OTG: Syrian Patriarch: A special Catholic leader?

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

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.

On the Good (OTG) is a service of CatholicCulture.org.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • 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.