Hebrew-Speaking Israeli Catholics to Get an Auxiliary Bishop

Abbot Was Baptized at Age 23

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- News of John Paul II’s appointment of an auxiliary bishop of the Latin patriarch for Hebrew-speaking Catholics has stirred considerable public interest in the Holy Land.

The unprecedented assignment was announced by the Vatican press office last Thursday and entrusted to Father Jean-Baptiste Gourion, abbot of St. Mary of the Resurrection Monastery, of the Olivetan Benedictine Congregation in Abu Gosh, a peaceful Israeli village where a Hebrew-speaking Christian community resides.

Born in 1934 in Oran, Algeria, and baptized at age 23, Gourion entered the Abbey of Bec in France and in 1976 was sent with two men religious to Abu Gosh to found the monastery.

In 1990, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, named him episcopal vicar and president of St. James’ Work of Jerusalem, for the pastoral care of the Hebrew-speaking Christian community.

«Our community is small, born from the creation of the state of Israel, made up of Christians who were not of Arab formation or culture, and who stayed in Israel,» Father Gourion explained. «There were, for example, mixed marriages, persons who had converted to Christianity, persons who worked in the Israeli environment.»

The future bishop told Vatican Radio that the Pope made this decision because «there is a need to offer an ecclesial structure» for these Catholics, who are not of Arab culture or tradition, as is the case of the majority of the faithful who belong to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

According to Father Gourion, in some countries the press has referred to a conflict between Arab and Hebrew-speaking Catholics which, in fact, does not exist.

«It is an artificial creation,» he said. «It has related events which in reality are not related in themselves. Thus, they have placed me in opposition to the patriarch, giving this assignment a political interpretation.»

«It is, however, a pastoral measure of the Holy Father,» he clarified. «It is obvious that the Arab and Hebrew culture are two different worlds, but all remains here.»

Father Gourion explained that with this appointment the Pope also hopes to promote good relations with the Jewish world.

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