The Rev. Canon Samir Habiby was 15 and attending school in Cairo in 1948 when his home town of Haifa, in the north of British Mandate Palestine, became part of the new state of Israel. Most of its Arab residents fled or were driven out.

Samir’s father was a judge, and the family had extensive property in and around Haifa. These 76 years later, among his many preoccupations, Samir is in charge of the family’s lawsuit to get it back. At 90, he’s energetic enough that he might just pull it off.

With Kathy, his spouse of 51 years, Samir came to visit me today at St. Paul’s Commons, Echo Park. Residents of New Hampshire, they’ve been visiting his brother and sister-in-law, Armond and Josephine, longtime members of The Parish of St. Matthew – The Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades. His story is almost too large for the page. In a two-hour chat, we just got started. Legendary rector of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church in Garden Grove, where in the mid-seventies he helped welcome and organize the now powerful and influential Vietnamese community. Vietnam-era naval chaplain, awarded the Purple Heart. Former executive director of what is now called Episcopal Relief and Development.

Oh, and friend of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. They attended Cairo University together. Samir tells a story about persuading Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to keep paying scholarships for Palestinian students. Many years later, visiting Arafat in Gaza and accepting his invitation to a luncheon, he was surprised when his host asked those who attended university in Egypt to raise their hands. Two-thirds of the 50 present did, all top officials. Arafat pointed to Samir. “This is the man who was responsible,” he said.

About the Gaza war today, Samir is evenhanded and firm, condemning Hamas and its Oct. 7 attack on Israel while believing Israel’s friends should pressure it quietly but insistently to restrain its brutal counterinsurgency, including by suspending plans for an assault on the southern city of Rafah. To help with rebuilding, he said the church should lead a massive interfaith, ecumenical effort like the Anglican Child Care Fund he helped launch in the eighties during Ethiopia’s famine. “For Israeli and Palestinian children both,” he said.

Samir sounds like a diplomat as well as a priest. The vocations have much in common. He’s broken bread with princes, presidents, and archbishops alike — including my old boss Richard Nixon. In this, our respective Kathys played a role. Kathy Habiby worked for Nelson Doubleday Jr., former owner of the New York Mets, when Nixon’s aide Canon Kathy Hannigan O’Connor would plan his visits to the ballpark in the eighties and nineties.

Samir told me he used to persuade his Kathy to arrange for him to sit next to 37 for an inning or two. He said he took Nixon to task for canceling the draft, which Samir thinks democratized the armed forces, and resigning before trying to win back enough senators to survive an impeachment trial. I would’ve loved to have heard that conversation, and I can’t wait for my next one with Samir and Kathy. As they left, they posed in front of our portrait of Bishop F. Eric Bloy, who presided at their marriage (the second for both of them) only after Kathy promised to wear white.