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In Memoriam: Archbishop Hilarion Capucci

The Arab community lost their beloved Archbishop of the Arabs, the champion of Palestine. Hilarion Capucci, the exiled Greek Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem (Melikite) who dedicated his life to defending Palestine died on Sunday in Rome, Italy. He was born in 1922, in Aleppo, Syria. Capucci will be buried next to his mother in Lebanon.

Early in his career he was posted in Damascus, Syria. During his time in Syria he started youth camps and programs for children of all faiths.  In 1965, Capucci was appointed Archbishop of Jerusalem. His deep Christian faith and justice in Palestine defined the Archbishop’s story. On August 18, 1974, the Israeli authorities arrested the Archbishop alleging that he used his diplomatic status to smuggle weapons for the Palestinian resistance. The Israeli press accused the Catholic Church of aiding terrorists. Archbishop Capucci maintained his innocence and denied all charges against him. Archbishop Capucci was sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released after four years of Vatican and international pressure to secure his release.

Archbishop Capucci was an influential international diplomat with extensive relationships with foreign leaders worldwide. Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, honored the Archbishop by issuing postal stamp bearing his likeness. The Archbishop played an active role during the Iran hostage crisis. He succeeded in securing the release of the bodies of the American soldiers who had died during a failed rescue attempt. President Ronald Reagan recognized his efforts.

In 2009 the Archbishop delivered the Keynote Address at the ADC Annual Convention. Proud of his Arab roots, “mark your records,” Capucci voice rising, “I am an Arab. Each Arab country is my homeland. I share with them their joy and their sadness. This is my message, nationally. This is my creed, religiously.” Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity was a constant concern for him.  “Israel is erasing its Christian character, its sacred nature. Our Jerusalem has become obliterated and effaced. It is fading away”, Capucci warned during his address.

In closing his ADC lecture, Capucci prayed to God:

“Oh, it is so beautiful when you reunite and embrace a loved one after a long absence, a long torment,” talking about his beloved Jerusalem – the City of Peace. “While the minarets recite Allahu Akbar in rhythm and synchrony with the church bell ringing joyfully calling us to return to our beautiful Jerusalem, to our Masjid el Aqsa and our Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he prayed to God.  While his prayer to return to Jerusalem was not fulfilled, Allahu Akbar ringed loud last month when Churches in Palestine made the Muslim call for prayer in protest to Israel’s ban of the Muslim call to prayer in Jerusalem.  He closed his lecture with a verse from the Quran, “Accept this prayer from me for it is you – you who are all hearing and all knowing and you have power over all things.”

In 2010, Archbishop Capucci was an active participant in the Free Gaza Movement’s aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip.  He was a passenger in the MV Mavi Marmar, which was arrested by the Israeli Navy and nine people were killed and many injured. The Archbishop was arrested by the Israeli Navy and later was deported.

For more than seventy years, Archbishop Capucci’s unwavering dedication for Palestine and his sacrifices inspired generations. ADC extends it sincere condolences to Capucci’s family and to the entire Arab community.

May his memory be eternal.

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