By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, December 2016
Father Zakaria Gayed was born on 23 December as a “Christmas gift to my Mother,” he says with a laugh. The Parish Priest of St John the Evangelist Parish at Riverstone has given his life as a gift to God, both in Egypt where he was born and in Australia.
Fr Zakaria was born in El Minya, south of Cairo, which is close to where the Holy Family fled into Egypt. The Holy Family sheltered in St Mary’s Cave, Samalout, near his hometown.
He arrived in Australia in 1999, bringing with him the experiences and heritage of Coptic Catholic spirituality. He believes that every place has its own special ‘gift’, whether it is the Jordan, Mt Sinai or Riverstone.
Growing up in Egypt, Fr Zakaria devoted himself to his studies at St Leo the Great Coptic Catholic Patriarchal Seminary in Cairo, which caters to all Coptic Catholic dioceses. He was ordained by Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Emeritus Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, while he was Bishop of Minya.
Fr Zakaria’s family is entirely in Egypt, and he is now uncle to 21 nephews and nieces. He has dispensed the sacraments to many in his family, including Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation) and the Eucharist. He has also dispensed the Sacrament of Matrimony to family members, which requires a priest’s blessing to be valid in the Eastern Catholic Churches, unlike in the Western Church, which requires a deacon.
Fr Zakaria attests that, “when you grow up immersed in a particular form of liturgy, it remains in your blood”.
He prays the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) in the Coptic Catholic form, which consists of seven canonical times for prayer. The Divine Office is the mandatory daily prayer for priests and religious. Primarily, it consists of the psalms and is typically prayed at four different periods of the day (Morning Prayer, Office of Readings, either Terce, Sext or None, and Evening Prayer).
Fr Zakaria has a devotion to St Therese of the Child Jesus, St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of the Desert and St George. In Egypt, Fr Zakaria served in a parish dedicated to St George.
When he first came to Australia, he knew only a few words of English. Despite the communication barrier, Fr Zakaria arrived on his birthday in 1999 and was appointed parish priest of St Mark’s Parish in Prospect. He was incardinated into the Diocese of Parramatta in 2010.
He has used his experiences with different cultures to connect with others. He believes that “when you visit a country, something touches your heart”. Wherever he goes, the people he has ministered to “are very much devoted to God,” he said.
A warm ‘people-person’, Fr Zakaria appreciates the opportunities God has given him in the priesthood to strengthen the faith of his flock. “God gave me a gift for pastoral work. I appreciate it,” he said.