For the first time, the writings of St Francis, translated into Arabic, become sacred songs for the liturgy and prayer. The project is the result of an idea of two Franciscans, students of theology from Syria, Fr. George and Fr. Johnny Jallouf, and has been developed thanks to the support of the Custody of the Holy Land. Today nine musical pieces with lyrics in Arabic and original music have been published in the collection called “Rabi wa Elahi” and can be listened to free of charge on Youtube, Spotify, Anghami (popular in the Arab world) and all the main musical platforms.
“In our first years of formation, when we were in Italy for the Novitiate, the height of Franciscan spirituality, we would often sing Franciscan songs,” explains Fr. George. “However we felt the need to sing in our own language as well. So one day, after the prayer, I was inspired to translate the Franciscan songs into Arabic.”
Fr. George and Johnny Jallouf are twenty-five years old and are twin brothers, both friars, students at the Custody of the Holy Land. On their path towards the religious and priestly life, they have continued to cultivate their passion for music: George studies classic guitar and singing, while Johnny studies flute and singing. Their musical training, together with their love for Franciscan spirituality, have allowed them to create this ambitious project.
“At first we wanted to translate the songs into Arabic, using the melodies of the Franciscan songs in Italian,” says Fr. George,” but then we found two musicians who allowed us to write original music to put to the writings of St Francis, already translated in 2005 by a special commission.” The musicians were Louai Zaher and Rabab Zaitoun, two Christians from Nazareth who run a musical production company, Holy Land Sounds, where the pieces were composed and recorded.
“The purpose of the spread of these sings is to try and convey to the Arab world the spirit of the Franciscan writings, especially to young people during the meetings of formation and on the Franciscan Marches,” continues Fr. Johnny. “The music was composed by Louai Zaher, adapted by his wife Rabab Zaitoun, while George and I chose the lyrics, changed a few words and sing the pieces.”
The music was recorded in the Nazareth studio of Holy Land Sounds with live instruments: violin, guitar, flue and saxophone.
For the videos, on the other hand, the Syrian Tawk Media Center, of Aleppo, was involved, in collaboration with the Christian Media Center of the Custody of the Holy Land.
‘Rabi wa Elahi’ means ‘My Lord and My God’ and is inspired by the words that St Francis said on La Verna, after having received the stigmata: “My God and my everything.”
“We started to work on these songs in 2019 and the conclusion was delayed also by the pandemic,” concludes Fr. George. “It was difficult but we felt that St Francis was always present. As these songs grew, like children, they increasingly became my prayer.”
“I am used to using Italian, but when I sing in my language, I can feel the weight of every word, it is a song that involves my whole heart, my soul, all my being,” says Fr. Johnny. “Collaborating with the Nazareth team was extraordinary: we became a family and despite our engagements, we were able to manage all this work. We prayed to the Spirit to enlighten our minds and those of the composers,” says Fr. George.
The songs can be used in the celebrations in church or at spiritual meetings, thanks also to the permission granted by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
This makes a new instrument of prayer available for the Christians of the Holy Land and of the Middle East: that of the Franciscan songs in Arabic.