Different paths to same vocation: Twin brothers ordained priests in Aleppo, Syria

Twin brothers ordained The entrance into the Franciscan church in Aleppo, Syria, of the twins George and Johnny Jallouf, friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, who were ordained priests on July 6, 2024. The two ordinands are wearing the priestly vestments with which they were clothed during the ordination rite. They were 15 when the war in Syria broke out. Their vocation was born and grew amid the Battle of Aleppo. “I tried to attend Mass every day,” George recounted. “I was afraid, but I kept repeating to myself ‘I fear nothing because you are with me.’ This phrase guided me, reassured me, gave me peace.” | Credit: Photo courtesy of the Tawk Center

On Saturday, July 6, twin brothers George and Johnny Jallouf, friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, were ordained priests in their hometown of Aleppo, Syria. 

It marked the first priestly ordination in 17 years at St. Francis Church in Aleppo, a city that suffered massive destruction between 2012 and 2016 during the Syrian War. 

The brothers were ordained by their uncle — also a Franciscan and for the past few months Latin apostolic vicar of Aleppo — Father Hanna Jallouf.

“We grew up in a family that instilled in us a living faith and a love for prayer,” the brothers told CNA.

Born in January 1996, the twins were not given much hope initially. “Our mother made several vows for our health, including one to St. Anthony. That’s why as children, she dressed us in Franciscan robes.”

Twins George and Johnny Jallouf, as toddlers, wearing the Franciscan habit. They were born in January 1996 and were not given much hope initially. “Our mother made several vows for our health, including one to St. Anthony. That's why as children, she dressed us in Franciscan robes.” The twins were ordained priests on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria, their hometown. Credit: Photo courtesy of George and Johnny Jallouf
Twins George and Johnny Jallouf, as toddlers, wearing the Franciscan habit. They were born in January 1996 and were not given much hope initially. “Our mother made several vows for our health, including one to St. Anthony. That's why as children, she dressed us in Franciscan robes.” The twins were ordained priests on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria, their hometown. Credit: Photo courtesy of George and Johnny Jallouf

“If the Lord gave them to us, it means something,” the new priests’ mother said about welcoming the news of her twins, which came after the birth of three older sons — then ages 17, 16, and 8 — and a long-awaited daughter who died shortly after birth. From their mother’s womb, faith — their parents’ first and then their own — has shaped the lives of the twin brothers. 

Identical in appearance but very different in character and expressiveness, the boys’ vocations took different paths through the years.

George and Johnny were deeply involved in the Franciscan parish of Aleppo as altar boys, catechists, and in various youth groups, so much so that “sometimes our parents would ask if we wanted to rent a room in the convent and stay there overnight.”

They were 15 when the war in Syria broke out. Their vocations were born and grew amid the Battle of Aleppo, during which the city experienced bombings and sieges, resulting in a high number of civilian casualties and the destruction of much of the city.

“I tried to attend Mass every day,” George recounted. “I was afraid, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘I fear nothing because you are with me.’ This phrase guided me, reassured me, gave me peace.”

George Jallouf, a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and one of the twin brothers ordained a priest on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria. “For them I consecrate myself” (John 17:19) is the phrase that has accompanied him during these years and that he has chosen as his priestly motto. “I want to be the hands of Jesus, his feet, his heart. The Lord embraced me with his hands, accompanied me with his feet on this journey, and loved me. This is how I want to bring him to others,” he told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Custody of the Holy Land
George Jallouf, a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and one of the twin brothers ordained a priest on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria. “For them I consecrate myself” (John 17:19) is the phrase that has accompanied him during these years and that he has chosen as his priestly motto. “I want to be the hands of Jesus, his feet, his heart. The Lord embraced me with his hands, accompanied me with his feet on this journey, and loved me. This is how I want to bring him to others,” he told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Custody of the Holy Land

Meanwhile, their older siblings had already moved to the Netherlands and were awaiting the rest of the family once the twins had completed their higher education.

“Around the age of 18, I entered a total confusion. I started asking myself, ‘Who am I?’, ‘Why am I on this earth?’, and ‘What is God’s plan for my life?’”

George struggled between his own dreams and God’s calling. “At one point, I thought of making a deal: ‘Let me achieve what I want, and then if this desire to become a priest still exists, I’ll say yes’... But instead, [God] wanted answers right away.”

At the age of 18, George participated in the Franciscan March, which he says was decisive for him. “I asked the Lord for signs,” he said. “I didn’t want to start something and then turn back. Why have you chosen me? I am a sinner, not a saint... I felt unworthy.” 

The Franciscan March is a walking pilgrimage for people ages 18–35 spanning several days once a year. Originating in Italy in 1980, it has expanded to many countries where Franciscans are present. In addition to the walk, there are catechesis sessions, times of prayer and meditation, and communal gatherings inspired by the Franciscan spirituality and the charisma of St. Francis of Assisi.

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The twins George and Johnny Jallouf during the Franciscan march in Syria in 2021. The march is a journey (a pilgrimage on foot) spanning several days for young people ages 18-35 who wish to engage in a short spiritual journey. In addition to the walk, there are catechesis sessions, moments of prayer and meditation, and communal gatherings inspired by the Franciscan spirituality and the charisma of St. Francis of Assisi. Credit: Photo courtesy of George and Johnny Jallouf
The twins George and Johnny Jallouf during the Franciscan march in Syria in 2021. The march is a journey (a pilgrimage on foot) spanning several days for young people ages 18-35 who wish to engage in a short spiritual journey. In addition to the walk, there are catechesis sessions, moments of prayer and meditation, and communal gatherings inspired by the Franciscan spirituality and the charisma of St. Francis of Assisi. Credit: Photo courtesy of George and Johnny Jallouf

During the march, the group stopped for Mass at a home for the elderly where George noticed a woman with mental problems who was at times disturbing the Mass. Afterward, George made himself available to feed the elderly and happened upon the lady. She was the last person he wanted to be near, he recounted. Toward the end of the meal, she said, “No, Father, I don’t want any more.” Hearing her call him “Father,” at a time when he was thinking about a priestly vocation and asking God for signs, jolted him. For him it was a sign. 

From there, his “yes” flowed. “I am not called because of merit or because I am worthy but out of love,” he relayed. A few weeks later, in September 2014, he began his journey as a Franciscan, which then led him to the priesthood.

“For them I consecrate myself” (Jn 17:19) is the phrase that has accompanied him during these years and that he has chosen as his priestly motto. “Like Jesus and with Jesus, I want to consecrate and sacrifice my life to save souls. I want to be the hands of Jesus, his feet, his heart. The Lord embraced me with his hands, accompanied me with his feet on this journey, and loved me. This is how I want to bring him to others.”

Johnny Jallouf, a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and one of the twin brothers ordained as priests on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria. “Give me the souls, take the goods for yourself”: This phrase from Genesis (Gen 14:21) marked Johnny’s life and vocation, becoming his priestly motto. “I had an emptiness and this emptiness was filled with a love that was different from what I had received from all people. I want to give my life for others: What Christ did on the cross, I am invited to do first,” he told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Custody of the Holy Land
Johnny Jallouf, a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and one of the twin brothers ordained as priests on July 6, 2024, in Aleppo, Syria. “Give me the souls, take the goods for yourself”: This phrase from Genesis (Gen 14:21) marked Johnny’s life and vocation, becoming his priestly motto. “I had an emptiness and this emptiness was filled with a love that was different from what I had received from all people. I want to give my life for others: What Christ did on the cross, I am invited to do first,” he told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Custody of the Holy Land

Meanwhile, Johnny was fascinated by great saints, especially St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and wanted to become a doctor. “With the outbreak of the war, something began to change; I grew up faster,” he recounted.

His familiarity with prayer and personal relationship with the Lord gradually prepared his heart: “This desire to become a doctor grew during the war years: I saw people on the streets, the wounded, and thought that if I could alleviate some of their pain, I would have already done something good in my life.”

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The plan was to finish high school, move to the Netherlands, and study medicine there. “But I felt that gradually that desire was fading, diminishing, and another desire was growing — to give my life in a different way.”

One day while praying the Our Father, Johnny paused at the phrase “Thy will be done.” “It was as if someone slapped me... ‘You have always done your will, you always wanted to be a doctor for bodies, but there are many doctors for bodies while there are few doctors for souls.’”

His desire to become a doctor to alleviate physical suffering turned out to be a prompting to become a “doctor for souls”: a Franciscan in the Custody of the Holy Land and a priest.

The twins George and Johnny Jallouf, friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, during their priestly ordination on July 6, 2024, at the Franciscan church in Aleppo, Syria, their hometown. One of the most moving moments of the rite is when the candidates for priesthood prostrate themselves, face down, in a gesture of humility, while everyone prays for them by singing the Litany of the Saints. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Tawk Center
The twins George and Johnny Jallouf, friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, during their priestly ordination on July 6, 2024, at the Franciscan church in Aleppo, Syria, their hometown. One of the most moving moments of the rite is when the candidates for priesthood prostrate themselves, face down, in a gesture of humility, while everyone prays for them by singing the Litany of the Saints. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Tawk Center

“Give me the souls, take the goods for yourself” — this phrase from Genesis (Gen 14:21) marked Johnny’s life and vocation, becoming his priestly motto.

Pastoral experience during his years of formation brought forth the desire to “save souls.” 

“Many people approached me to confess but I couldn’t.” One day, “a man asked to confess. I said, ‘I cannot, but you must believe that in every priest it is Christ who acts.’ Eventually, he yielded and went to confession. There I understood that my work was done, that I had gone there to save that soul.”

Group photo of the newly ordained priests, George and Johnny Jallouf, to the left and right of Bishop Hanna Jallouf, their uncle, the Latin apostolic vicar of Aleppo. On the far left is the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Ibrahim Faltas. On the far right is the parish priest of St. Francis Parish in Aleppo, Bahjat Karakach. The ordination took place at the Franciscan parish in Aleppo on July 6, 2024, and is the first in 17 years. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Tawk Center
Group photo of the newly ordained priests, George and Johnny Jallouf, to the left and right of Bishop Hanna Jallouf, their uncle, the Latin apostolic vicar of Aleppo. On the far left is the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Ibrahim Faltas. On the far right is the parish priest of St. Francis Parish in Aleppo, Bahjat Karakach. The ordination took place at the Franciscan parish in Aleppo on July 6, 2024, and is the first in 17 years. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Tawk Center

With the priestly ordination, “I dedicate my whole life to souls to bring them to Christ,” Johnny said. “My entire priesthood will be connected to this phrase.”

“I had an emptiness and this emptiness was filled with a love that was different from what I had received from all people, and so I want to follow to the end. And give my life for others: What Christ did on the cross, I am invited to do first.” 

Both George and Johnny now wait to hear from their superiors about where they will be stationed to begin their new ministry as priests.

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