18 October 2017

Franciscans in the Holy Land: for 800 years, "Witnesses of the Risen One"

The third episode of the "800 Years of Franciscan Presence in the Holy Land" series (describes) the feast in Jerusalem for the friars of the Custody. Three days that included conferences, celebrations, meetings and the special message of Pope Francis who renewed the Custody's mandate to be "joyful witnesses of the Risen Christ in the Holy Land”.

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In Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land celebrates the 800th anniversary of their presence in the Middle East.

Three days of conferences, liturgical celebrations and meetings and the special message of Pope Francis to renew the Franciscan mission in the Holy Land.

In the afternoon of Monday, October 16, at St. Savior's Church, a liturgical ceremony presided by the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, Father Michael Perry, opened the anniversary celebrations.

An opportunity for the many friars of the Custody to meet: Father Francesco Patton thanked Father Michael, the 120th successor of St. Francis, for his presence. He also mentioned Gaidano's paintings which tell the journey of the first friars to the overseas mission.

A simple but exciting celebration, with the renewal of the profession of the Gospel. In the words of the Minister General, this is a reference to the call and (it embraces) instructions for today's Friars.

Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor

"Somehow, I believe, this is the same call Francis progressively discovered in his life, alongside the friars. These feelings lead him to go among the people, to be present and to accompany the people who were already guided by God, throughout history. But the purpose of history is not just to remember what has been done, or to recall what we have done as friars in these last 800 years, but it is rather an invitation to look ahead, which is very important in today's context."

“Stepping outside the boundaries, go to the outskirts - as Pope Francis has often pointed out - where people need it.” These are the words of the Minister which highlight the particular challenges Franciscans face in conflict areas such as Syria.

Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
“We are close: we traveled with Fr. Francesco Patton and other friars and we visited the Christians in Syria. The week after Easter we traveled to tell them that they are in our hearts and prayers.”

The second day began with the Eucharistic Celebration presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, who invited all those present to rejoice and renew the mission. With him, Archbishop Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Mons. Adriano Tomasi, Auxiliary Bishop of Lima, Fr. Michael Perry, General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, and Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land.

At the end of the celebration, the Cardinal delivered the Custos a message of Pope Francis who was read by the Secretary of the Apostolic Delegation, Archbishop Marco Formica: "Joining together with my venerable predecessors, starting with Clement VI, that with Bolla Gratias Agimus entrusted you the custody of the holy places, I wish to renew this mandate encouraging you to be joyful witnesses of the Risen Lord in the Holy Land "

His Eminence Card. LEONARDO SANDRI
Prefect - Congregation of Eastern Churches
"The mission of the Custody of the Holy Land is to allow these places, living stones that have seen the passage of Jesus and that have heard His words, to continue to be alive, together with the Christian community of Christ's disciples who live and work in the Holy Land.”

His Eminence Card. LEONARDO SANDRI
Prefect - Congregation of Eastern Churches
“This is an unmatched mission in the life of the Church which was reconfirmed by Pope Francis in his letter today, as has been done by his predecessors for the last 800 years. That is why we rejoice and joyfully participate in this eighth centenary of the presence of the friars of the Custody in the Holy Land "

Custos of the Holy Land
“I would use 2 words: the first word is "gratitude". W e are also grateful for the trust that the Church gave us then, then formally in 1342, and again now, through Pope Francis. The letter he sent us through the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Sandri, is a very beautiful letter and I dare say it means a lot to us, friars of the Holy Land. The words he uses when he recalls the Gratias Agimus saying "I confirm" is the confirmation on behalf of the Church of our calling, of our mission to stay here.”

The cycle of conferences was inaugurated by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri. The Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches offered a passionate reflection on the Charism of the Order and on the origins of the Franciscan mission in the overseas lands.
In his speech, he addressed the representatives of the various Churches, as well as the civil authorities, the diplomatic corps and the present, saying: "I am pleased to bring my greeting on these days of celebration and of re-launch (of our mission) for the future of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land."

The day continued with the contributions of numerous and prestigious speakers who took turns to address (several) different topics.

Professor Philip Sedda, from the Antonianum Pontifical University, began (the series of lectures) with an in-depth look at the Chapter 1217 and with the analysis of the figure of Fra Elia of Cortona, appointed by St. Francis as the First Minister of the new overseas province.

Professor Giuseppe Ligato, a historian of the Crusades, addressed the same historical period, focusing on the city of Acre, which became the 'capital' of the Crusaders. The pastoral activity of the Franciscans was crucial to such multicultural and complex context.

The evening ended with a virtual trip to Syria, thanks to the intervention of Professor Emmanuelle Main, Historian of the Hellenistic and Roman Period. The lecturer presented the fruits of a painstaking work of cataloguing which, with over 10,000 photographic documents recently gathered by three friars of the Custody, has allowed (researchers) to identify more than 300 sites.

Wednesday began with mass celebrated by the Vicar General of the Order, Brother Julio César Bunader.
Art and Archeology were the topics of the discourses.
Prof. Don Lorenzo Cappelletti, from the Antonianum Pontifical University, gave an impressive presentation on the Giotto's frescoes from the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, whose reproduction is exhibited in the Custodial Curia.
Fr. Eugenio Alliata, Director of the Archaeological Museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, talked about the remains of the ancient Franciscan convent of Zion, located next to the Cenacle.
Professor Narcyz Klimas spoke of the first Franciscan Convents in the Middle East .
Monsignor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, also attended the event. In the Holy Land for 28 years, of which 12 as Custos, Monsignor Pizzaballa stressed how local social reality has changed over time.

His Eminence Monsignor PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA, ofm        
Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
"As for the Franciscans, I have seen the passage of several generations: I accompanied some of them and I trained others. I see so much enthusiasm and desire to serve these lands, always accompanied by the same passion. Their service to the identity of this Church is important. This is the Church where all Christians, as such, were born. Their assistance to the local believers, their work in parishes and schools, as well as the various activities and pilgrimage services (they offer) are part of the identity of this Church. I believe that, without the Franciscan presence, this Church would be far much poorer: we owe the Franciscans much of what we see. We are all at the service of the Church and we are where the Church has placed us. Serving the Church in Jerusalem is always a blessing.”
His Eminence Cardinal LEONARDO SANDRI
Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches 
"My words of gratitude are first and foremost addressed to all the friars who have been part [of the Custody], witnesses of Christ, some even with their own lives and with their own blood and therefore [I want to express] a word of encouragement so that in the future they will continue their mission as disciples of Christ."

Go(ing) all over the world with evangelical creativity.
Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
"Presently, this is achieved in every single friar who is here, along with Christians and others who are on a journey of faith, on a journey towards mankind. In this centenary and during these celebrations, we do remember the heroic arts of the first friars, but we cannot forget the desire of today's friars to always carry the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace and reconciliation around the world.”

Vicar General of the Order of Friars Minor
"We have to thank the Lord because (we can say that), from the very beginning, we have received abundant blessings from the Lord who sent us to these places. It is the Lord who sends us. Today, we bring to life the same gospel of the first Friars Minor who came here to the Holy Land. We are guardians of a very holy place like the Holy Sepulcher, which is the source, the root of our faith. "

Words of gratitude were expressed by the friars and by the many guests who came to the celebrations. Their gratitude is first directed to God for what He has accomplished over the centuries through the Franciscans, who are His instruments of peace and love.

 Custos of the Holy Land

"We must be deeply grateful, not so much for what we were able to achieve in these 800 years, but (especially) for what God has done through a simple, poor instrument, (like the friars). Therefore, by remembering the starting point, eight centuries ago, we are also recalling the seed from which everything started. Yes, let me reiterate: it is not so much what the friars have done or will do, but what God did and will do through the friars."

The three days of celebrations concluded with the recitation of the solemn Vespers in St. Savior Church, followed by a classical music concert organized by the Magnificat Institute. On the notes of Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi, the repertoire of the students, the former students and the teachers of the Custody of the Holy Land expressed thanks and praise 'to the Most High'.”