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Pope Appoints Arab Priest as New Patriarch of Jerusalem

December 29, 1987|Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II on Monday appointed a Palestine-born Arab priest as patriarch of Jerusalem for Latin rite Catholics.

Vatican officials said they believe it is the first time an Arab has been named to the post, established by the Crusaders in 1099.

The new patriarch is Michel Sabbah, 54, born in Nazareth. He previously served as a parish priest in Amman, Jordan, and as president of the Catholic University of Bethlehem.

He succeeds Patriarch Giacomo Giuseppe Beltritti, 77, an Italian whose retirement for reasons of age was announced Monday.

Church sources said the Pope will consecrate Sabbah in his new post at a ceremony at the Vatican on Jan. 6.

65,000 Latin Catholics

The Jerusalem patriarchate for Latin rite Catholics includes Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan and Cyprus. According to Vatican statistics, there are 65,000 Latin Catholics in the area, 85% of Arab origin.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said the appointment had been in process for some time and had no connection with the recent disturbances in the occupied territories. He said that the nomination reflects the reality of the Latin Catholic population, noting that 65 of the 78 priests are Arabs.

The Latin rite is the one followed by most of the world's Roman Catholics. It is one of several Catholic communities in the Holy Land. Others include the Greek Melchites and the Maronites.

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