Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Syrian Patriarch: A special Catholic leader?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 29, 2016 | In On the Good

Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III (Ignace Youssif III) of the Syriac Catholic Church has become a fresh voice in the daily news. Yesterday we heard him scoffing at Italian museum curators for covering up nude statues during a visit from the President of Iran. Today, we find him praising the military intervention of Russia at Syria’s request, to help contain the Islamic State.

This is free-wheeling stuff. One pictures the Patriarch not so much in traditional garb as puffing on a big cigar, suit jacket tossed over the back of a chair, suspenders in full view, leaning over his desk with rolled-up sleeves, and telling it like it is. Metaphorically, this image may not be far off: Though he is Syrian, Patriarch Ignace Youssif III was called not out of Egypt but out of New Jersey. He had been sent to the United States in 1986 to establish a mission. From 1995 until 2009 he served as eparch (bishop) of the new Syrian Catholic Eparchy created by John Paul II for all Syriac Catholics in the United States.

To be more specific, think Newark—which is like thinking Hoboken, calling to mind Marlon Brando’s gritty 1954 film classic “On the Waterfront”. Anyway, the Patriarch must be tough. Exchanging his US base of operations for Syria in 2009, and extending his jurisdiction over Syriac Catholics worldwide, seems not to have fazed him at all.

Late last year, Ignace Youssif explained that Western support of the Arab Spring was tantamount to “fomenting the violence” in Syria. He has argued against air strikes, and insisted on the need for ground troops. He has condemned Western indifference and betrayal. He has challenged the West to forget about trying to establish Western-style democracies in the Middle East and instead concentrate on direct assistance to persecuted Christians.

In the years before that, the Catholic Patriarch repeatedly warned about the deteriorating situation in Syria, while urging the members of his flock to stay the course. His spiritual priorities appear to be in good order. For example, last May he called for prayer and fasting in Syriac Catholic parishes around the world for one of his priests, Fr. Jacques Murad, and others kidnapped by the Islamic State. In October, some fifty hostages, including Fr. Murad, were released.

Heroes are hard to come by. But here is at least one leader to watch and learn from in 2016.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: unum - May. 26, 2016 7:45 AM ET USA

    Papal negativity, or just a lack of understanding based on cultural differences? I find many South Americans get their knickers in a bind when I ask about their three tiered society with the small aristocratic "royalty", including those in government, business, and the Church), the relatively small middle class (educated workers), and the majority of the population comprised of the poor (uneducated workers). Yet, they are quick to criticize U.S. capitalism giving opportunity to all classes.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - May. 21, 2016 1:29 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis should transcend positive and negative feelings about nations. He is the vicar of Christ on earth, after all. John Allen, and others, observe Pope Francis holding on to the petty anti-American attitudes common in Argentina. It is a human flaw.

  • Posted by: Reuben Slife - May. 20, 2016 5:51 PM ET USA

    I don't know. Unless one thinks that all the nice things he said when he visited were insincere, his view can't be purely negative. And Allen probably assumed Americans had heard that stuff, so it didn't need mentioning. (As an American, too, I can say that we can be pretty dislikable. We tend to think we're God's gift to the world, "the last best hope of earth." And pragmatism is the only native American philosophy! As much as I like this place, I can't blame a guy for being suspicious of us.)

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - May. 20, 2016 5:42 PM ET USA

    The Pope is Argentinian. Latin Americans in general are quite resentful of the USA (usually hostility is against the country, not the people). As a Latin American myself I am , too. Theres much good that comes from America but there just seem to be so much more bad (abortion, gender theory, race politics, tv, Hollywood, Corporations, cia Black ops).

  • Posted by: Gil125 - May. 20, 2016 3:26 PM ET USA

    Your comment does complete Allen's piece. If I were his editor I would have handed his copy back and said, "John: I don't see any ambivalence in this. Does he have anything good to say about the USA, or does he flat-out hate us? Either give me a positive example or change the word 'ambivalence.'" I might have added, "And I'll meet you at the Rusty Scupper for an adult beverage at five."

  • Posted by: wenner1687 - Jan. 30, 2016 5:51 AM ET USA

    Somewhere in one of the Wisdom books is the observation, "God raises up great men for hard times" . Anybody remember the exact quotation ?

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Jan. 29, 2016 9:39 PM ET USA

    This is a great article. I would not have known all this about this prelate who has been popping up in the news.