Almost 8 years after the outbreak of a devastating civil war, Fadi, a young Syrian man, relates to ACN how he heard the call to service. It was the call of God to become His priest. However, his response to this call to serve God in his people was held up for a time by another call to a different kind of service, one that seized him and would not let him go… For the state had conscripted him into military service for eight long years – was that in order to serve his people? Fortunately, however, his vocation did not wither away during that time; quite the contrary, in fact, for he declares, “Now I am absolutely determined to start my training for the priesthood.”
Chosen to go out and bear fruit
It was towards the end of his studies in tourism at the Institute of Saint Basil in Aleppo that Fadi for the first time heard the call of God in his heart. It was an important stage in his life. He had also been fortunate enough by then to gain the basics of the French language. Perhaps not enough to be able to study in this language, and in any case, he would later forget a great deal of it during his time in the army. And yet, clearly, God was already at work preparing him for his entry into the seminary, because the training for the priesthood is given in French in this part of the world. At the present time, in fact, there are no seminaries in Syria and all the Syrian seminarians have to travel to Lebanon to study theology.
On completing his studies, Fadi Joseph Mora applied to study for the priesthood. He could not resist the appeal he had heard in his heart. The son of a Catholic Maronite family, he had already received a solid Christian education at home, his character shaped in a family which is the first and fundamental place of human formation. His parents, who had emigrated to Venezuela for economic reasons, had returned to Syria in order to bring up their children in their own country.
Military service unavoidable
The Bishop advised the young man to come back again after completing his military service since conscription was inevitable for everyone who wasn’t rich enough to buy their way out of it. Before the war, young Syrian men were expected to do military service for a period of 18 months to 2 years, after which they were still reservists. But everything changed with the war. The length of service became open-ended, and the Syrian authorities imposed penalties on those who sought to escape it. Anyone wanting to return to Syria had to pay at least 8,000 US dollars.
Marked by the resurrection
Fadi began his military service just four months before the war broke out. When he enrolled, he was hoping that it would end quickly. He was among the cohort that had been called up in 2010, and he wasn’t demobilized until last year, 2018, after spending eight years serving in the army. Today he recalls that moment with joy: “31 December 2018 was the date when my military service ended, the day I was born again after those eight long years! I will remember that date forever!” So it was that in a sense his own vocation was marked by a resurrection of sorts, which has left him with a deep sense of serenity. Death does not have the last word.
Immediately after returning, he approached the Bishop again to renew his application. This time he was received by the new Bishop, Joseph Tobji, who welcomed him with open arms. Bishop Tobji explained that ever since his appointment as bishop he has prayed for vocations, along with the entire diocese, celebrating Holy Mass each day for this intention. “It is a great joy for me and for everyone to welcome a new vocation”, he says. “Our prayers have been heard!”
The word of the Lord has remained alive in him
“The word of the Lord that was addressed to me never died, but has remained alive within me”, says Fadi. And Bishop Tobji confirms: “The seed that was sown by the Lord did not die, it merely awaited the opportune moment to germinate. Now we intend to create the best possible conditions so that it may grow within the bosom of the Catholic Church and bear fruit.” The Bishop, who himself is from Aleppo and who founded a humanitarian aid center to help the victims of war and the ensuing poverty, emphasizes, “Our country and our people are suffering. But it is a mistake to think that there is nothing but bad news. I have just founded a new parish, and on top of this, we are blessed with this new vocation. So there are also many positive things happening, and we need to talk about them in order to encourage people’s hopes.”
Protecting and nurturing vocations
“God never ceases to call chosen individuals to follow him and serve him in the ordained ministry, despite everything”, confirms Father Andrzej Halemba, the head of ACN’s projects section for the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. And he adds, “Jesus tells us, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’ (Cf. Jn 15:15-16). But at the same time, we ourselves must also play our part by supporting the training of candidates for the priesthood who present themselves and are accepted. As the Church, we are obliged to respond to God’s gift with the gifts within the capacity of each one of us – namely prayer, service or material support. Without our aid, vocations like Fadi’s cannot be fulfilled. So, first of all, we must pray for the seminarians in Syria, for they are living in particularly difficult conditions. The country is still at war and the people are suffering deep poverty. And moreover, they are surrounded by a majority Muslim society that does not understand the choice they have made. And so we must protect and nurture these vocations so that they will bear rich fruit.”