Seminarian Jack Elkazzi will be ordained a deacon by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, on Saturday 23 July at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill.
Jack spoke to Catholic Outlook about his upcoming ordination, his vocational story and how he hopes to live out his new ministry.
Catholic Outlook: Why did you decide to become a priest? What called you to the priesthood?
Jack Elkazzi: My decision to become a priest began gradually at World Youth Day (WYD) 2008 [in Sydney]. WYD gave me a sense of community that I had not experienced before. Being in the midst of this community, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist, and other sacraments, a seed of faith was implanted within me.
After WYD, I gradually immersed myself into the sacramental life of the Church and the community. If it was not for the charity and love of Jesus shown to me in midst of the church community, I wouldn’t be here today pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.
CO: What role does God the Father play in your life?
JE: Our Heavenly Father is significant in my life. When my father died in 2000, I used it as an excuse to live how I wanted. Until I found my faith, I felt like I was a sheep without a shepherd. However, the closer I got to Mary, the closer I was getting to Jesus, and the closer and more intimate I was with our Dear Lord, the more I came to see how much the Father loves me.
St John tells us that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. …” (Jn 3:16) The Father, the God the Old and New covenants, sent His Son to show his love and unfathomable mercy.
In and through Jesus on the Cross, He seeks out His sons and daughters, as if he were calling to Adam in the Garden, ‘where are you? I love you and forgive you, come to me through my Son.’ And ever since I came to the practice of my faith this is what I feel towards our Heavenly Father, my only Father.
CO: What role does Mother Mary play in your life?
JE: What can I say about our Blessed Mother? She has loved me, comforted, strengthened and shown me the love of her Son. In times of doubt and trial, I have turned to her motherly intercession, and she has always answered and helped me. The more I learn about Mary and her radical “fiat” to God’s will, the more I learn how to be another Christ, another disciple. Like St John the Beloved, when I am in fear, doubt or any sort of trouble, recourse to Mary gives me the strength to stand at the foot of the Cross, and not flee. Mary is the shortcut home.
CO: Are there any saints you have a devotion to?
JE: Yes, to Saint Francis [of Assisi]. St Francis’ love for God and all His creation is evident in the way he lived his life. Like Mother Mary’s obedience to the Father’s will out her love, so the Seraphic Father in life burned with a love of Christ that towards its end, it consumed him till the point he became another Christ. Whether for the Church, or humanity, or creation, St Francis loved because it was created by God, and through it, it spoke of His glory and magnificence, His benevolence, and His love.
CO: How important will the day of your ordination to the diaconate be for you, your family and friends?
JE: Very important. It will be a day of celebration and gratitude for God’s graces and the generous gift of the diaconate. God works in mysterious ways – 15 years ago, nobody would have imagined me in this state of life. So, for my mum, family and friends, it’s a day that testifies to God’s love and compassion for all his children.
Furthermore, although the journey is just beginning, and formation is ongoing, there is a sense of accomplishment in fulfilling the necessary requirements thus far. It has been eight years, during which time I have been challenged beyond what I thought I was able to achieve. As in all things, you have to do your best and God’s grace will make up for what you lack.
CO: Pope Francis has urged priests to reach out to the poor and those on the margins of our society and church community. How do you envisage doing this in your priestly ministry?
JE: Firstly, I think you should get to know the parish, its internal structures and who are the people of God you’re serving. You should have good self-awareness to know your limits, as well as do your best to first foster an interior life born from a personal encounter with the Lord and grace is poured upon grace. From this reservoir of grace is born, by the Holy Spirit, a genuine life of humble service whereby you become a channel of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Therefore, I would regularly visit schools, parishioners’ homes, nursing homes and hospitals. After Sunday Masses, I’ll remain present to greet the people and let them know I am available if needed.
The key is to foster encounters and let people know they are heard and valued, and their intentions are being brought to God’s altar at every Eucharist. I think this is a way to reach out and touch our wounded humanity.
CO: How do you believe your life experiences before entering the seminary will contribute to your ministry as a deacon in serving God’s people?
JE: 42 years of life experience will help in my ministry because I’ll be able to empathise with and understand the difficulties and trials the other person might be going through. This would mean accompanying them on their journey home because a change of life is never easy. There are so many trials and temptations that without support, change is difficult. It is something I had when I reverted back to the faith, and without which, it would have been impossible.
CO: Are there any aspects of diaconate life that you are looking forward to?
JE: Baptism is one. The thought of celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism and receiving someone into the life of Christ and the faith of the community is profound. The ability to bless is an awesome thought too.
CO: How has your parish placement been? What has been a highlight of your time?
JE: My parish placement has been at St Bernadette’s, Castle Hill. Here, I have had the opportunity to engage with the wider community, for example, giving communion to the sick, and home visits. I have taught SRE [Special Religious Education] at local schools, led a parish Lenten group, helped the sacramental team prepare children for confirmation etc, and served at various Masses.
The highlight for me was the experience of chanting the Exultet for the first time at the Easter Vigil in 2021.
CO: Can you describe seminary life?
JE: Overall life at the seminary is good. The structure of life helps you to foster a healthy prayer life and to live well. A life well lived is having a conscious awareness of God’s presence in every encounter. This awareness is the fruit of your prayer which ought to be an extension of moments of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the celebration of the Eucharist – the source and summit of the Church’s life. Living in a spirit of constant prayer imbues the entirety of one’s life which means all the pillars of formation – the academic, the human, the pastoral and the spiritual – so that you are a self-aware and well-integrated human person. A person who is in a living relationship with God, his family, and the people of God.
Seminary life is also good because you meet so many people along the way. You are challenged to grow without losing yourself. Thus, you have regular contact with your family and friends, and you have the support of the diocese – which I have grown to love and cherish.
CO: Has there been a highlight of seminary life?
JE: Yes – because I have never been an academic, graduating with a Bachelor of Philosophy, was a moment my family and I will remember for some time.
CO: Have you received any great advice on your vocational journey?
JE: Yes, a Lebanese hermit once told me that in dealing with God, “to be punctual.”
CO: Who would you like to thank for helping you get to this point?
JE: The Blessed Trinity, Our Lady, and the Saints.
I would also like to thank Bishop Vincent, the faculty (past and present), all seminarians I have met for their fraternity and witness to the Good News, my family and friends, and the Diocese of Parramatta, particularly, all the parishes I have been at over the last seven to eight years. Thank you for all your prayers and support.
May God bless you. +
CO: What message do you have to other young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
JE: Pray, live a sacramental life, and if you have the desire in your heart, or a thought, to be a priest, don’t be afraid to discern your vocation if God is calling you. Please remember when you discern your vocation, it’s never time lost but an opportunity to grow in grace and holiness. So there is nothing to lose but becoming a better man.
CO: Any other thoughts or comments you would like to share with Catholic Outlook readers?
JE: In your response to the call to holiness, do not “get tired of doing what is good”, persevere in praying for us, and for all our priests and religious. So, “at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Gal 6:9)
Thank you for your ongoing support!!
To find out more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit https://parracatholic.org/vocations/, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr Christopher del Rosario – firstname.lastname@example.org.