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Franciscan Friary
St. Francis Str. 1

The Custody
is present in:
Israel / Palestine
Buenos Aires


in various
all around
the world

Meeting the Custos

We left mid-morning on our way to the northern outskirts of Rome. We had an appointment with the newly elected Custos of the Holy Land. By 11.15 we were there: the Collegio Internazionale di Terra Santa on Via Boccea. A spacious ground surrounded by greenery. Scouts were at the gates. The gardens and other open spaces were filled with people and parked cars. We ventured towards the Church. It was Ascension Sunday and at the Parish of St. Mary of Nazareth the parish priest was celebrating the first Holy Communion for his young parishioners. This was a special Sunday for the parishioners. The last time that their present parish priest was celebrating this event for their young ones. We waited and saw also some tears from those who already knew about the new appointment of their parish priest. He was to leave them to go to the Holy Land as the new Custos! They had come to love him... of course he has spent the past thirteen years "serving them with a smile".

Mass ended. And Giovanni came over to meet us, smiling, full of energy. We hugged and remembered the old days.... he was my master when way back in 1978 I was studying at the seminary of St. Saviour's in Jerusalem... His jovial spirit was with him not withstanding the ups and downs of the long moment awaiting his nomination as the new Custos. We chatted in the open space outside the parish, giving him ample time to say good-bye to some of his parishioners who came over to wish him well. At last we could have a few moments for ourselves and take a good picture of him... talking to him made us realize that he knew that the task ahead was not easy but he believed that the Lord's help will be with him to guide him in the task ahead. He believed. And as a believer he was ready to put his energy at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.

Gradually the people left the area and we were left alone for some minutes. We sat down and asked him some questions to which he replied in a spontaneous and open way. All his replies were very human and relaxed. He was jovial and you could read his joy from his smiling eyes which, even if they had already lived for 66 years, betrayed an inner joy and serenity!

What is the Custody of the Holy Land for you?

It is all my life, it has become the breath of my life since the day I joined. It has "structured" my being a Franciscan priest.

How do you look at the Holy Land today that you have been chosen to be the Custos of the Holy Land?

Full of faith! Years back (1978), when I was called to form part of the Council of the Custody, it happened to be the year in which the first "breakthrough" for peace in the area was achieved. Anwar es-Sadat visited the Holy Land! Surely I look forward for a new Pentecost, a Pentecost of Peace, a new beginning. I wish that peace will reign and the difficulties encountered be overcome in a way that the Holy Land become a place of encounter, dialogue and peace! We, as friars, live with the people and with them share the difficult moments they encounter in their lives. The friars are those who not only live through the experience but also offer their services to them. The Franciscans of the Holy Land cannot give up this mission.

How do you intend to face this new responsability assigned to you by the Church and the Order?

First and foremost under the protection of Our Lady, Queen of the Franciscan Order asking her to lead us through. Then placing myself at the service of the brethren, of the people living in those lands and towards all those who will come to "experience" the places of redemption.

You will be the Custos who, with God's help, will lead the Custody through the experience of the Year 2000. Preparations are already well under way. How do you look at this event?

The Jubilee is an extraordinary experience for the whole Church and therefore even for us who live in the land where the Good News was announced two thousand years ago! The Jubilee surely will offer to us friars a challenge but I am confident that the friars will rise up for the occasion. For over seven centuries we friars have been entrusted by the Catholic Church to take care and receive pilgrims coming over to visit the Shrines of Redemption. Surely this will be the challenge we as friars have to face. I have faith in the friars and I know that we can give this service to the thousands of pilgrims who will flock to the area. Receiving pilgrims has become an integral part of the experience of the Friars of the Holy Land. I am certain that this challenge will be taken up and the pilgrims who will come will find the friars ready not only to receive them but also to help them understand better the mystery of salvation and the way God revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth.

What are the difficulties that disturb you most?

At the moment I can say that I am going full of faith. I suffer when I see others who suffer. At the same time seeing others without the fullness of joy will be a very disturbing element. We will work together to remove all obstacles and open up new ways and I hope that all will be happy to offer their contribution towards the common goal.

The Custody is an International entity and above all is "The Mission of the Order". What do you expect from the Order of Friars Minor?

To be helped, together with all the friars of the Custody, in order to be able to fulfill faithfully and creatively the service which the Church and the Order have assigned to us in "guarding" the places where the Word was made flesh, where He lived and proclaimed the Good News and where He died and rose from the dead for the salvation of all. I already had a meeting with the Minister General Fr Giacomo Bini and Definitor General Fr. Peter Williams. They both pledged their full backing and solidarity and I am certain that they will keep their word. The Custody needs the support of all the friars of the Order to fulfill its mission not only by possibly offering their services but also by spreading the awareness about the Holy Land and the mission of the Custody. I am full of faith in the fraternal and generous collaboration we will get from all the Order.

You are just beginning. How do you look at the future and what will be you charactersitic in working out the different tasks ahead?

Sure enough I will not work alone. Besides having a council with whom I intend to work and share this experience I want to involve as many friars as possible. It is the friars themselves who have to build our presence in the Holy Land not for the year 2000 but for that and beyond. The friars have to play an important part. It is with this in mind that I intend to have the friars involved in the various aspects of our life, each according to his abilities. Above all we have also to follow the "Priorities of the Order" as these are the guidelines for the Order for the coming years. It is in this spirit that I wish to meet the friars and certainly I'll do my best to have the friars together not only for Chapter. Certainly that the spirit of dialogue and fraternal sharing will be an important aspect for the coming years. A spirit which goes beyond the friaries as the Custos and the Custody has to live in an area where meeting other Christians is of the utmost importance. In this spirit we will meet with the Patriarchs and with all our brothers of the East and especially collaborate with the Latin Patriarchate to make sure that the Sanctuaries of Redemption do not become museums but continue to be places of worship for the local church. We as friars will be witnesses of fraternity and contribute with our "stone" in the building of the Reign of God. This is my vision. This is my dream!

Last question: One of the most important aspects of the presence of the Custody in this area is expressed by the constant dedication and scientific input of the study centres created by the custody especially the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem and the Centre for Oriental Studies at Mousky in Egypt. How do you look at them yourself?

These centres are the heartbeat of the Custody. It is thanks to them and to the sacrifice of so many friars that the Custody today can look ahead and be proud of having offered such an invaluable service to the whole Church by studying not only the Word of God in its geographic and historical context but also by scientifically exploring the sites of redemption. The vision given during the years to these study centres will certainly help in planning our future, and I am confident that there is enough energy to replace the Masters who departed before us (note: reference to Bagatti, Corbo etc.).

This was the end of our short but interesting meeting. The bell rang and we were invited to join in for lunch. Certainly we did. We realized where Fr. Battistelli has lived the past years. Today, at lunch we were surrounded by 11 young men coming from Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Italy, Argentina and Lebanon. They were mostly in their mid/late teens and were full of energy and joy. They were in their postulancy period, doing a first hand experience of the Franciscan life. Fr. Battistelli lived here with other six friars and we had to share also some champagne and some tasty pastry. They were bidding him farewell! He accompanied us to the gate. We left him there with a smile on his face certainly with his mind already thinking of his task ahead. Go with God Giovanni!

Read about the role of the Custos of the Holy Land

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