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Franciscan Friary
St. Francis Str. 1
Jerusalem



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Terra Sancta Schools
A SERVICE OF THE CUSTODY OF THE HOLY LAND

by Fr. Halim Nujaim ofm

(In light of the instructions and teachings of the Franciscan Order and the Catholic Church)

It has been stated in the historical synopsis that the Custody had always been keen to build a school adjacent to every convent and church so as to care for the education of the parish children, both boys and girls.

We also stated that at the beginning, the Terra Sancta schools admitted Catholic students only but soon extended their educational service towards the end of the seventeenth century, to include non-Catholic students as well. At the beginning of the twentieth century our schools opened their doors to non-Christian students such as Moslems and Jews. At present, the number of non-Christian students now exceeds those of Christians in some of our schools. In many ways we consider this a healthy situation and a brilliant success to our Christian mission and to the sound and just coexistence between Christians and Moslems.

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, the Custody had called the Sisters of St. Joseph to run the Terra Sancta Schools for girls in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa, etc.

St. Francis entrusted his Friars with the custody of the Holy Places in Palestine in order to maintain these places and prepare them for worship as well as for the performance of religious rites. The Vatican confirmed this mission in 1342.

The Custody certainly realized that the care of the Holy Places would prove useless, or its use would be diminished if this region were to become vacant of its Christian presence. If so, the Holy Places would simply become museums visited by tourists and pilgrims. Without the local Christians even the Franciscan presence in these areas would lose its meaning. For this reason, it was inevitable that we had to turn to parochial and further educational endeavors. Franciscan schools presence thus became vital and necessary for maintaining the Christians presence in this region as well as deepening their roots in this Holy Land where Christ founded his Church.

Children at school

Children at one of Terra Sancta Schools

The schools became more important because under the Ottoman rule, non-Turks, especially Christians were excluded from occupying the high positions in the State. Consequently, the Christians had either to immigrate, convert to Islam, or study foreign languages which would assist them later on in pursuing their university education and specializing in professions such as law, medicine, engineering, etc.. They were permitted to work as interpreters at the convents and foreign institutions, or work in the field of tourism as guides for tourists and pilgrims coming to this country for religious purposes.

In the face of this challenge, many Christians were morally defeated. They either left the country or converted to Islam. However, those who withstood the challenge found in the Christian schools, including the Terra Sancta Schools, a golden opportunity to acquire a solid academic education. These Christian educational institutions had to develop both quantitatively and qualitatively to meet those needs.

The roots of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land dates back to that historical encounter between St. Francis and the Ayyubite King Al-Kamil in the year 1219. St. Francis did not leave any written description of that encounter. Yet we live its effect in our religious statutes. They speak about sending the friars to live among the Moslems in peace, in harmony, and in brotherhood, testifying for Christ through their life and thanks be to God, the Friars, for the most part, have been doing just that... living among the Moslems for the last seven centuries in mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

This mutual and continuous respect among the Franciscans and the Islamic World has also been in line with the Vatican's wishes when it sent its instructions to the Franciscans in two official letters on October 7, 1225 and on March 17, 1226. In both letters, the Pope requested the Franciscans to maintain the Holy Places so as to strengthen the faith of those Christians living there and to testify for Christ through their life and deeds. The Franciscans were thus able to win the respect of not only, the Moslems but of others too, during this long period of their life in the Islamic World.


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Created / Updated Friday, 15 April, 2005 at 3:46:39 am by J. Abela, E.Alliata, E.Bermejo, Marina Mordin
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