06/27/2005, 00.00
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Mgr Gourion, leader of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel, dies

by Arieh Cohen

The funeral takes place tomorrow in the Church of the Olivetan Benedictine Abbey of Abou Gosh, the biblical Kiryat Yearim, of which he was superior and founder

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Mgr Jean Baptiste Gourion OSB, auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem with special faculties for Hebrew-speaking Catholics died on 24 June from an oncological disease. The funeral will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 28 June, in the Church of the Olivetan Benedictine Abbey of Abou Gosh, the biblical Kiryat Yearim, of which he was superior and founder.

Fr Gourion was born in Orano, Algeria, in 1934. After completing higher studies in his native city, he started to study natural science and medicine in the University of Paris. He was baptised on the night of Easter, 1958, in the Abbey of Bec in France, which he entered in 1961. He finished his studies of philosophy and theology in Bec and in 1967 he was ordained to the priesthood. On 14 August 2003, Pope John Paul II nominated him Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, entrusting him with the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the territory of the same Latin Patriarchate; he also assigned him the titular see of Lydda.

Father Jean-Baptiste Gourion was known and revered throughout the Church in Israel as a monk and a priest of great holiness of life. The Olivetan Benedictine monastery he led in Abou Gosh, the Biblical Kiryat Ye'arim, will stand as his memorial, a very significant addition to the presence in the Holy Land of the Praying Church, of the contemplative religious life. His death is not only a loss to his religious community, and an occasion of deep sadness for his many friends and admirers, but also reproposes the question of prophetic and pastoral leadership for the Church in Israel, in the national language.

In some ways, the choice of Father Gourion to take up this role, with the title and authority of Auxiliary Bishop "with special faculties", had been surprising. In terms of holiness of life and spiritual wisdom, he clearly had no rival. However, how a contemplative monk living in a rural cloister was expected to take up a highly mobile, intensely urban ministry - while retaining his monastic position and lifestyle [as he wished to do] - was a mystery that will now never be solved.

In any case, he had had no real opportunity to make his mark, so swift was the onset of grave illness and death. Father Gourion set a very high standard of holiness of life for his successor - if there is to be any - but the contours and contents of the office are still all to be defined in practice.

May he rest in peace.

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