coming from different churches. Also, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries has appointed me to supervise families’ activities, and I was pleased to see one of the achievements done by the Pastoral Affairs Council of the Latin Patriarchate: the March of Families, as a result of creating a pastoral committee for families in each parish.
Besides, I have participated in ten international conferences, one in Rio de Janeiro at the 1997conference, during which, Pope John Paul II has launched the idea of establishing the “International Center for Family Spirituality in Nazareth” – which, for practical reasons, is still under construction. On that occasion, the families of Nazareth presented an icon to the Pope to dedicated to the center.
For the youth, I was privileged to attend The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council among other deacons and priests, where Fr. Michel Sabbah (who later became Patriarch) announced the creation of Jeunesse Étudiante Chrétienne JEC (Young Christian Students).
I was also present in Rome when His Holiness launched World Youth Day and, ever since, I was responsible for preparing the youth and guiding them before their participation in all World Youth Days, except the last one in Panama.
4- What does your next step tell us?
I submitted my resignation at the age of 75, but that does not mean the end of my ministry, as I will continue to serve as Patriarchal Vicar until Pope Francis accepts my resignation. Anyway, I would like to make clear that I want to stay in the Holy Land and continue my ministry here. I am ready to fulfill any services requested from me, whenever possible. For all that, I have an interesting rich schedule full of my personal and pastoral interest to fulfill - more praying, reading, writing shared memories of fruitful pastoral and cultural topics, and participating in the life of the Christian community in the Mother church.
Thank God! I do not leave room for boredom in my life and, by the grace of God, I always look forward. As St. Paul said, and as I wrote in my priestly jubilee: “I walk by the Spirit” in my service. Pray for me! Thank you!