By Dr MarianneHattar-Pollara, Fr. Majdi Al-Siryani & Fr. Labib Kobti
During the early Eighties, and for the first time in the history of our large Arab American community in the San Francisco Bay area, the Venerable late Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Yacoub Beltritti appointed an Arab Priest, Fr. Anwar Salemeh, who at the time, was studying in Rome, to attend to the spiritual needs of our community. A community which found a religious anchor at St. Cicilia in San Francisco when Msgr. James McKay recieved them and with the help of the Sons and Daughtersof the Holy Land.Mons. Fr. Anwar left San Francisco on 1984.
On October of the year 1988, and during the heart felt and much celebrated historical visit of His Beatitude the venerable Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah, the Catliolic Arab American community in San Francisco made their plea for receiving a permanent Arab priest.
This day signified the cornerstone upon which the continuos spiritual growth and the renewed religious identity of the Catholic Arab American community in the San Francisco Bay 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, a termporary priest was assigned to come during summer and Christmas and Easter vacations.
Father Isaam Al Zumot, who at the time was receiving his doctoral education in Rome, was the chosen shepherd. He first arrived to San Francisco at Holy Name Parish and recieved by Fr. John Quinn during the Easter season of 1989 and continued his three times a year visit until the summer of 1992. Father Zumot came to the community with a deep spiritual commitment and a sincere desire to serve and attend to the spiritual needs of the community. He continued the spiritual journey of this community with the generous support and assistance of the Sons and Daughters of the Holy Land which is headed by Dr. Wajieh Sa'adeh.
By the summer of 1992, Father Al Zumot finished his Doctoral studies and had to return to Jordan to assume his responsibilities as a parish priest in Jordan. Father Zumot turned back to Jordan, and FatherFaysal Hijarin who was sent to study in Rome, was assigned to take over.
While Father labib Kobti, who was sent to serve temporarly Los Angeles and San Francisco was commuting between the San Francisco and the Los Angeles Communities serving them and waiting to leave to assume his duties at St. Mary's in Yonkers, New York, since Father Sam Totah was supposed to go back to Jerusalem, he was assigned permanent priest for these communities and not only for the four months of summer on December 15th 1992.
With this significant milestone of being graced with a permanent priest, the spiritual and religious activities of St. Anne Arab American parish took off with confidence and with a renewed sense of stability. The eagerness of Father 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 assumed responsibilities with a parish made of six hundren and fifty families, who are spread throughout the San Francisco Bay area. He continued and remained true to the religious activities initiated by Father Issam Zumot, but he also initiated many more much needed spiritual, religious and social activities which are designed to meet the needs of every single member and family in a holistic manner
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. Wi9th and after Fr. Majdi amney priest came to from the latin Patriarfhate to help during Christmas, Easter or Summer we can mention some of them like: Fr. Faysal Hijazin, Fr. Riad Hijazin, Fr. Ashraf Nimri, Fr. Jamal Khader, Fr. Raed Awad
Other priest came to visit us in 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, Fr.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.
Archbishop William Levada assigned Fr. Labib Kobti as Pastor of St. John of God, SJOG.ORG a Newman Center church at the service of UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, the assignement which should be effective July 1999, Father Labib started to serve this new parsih on May 1999. Besides his work as Pastor of the Arab-American Roman Catholic Community in northern California he became pastor of two churches since then.
On the Website of St. John of God, the webmaster a parishioner of SJOG wrote: "With no doubt, this parish made quantum leaps through a brief time and became the spiritual anchor for the aged and the renewed hope for generations to come. Nonetheless, while this parish continue in its spiritual journey to the Kingdom of God, under the spiritual guidance of Father Kobti and within the sister parish of St. Anne in San Francisco, the needs of this parish continues to unfold and reveal dbepel and complex issues which necessitate the presence of a priest devoted solely to this parish. This is actually the dearest wish and the warmest prayer of every single member of this community"
Archbishop William Levada visited our Parish for the first time on May 30, 2000. His Beatitude Michel Sabbah sent a message to thank Archbishop for the visit. On October 2000 Father Labib Kobti was joinging the Piligrimage of the Archdiocese to the Holy Land.The situation and the second INTIFADA made it impossible the pilgrimage.
In October 1st, Fr. Labib celebrated his Silver Jubilee of his Ordination,
Patriarch Sabbah sent him
a message of support and gratitude.
Patriarch Michel Sabbah visited our community on Monday August 6, 2001 and delivered a message to our community.
In July First, 2002 Fr. Labib Kobti was assigned by Archbishop Levada as pastor of St. Thomas More http://www.stmchurch.com and the AACC was asked to move ot this church and consider it their new home.