The Rev. Edoardo Tamer, Who Ministered to Syrians in War, Dies at 83

The Rev. Edoardo Tamer, Who Ministered to Syrians in War, Dies at 83

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — As fighting in the civil war in Syria tore through neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo, the Roman Catholic authorities offered the Rev. Edoardo Tamer, a Franciscan friar who had lived in a monastery there for many years, a chance to get out for his own safety.

He declined.

“He said, ‘I will live here and I will die here if that is what happens,’” said the Rev. Firas Lutfi, the Franciscan regional minister for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. “He decided to stay in Aleppo during this very critical situation.”

Father Tamer survived the war but fell sick with Covid-19 this summer. He died of the disease in Aleppo on Aug. 12 at 83.

Father Tamer spent most of his life in the Franciscan order, serving as an educator, translator and minister to Catholic communities in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories and finally Syria.

He was born Romanos Tamer on May 5, 1937, in the village of Sir El Danniyeh in northern Lebanon, where his father, Boutros Tamer, had a shop and a workshop that made wooden boxes for fruit. His mother, Kamleh Fayad, helped her husband with the business.

Father Tamer, a Maronite Catholic, set his sights on the religious life in childhood. “He was convinced that he was called from God to be a friar and specifically a Franciscan,” Father Lutfi said.

Father Tamer began his monastic calling in 1956 as a 19-year-old novice in the Friary of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, taking the name Edoardo. Three years later, he took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in joining the Order of Friars Minor, founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century.

That committed him to a life of simplicity and itinerant service, often to the poor, a commitment represented by the simple brown robe and rope belt worn by the friars. He was ordained a priest in Jerusalem in 1965 and earned a license in theology three years later at the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut.

Over the next four decades he held positions at schools, colleges and parishes, including those in Harissa, Lebanon; Amman, Jordan; Latakia, Syria; Alexandria, Egypt; and Jericho, in the West Bank.

His survivors include two brothers, Joseph and Antoun.

Father Tamer was transferred to the Monastery of Saint Anthony of Padua in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, in 2007. It was where he would remain, serving for periods as the superior and the director of the parish recreation center.

Father Lutfi recalled that Father Tamer liked to hear confession in order to give people “hope and peace.” He was skilled at translating religious texts from Italian into Arabic, most notably “The Mind’s Road to God,” a medieval treatise on spirituality by Saint Bonaventure.

Civil war in Syria broke out in 2011, leading to a bombing campaign by the Syrian government and its Russian allies against armed rebels that destroyed entire neighborhoods in Aleppo. The city’s Christians, long a small minority and divided among different sects, emigrated in large numbers during the war. Estimates of the number of remaining Catholics are in the thousands.

But Father Tamer insisted on remaining, celebrating Mass, welcoming visitors and at times taking in people seeking refuge from the fighting.

“It was his decision to stay and continue his service despite the bombardment and the war and disease,” Father Lutfi said. “It was his mission to be beside people who suffer.”

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