JIFNA - On Saturday, August 22, Father Elias Odeh, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate, celebrated his 50 years of priesthood jubilee in the Church of Saint Joseph of Jifna (the biblical town Gofna), Palestine. Fr. Elias, the principal celebrant, along with several priests of the Patriarchate, and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, celebrated the Mass. During a very moving celebration, guests paid homage to the immense work accomplished by this son of Jifna for the benefit of the Mother Church of Jerusalem.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, a few dozen attendees gathered in the small church of Jifna, the birthplace of Fr. Elias Odeh, to celebrate his jubilee. He was ordained a priest on June 27, 1970, in Jerusalem by the Latin Patriarch at the time Alberto Gori.
Fr. Elias presided over the celebration, surrounded by several priests of the Latin Patriarchate, - Fr. Rafiq Khoury, Fr. Louis Hazboun, parish priest of Birzeit, Fr. Jamal Khader, parish priest of Ramallah, Fr. Emil Salaytah, vicar Judicial, Fr. Yacoub Rafidi, rector of the Seminary of Beit Jala, Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, Patriarchate Chancellor. Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, a former classmate at the Seminary of Beit Jala and collaborator in pastoral work, was also present. Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah made the trip in honor of Fr. Elias, likewise Fr. Georges Ayyad, Orthodox parish priest, and a dozen or so Rosary Sisters. They paid homage to the son of the country. The parish choir provided excellent choral accompaniment.
The presence of some Benedictine fathers and brothers is acknowledged. Fr. Elias was ordained in the Basilica of the Dormition in Jerusalem - a monastery belonging to the Order of Saint Benedict. Father Johnny Sansour, Father Dominique Santa Maria (Indian of Kuwait), and again Fr. Pietro Felet, scj, secretary of the AOCTS Assembly, of CELRA and Patriarchal master of ceremonies, were also present in Church of Saint Joseph, Jifna. Fr. Elias ministered almost all his priestly life in Galilee, where he generously collaborated with the Benedictines of Tabgha.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, classmate of Fr. Elias, recalled in his homily the decades of cooperation between the two men, beginning at the seminary of Beit Jala for nine years; then as vicars in Ramallah, and later in Galilee where Bishop Marcuzzo spent twenty-three years as a patriarchal vicar in Nazareth. Fr. Elias served as parish priest of Reneh for thirty-three years, Shefa-ʻAmr, for ten years, and of Rameh for two years. In this respect, the Patriarchal Vicar underlined the extraordinary work accomplished by Fr. Elias. His significant initiatives were the construction of the Patriarchal School of Reneh, and construction projects of the schools of Jaffa of Nazareth and Rameh. He is also well-remembered as the director of the schools of the Patriarchate in Galilee for seventeen years.
Bishop Marcuzzo recalled the special significance of the jubilee of a priest of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, as “one of the native descendants of the small group of believers, disciples, and apostles who loved and followed Jesus in a long and faithful tradition without interruption.” He thanked the Lord for what He accomplished through Fr. Elias, a priest who remained faithful all his life to his mission, his parish, and the Patriarchate, despite all the difficulties encountered during his long priesthood. Bishop Marcuzzo apologized for all the wrongly made criticisms and reproaches leveled by some against Fr. Elias in the context of the management of his pastoral and school responsibilities. Finally, he is cleared of these and declared free of any fault.
Bishop Marcuzzo, in the name of the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, presented the gold medal of the Holy Sepulcher to Fr. Elias. At the same time, the parish of Jifna awarded him a golden pectoral cross. In 2005, Fr. Elias received the Archimandrite Cross from the Greek-Melkite Catholic Bishop of Galilee, Archbishop Elias Chacour, in recognition of his 25-year pastoral service of the Melkite community of Reneh which did not have a priest at that time.
The jubilee celebration continued with a small reception, rich in congratulations, followed by a meal at the “Dream restaurant of Jifna” founded by the brother of Father Elias and managed today by his nephews. The event could not have gone so pleasantly without the work of Fr. Johnny Bahbah, parish priest of Jifna, and the Rosary Sisters of Jifna, who organized everything.
Fr. Elias, aged 75, now lives in seclusion, in the quiet of his ancient biblical village of Jifna.