Reflecting on St. Joseph/ AACC

By Dr MarianneHattar-Pollara, Fr. Majdi Al-Siryani & Fr. Labib Kobti

On the twenty third of October of the year 1988, and upon persistent invitations by the Christian Arab American community in the Los Angeles area, His Beatitude the venerable Patriarch Michael Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalme, (the Only Roman Catholic Ardiocese-Patriarchate (Latin Rite) of the Middle East, made his historical visit to Los Angeles. His Beatitude was received with warm festive hearts and above all with tremendous pride for the mere fact that His Beatitude is the very first Arab priest in the history of the Catholic Church to be consecrated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II as a successor of the disciple James.

This day signified the cornerstone upon which the continuos spiritual growth and the renewed religious identity of the Catholic Arab American community in the Greater Los Angles area was based. The gracious Patriarch His Beatitude Michael Sabbah, despite the serious shortage of Arab priests, did not ignore the spiritual needs of this community and did not leave them unattended.

Known for His wisdom, vision, and resourcefulness His Beatitude reconciled all obstacles and offered the community a temporary priest who would come three times a year during Christmas and Easter holidays and during the summer. This was done in collaboration with the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Cardianl Mahony, and with the instrumental help of Sr. Lucia Tsu, director of the Asian/Pacific and Ethnic Group Pastoral Ministeries, who spared no effort in finding a church where our community found its religious anchor. Rev. Maurice O'Mahony, responding to a call from Sister Lucia Tu to find a place for the AACC, generosily extended an invitation to the AACC to use the Church and St. Joseph's parish facilies for their spiritual and cultural needs.

Father George El Far, who at the time was receiving his doctoral education in Rome, was the chosen shepherd. He first arrived to Los Angeles during the Easter season of 1989 and continued his three times a year visit until the summer of 1992. Father El Far's spiritual zeal and commitment from one hand, and father Maurice O'Mahony's hospitality and graciousness made the difference in the life of the community, and the dream came true; the future AACC started to become a solid reality within St. Joseph's parish.

Father El Far achieved his doctoral studies in June 1992 and had to turn back to Jordan. His Beatitude Patriarch Sabbah had requested from Father Labib Kobti, an Arab-Lebanese priest who studied at the latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and earned his Doctoral degree in Canon law and a Master degree in theology from Rome and who at the time was a parish priest Jordan (Marj Al-Hamam), to go to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a period of four months to help serve the religious needs of these large communities, before assuming the religious duties Of St. Mary's in Yonkers New York, where he was to replace Father Sami Totah. Father Majdi Al-Siryani, who was sent to Rome to study, was assigned to replace Fr. El Far and serve the Community of Pomona and supposed to come three times a year as Fr. El Far used to do.

Father Kobti came temporary then to Pomona on August 12, 1993 and started his religious service commuting between the twocommunities on weekly basis on November First, 1992 as was decided by all the parties. San Framncisco had nobody to service it during Summer.

To the much welcomed surprise of all, the original plan was changed, and his Beatitude appointed Father Kobti as permanent priest for both communities in California on December 15, 1992.

With this significant milestone of being graced with a permanent priest, the spiritual and religious activities of St. Joseph parish took off with confidence and with a renewed sense of stability. The eagerness of Father Labib Kobti for service is indescribable. The level, the scope and the vitality he has created in such a short time are indeed miracles on their own right. Father Kobti started with less than one hundred families. Now, he is serving the needs of more than five hundred fifty families who are spread throughout the Greater Los Angles area. While he continued the activities started by Father El Far, he initiated many more much needed spiritual, religious and social activities, which are conceived to meet the needs of every single member and family in a holistic manner.

With no doubt, and as Father El far used to say "We just need to put our lives in the hand of God and he will lead us in His ways", this very young parish made quantum leaps through a brief time and became the spiritual anchor for the aged and the renewed hope for generations to come.

Fr. Majdi Al-Siryani was the first priest to come form Rome and help Fr. Labib Kobti during Christimas, Easter and Summer, his zeal and love to serve the Arab-Americans earned him the respect of all the Parishionners in Los Angeles and San Francisco.Fr. Majdi started his first service on Christmas 1992 until he was assinged by Patriarch Sabbah in 1997 to serve as a Parish priest in Beit-Sahor, Palestine. He was studing at that time in Rome the International Law. He got is Doctorate in International Law from the Lateran University of Rome on 1998.

With and after Fr. Majdi many priests came to from the Latin Patriarfhate to help during Christmas, Easter or Summer time, usually they were the priests studing in Rome. We can mention some of them like: Fr. Riad Hijazin, Fr. Ashraf Nimri, Fr. Jamal Khader, Fr. Raed Awad.

Other priest came to visit us in Pomona like Fr. Youssef Salman Rabadi, Fr. Moussa Adeli, Fr. Elias Odeh, Fr. Faysal Hijazin, Fr. Emile Salayta, Archbishop Fuad Twa of Tunisia, Fr. Alamat of Tunisia, Fr. Raed Abusahlia, Fr. Jamal Khader, Fares Hattar

On a letter dated dated June 24, 1998 His Beatitude Michel Sabbah assigned Fr. Hisham Dabaen to be the successor of Fr. Labib Kobti to serve St. Joseph in Pomona. Fr. Hisham arrived on the 23rd of November 1998 and had his first mass on November 28th at St. Joseph with a TE DEUM. Fr. Hisham is the first priest established to serve only St. Joseph and L.A area (South California), Fr. Labib Kobti left Pomona on Novemeber 29th as was estabished with the letter dated on June 24th, 1998 a permanent priest serving only St. Anne's / San Francisco and North California.