Fr. Francavilla Celebrates 30 Years as Pastor

Rt. Rev. Joseph Francavilla recently celebrated 30 years as pastor of Holy Transfiguration Melkite-Greek Catholic Church in McLean. "I came to the area as a young 28-year-old priest to oversee funeral arrangements for my predecessor, Archpriest Armand Jacopin," Father Francavilla said. "The bishop told me to stay, and I did." Father Jacopin was 37-years-old when he died of complications following cardiac surgery. He had just established the parish and purchased property on Leesburg Pike in Vienna. Extensive church remodeling was underway at the time of his death. The fledgling community was without a pastor and church and had little financial resources. Archbishop Joseph Tawil sent Father Francavilla from the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Roslindale, Mass., to Northern Virginia to make funeral arrangements and determine if the parish could survive the tragedy. The parishioners were able to rise above their grief and unite in a common purpose: to have a church of their own in the ancient Byzantine Melkite tradition. The people of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church, from whom the Vienna property was purchased, offered temporary use of their facility during the remodeling. The Byzantine Ruthenian Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa loaned vestments and sacred vessels for the parish’s first Christmas Divine Liturgy. Clergy and friends of the Richmond Diocese and Washington Archdiocese were lavish in their support and encouragement. The parish continued to increase and soon outgrew its Vienna location. Through the generosity of former Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, land was made available to the parish on the present site of the church on Lewinsville Road in McLean. The present structure, a modest building, was dedicated on Nov. 30, 1980. Plans are now underway to expand the structure to accommodate the 100 students in Sunday school. Over the past 30 years, Father Francavilla has been a father and now grandfather to his flock. "I am now baptizing and confirming the children of the children whom I baptized and confirmed," he said. Father spoke of the closeness, trust, intimacy and sense of family that has developed over 30 years of service to the same parish. He said that he never regretted single day serving the church and he was ready to do it all over again. The greatest joy of his pastorate is the rich liturgical life of the community, "where we experience heaven on earth." Although physically located in the Arlington Diocese, Holy Transfiguration Church is a parish of the Diocese of Newton for the Melkites in the United States. Its parish boundaries include the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. It follows the Byzantine Liturgical tradition and is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This means that Roman Catholics are free to attend the Divine Liturgy and receive Communion in the church. Many of the parishioners are descendants of the first Arab Christians of the Holy Land and Middle East who were present at the first Pentecost.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001