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CUSTODY OF
THE HOLY LAND,
Franciscan Friary,
St. Francis Str. 1,
Jerusalem



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DIARY OF THE VISIT OF THE DISCRETORIUM IN LEBANON AND SYRIA (17TH-25TH NOVEMBER 2004)

Data: Monday, December 13th, 2004
Source: Custody of the Holy Land


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17th November 2004
Jerusalem – Amman – Beirut

 Beirut, Convent of St. Joseph

The Father Custos and the members of his Discretorium met at Saint Savior’s Monastery at 9 a.m. in order to start their journey in Lebanon and Syria. They thanked the Lord for the gift of life and of a beautiful day, and set out full of excitement, not only because of the distances they had to cover, but also because of all the issues which lay before them. After having invoked divine help they set out, full of trust, and drove to Allenby Bridge.
At the border of Israel with Jordan they went through all the police checkpoints, and everybody knows how much patience is needed to go through all the procedures! At 11 a.m. our brothers from the Seminary at Amman came to meet us, and drove us to Terra Santa College where Br. Rachid was waiting to welcome us in his usual hospitable way. We felt very happy to be together. At 12.45 p.m. we had lunch, and at 4 p.m. we left to go to Queen Alia Airport. We were a bit preoccupied because the weather was turning cloudy and rain was forecast, but we managed to arrive at the airport without difficulty, even though we encountered some traffic on the way. We then boarded our flight to Beirut. Our flight was slightly bumpy because of turbulence and the rain which was falling in Beirut. We thanked God that we arrived safe and sound and after going through the border formalities at the airport, we were met by the Brothers of Beirut and Harissa. Their welcome made us feel that we truly live as a family.
At our Friary of Saint Joseph the other Brothers were waiting for us patiently, since it was already 8 p.m. With them we found waiting for us some lay persons who attend the courses at our Franciscan Center, which has recently been inaugurated in collaboration with the Conventual and the Capuchin Franciscans. After the greetings and some words of encouragment to all the students by the Father Custos, we were offered some refreshments. We noticed that this new experience of fraternity and study is very valid for the entire Franciscan family, and especially for all those who would like to know the spirit and charism of the Poverello (Poor Man) of Assisi.
At 9 p.m. the Guardian invited us to go into the friary and have supper with the Brothers. Our first day came to an end at 10:30 p.m.

18th November 2004
Beirut – Deir Mimas – Tyre – Harissa

 Harissa, Convent of S. Anthony of Padua

We began our second day with the celebration of the Eucharist at 6:30 a.m. together with the fraternity. Brother Stéphane presided over the Eucharist in French, and the faithful participated actively. The Discretorium decided to leave for Deir Mimas at 8:30 a.m. In the meantime the Custos, who had already visited all these places, proceeded to Harissa for personal meetings with the Brothers. We left punctually. Beirut still shows some of the scars of the war, but the friary and the city itself are also a witness of the good will to start all over again on the part of the Lebanese people, who are full of hope for a better future. Brother Toufiq was our guide and answered all our questions, while Brother Arturo recalled the years of his youth when he was a student in Lebanon.
We arrived at Sidon, where in the 1990’s our friary was handed over to the Maronites, since the majority of the Christians here pertain to the Maronite Rite.
We proceeded on our journey to Deir Mimas, which is a small village surrounded by mountains and valleys. Our friary and the parish church are in the center of the village. The entire setting of the place invites one to contemplation, tranquillity and serenity of spirit. In winter there are only a few inhabitants here, although they increase during the summer months. The Christian presence is strong: there are Maronites, Greek Catholics and some Latins, or Roman Catholics. All meet in our Club and in the adjacent garden for various activities: catechism, prayer, or more simply just to meet together. The adults prefer to chat, while the young people come to play with their friends. Some of these persons came over to say hello and this helped us to come to know better the situation in which they live.
After coffee, we were again on the road, this time towards Tyre, where we arrived at 11:40 a.m. Tyre is a beautiful town on the Mediterranean coast. The Jesuits once had a house here. The Franciscan presence in Tyre began in 1860. We immediately went to visit our friary. The church and school are found in the middle of a Muslim quarter where the situation of poverty is quite evident. We were truly struck by the state of disrepair in which the whole friary is currently, and we all spontaneously thought that it was urgent to start restoration works to save these buildings. We also reflected on the fact that, in a place like this, we are especially called to give witness to our Christian and Franciscan calling. The situation at Tyre is not encouraging, although we do not want to sound pessimistic. The pastor lives in Beirut, and there are very few Latin faithful here. However, many people come to church on Tuesdays, for the devotion to Saint Anthony which is very popular here. There are no other activities. The school caters for 126 children, from the first to the sixth year of elementary classes. The majority come from poor Muslim families. The head teacher is also Muslim and does her work in a praiseworthy manner, without letting anybody intimidate her, and by fostering all kinds of initiatives, with the aim of keeping good relations between all the inhabitants of this quarter.
The little children said hello to us in English and Arabic. Their eyes, their words and their gestures made us full of affection towards them.
It was already 2:30 p.m. when we took the road back north to Harissa, where we arrived at our friary at 4:30 p.m., and found all the Brothers waiting for us. Immediately upon our arrival the Discretorium and Custos met for a preliminary discussion of ideas and to reflect upon what we had seen during the day. We listened to the various experiences, plans and projects for this new experience of Harissa as a house for postulants. There are some young men who are postulants or temporary professed Brothers who enrich the entire fraternity. At the end of our meeting we prayed Vespers together with all the Brothers who are working generously in Lebanon. After Vespers we were invited for supper in a spirit of brotherhood and welcome. The Custos and the members of the Discretorium then concluded their busy day with a meeting with all the Brothers, whose experiences are of great help to us to be better able to understand our Franciscan presence. By listening to them we felt the missionary zeal which drives them, and also the generosity they show in working for God’s Kingdom in spite of so many difficulties, failures and sacrifices.
At 10:15 p.m. we left Harissa and went to Beirut, where we arrived at 10:35 p.m., thanking the Lord for all the spiritual gifts we had received during this long day.

19th November 2004
Beirut – Tripoli – Aleppo

 Tripoli, Convent of S. Francis

We started the day off with the celebration of the Eucharist presided by the Custos at 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, the members of the Discretorium were accompanied for a detailed visit to the friary and church, while the Custos was still having personal meetings.
At 9:30 a.m. we concluded our visit to Beirut with a meeting with the local fraternity. We started the meeting with a positive evaluation of the presence of the Brothers and of so many Brothers who, in past years, have lived and worked here. We felt the need to encourage the fraternity to keep alive the spirit of prayer and devotion, especially now that the Franciscan Center is attracting the interest of so many persons toward our own way of life. There are currently 80 students at the Center, and we are counting upon a better future. It is true that our presence in Lebanon is not numerous and that we are aware that we are not directing great apostolic works, but we are convinced that each and every one of us continues to offer his very best, and that this witness is appreciated by all. We refer particularly to the apostolate of the Sacrament of Penance, spiritual direction, accompanying of various ecclesial groups, collaboration with the local Church and with other Religious, which are all concrete signs of our meaningful presence.
According to our program, there should have been a meeting of the Discretorium at 10:15 a.m. in order to discuss various matters which concern the entire fraternity of the Custody. We therefore continued our work until 12:30 p.m., when Brother Maurice invited us for lunch. After lunch we thanked the entire fraternity for its hospitality, and at 2 p.m. we left Beirut, bound for Tripoli and Latachia.
We arrived at Tripoli at 3:35 p.m. and found some employees from the Terra Santa school waiting for us. The school caters for about 200 students. From the terrace of our friary we had a magnificent panorama of all the property. We could see the progress in the building of new apartments for Christian families, the sports ground which we share with the Muslims, the part which is still occupied by a brick factory, as well as the whole quarter of Christian families, in which only a few Muslim families live. After coffee at 4:40 p.m. we left and drove to the Syrian border. When we arrived there, we had to wait for a long time in order to go through the inspection procedures of the border police. While waiting for our passports to be stamped with entry visas we had enough time to pray and to share some ideas. Thank God, in spite of all the difficulties we found, we managed to get through.
It was 10 p.m. when we arrived at Latachia and we were warmly welcomed by Brother Antonio Louxa. After a good dinner, we went immediately retired to our rooms to rest.

20th November 2004
Latachia – Slenfe – Ghassanieh


Left:
Latachia, Convent of the sacred Hearth of Jesus

Below:
Ghassanieh, Convent of St. Anthony of Padua


At 7:30 a.m. we celebrated the Eucharist for all the Brothers who work in Syria. Around 8:50 a.m. we were joined by Brothers Filippo Mistrih and Basan Zaza, and some minutes later by Brothers Artemio Vitores and Atef Al-Falah, who arrived from Damascus. All together we started our visit to the church, friary and college. The college is still under government possession, even though we were briefed on the good possibility that it would return into our hands. We all noticed that in the various areas we visited there is a lot of renovation work to do.
The town of Latachia has round about 700,000 inhabitants and the Christian presence is significant. There are Latins, Chaldeans, and Syrian Catholics. All of them are under the pastoral care of our parish, so there is a lot of activity, particularly in the catechism program.
At about 11 a.m. we met Brother Antonio Louxa in order to conclude our visit and leave for Slenfe at 12:05 p.m.
The trip was nice since the center and summer house of Slenfe is in the midst of the green mountains. At 1:10 p.m. we saw the projects started earlier. The purpose of this house is to accommodate Christian groups during the summer to teach catechism, which is not taught in public schools. According to present plans the house will have space for different group activities.
After the visit at 2:30 p.m. we had lunch and at 3:05 p.m. we left for Ghassanieh. The chartered bus was excellent, and during the trip some rested, prayed and worked on their computers. At 4:20 p.m. we arrived and already waiting for us at the entrance of the convent with umbrellas and welcome greetings were Br. Ibrahim Younes, the Sisters of the Rosary, and other people. After we settled into our rooms we had our first meeting with Br. Ibrahim and the Sisters, and they presented to us the construction project, which has already been started: a replica of the Porziuncola (in Assisi) and a house for visitors. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for this project, which will serve the Christians of Syria, and the Lord will provide.
After the meeting the Custos visited the convent and dispensary of the Sisters. A little later Br. Hanna Jallouf arrived from Knayeh. We all met again in the church to pray the First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of Christ the King. At 8:30 p.m. we had supper. As we were very tired we went to bed early.

November 21
Ghassanieh – Jisr el Choughour – Khayeh – Yacoubieh – Aleppo


 Ghassanieh, Convent of St. Anthony of Padua

  Knayeh, Convento S. Giuseppe  

Rainy day. At 8:30 a.m. we celebrated Mass and Lauds (Morning Prayer). Right after breakfast we had a change of ideas. Instead, at 10:30 a.m. we had a meeting with the parishioners who wanted to greet us.
Br. Ibrahim waited outside and prayed for the rain to stop so we could visit the site of the Porziuncola. At 11:00 a.m. his prayer was answered. The building site we saw is fertile with planted fruit trees; there is a pasture for cows, and finally a place for visitors shall rise. It is a well thought out project, taking advantage of existing features. We did not see all of the site because of the rain and mud. We returned to get our stuff and proceeded to Jisr el Choughour.
It was 12:10 p.m. when we started our visit. The house has two floors, on the ground floor is the church, on the second floor there are rooms for use by Catechism groups.
We arrived at the small village of Knayeh (2,000 summer inhabitants and 600 during winter) at 12:40 p.m., and the distance from some of the ancient missions of Oronte is not that far away. Br. Hanna Jallouf took us around the convent. The Franciscan presence dates back to 1878. The parish is entirely Latin; characterized to have given a lot of vocations, priests and religious. There are different groups of young and old, and there are diverse activities like Catechism, prayer groups, chorus, nursery and a dispensary for the poor (which treats from 5,000 to 6,000 sick people who have no resources to pay in hospitals). This is the preferential option for the poor! Here there is a breath of missionary work! In all the evangelization work we have been assisted since 1954 by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
After lunch we visited a creamery where cheese is made. It is a social work from the idea of Latin Bishop Monsignor Armando Bartoloso of old to offer work to Christians, avoiding the exodus to the big cities. Up and straight ahead Yacoubieh waited for us. We arrived at 3:30 p.m.. A small Latin parish is there that dates back to 1938; here there are also Orthodox Armenian Christians. The activities developed include: there are groups of men, women and children; groups that gather to pray at a grotto specially prepared by Br. Atef years before but still operated by Br. Basan and his groups. There are also Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that help us here. After the short visit and rain, at 4:20 p.m. we continued our trip to Aleppo where we arrived at 6:45 p.m. After 7:15 p.m. we had some moments to reflect on the things we have seen during the day. At 8:00 p.m. we had supper with all the fraternity. Tired from the day’s trip and thanking God we retired early.


November 22
Aleppo



 Aleppo, Convent of St. Francis

A cold and rainless day. We recited Lauds (Morning Prayer) at 7:00 a.m. and shortly after we celebrated Mass with Br. Georges Abou Khazen and the parish. The visit to different locations started at 8:45 a.m. We saw the center for Catechism (on Fridays and Sundays there are about 170 persons); there were eleven groups from the Legion of Mary, the Society of Charity, the Scouts, the GIFRA and the OFS and then the two fraternities. The work was mostly by our Brothers; on the other hand there were also lay people who helped responsibly with the different activities.
At 9:30 p.m. we arrived at Ram, a branch of the Latin parish but with a majority of Armenian Catholics. We saw the school environment (now under government control), the church dedicated to St. Bonaventure (recently restored) and the environment that serves for the activities of the Catechism group (Wednesdays and Sundays). The church is well known for the devotion to St. Anthony. At 10:30 a.m. we left to find the Latin Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro who presented us with the reality of the situation of the church with its difficulties, hopes, and some future projects.
From our part, the Custos expressed his support and promised to continue working for the region. After the encounter the Bishop decided to have a stroll in the city with us.
We started lunch with the Bishop at 12:00 p.m. According to the program there was to be a visit to the Aleppo Hospital. At 3:40 p.m. we left to find Br. Pasquale Ciamician who was recovering there. Dr. É Katti guided us on our tour of the hospital. We saw the chapel of the Sisters and parts of each floor. The architectural design is to encourage patients and to enhance healing. The encounter with the administrative staff was enlightening, allowing us to know more about the work.
At 5:25 p.m. we arrived at the College and Br. Filippo Mistrih helped us to see all the places of which it is composed. After the visit, we returned to the convent for dinner. Then we participated in some prayers and recreation with the fraternity. At 10:00 p.m. we retired to our rooms, some to St. Francis, while others returned to the College.

November 23
Aleppo – Damascus

It was a day without rain but cold. We heard that at Damascus there was snow. With this news we started the day. The Mass at St. Francis was celebrated by Fr. Georges Abou Khazen at 7:30; instead at the College the Mass was at 8:30. According to the program, today the Discreets should meet to discuss arguments of interest to the Custody. And so at 9:00 we began the meeting which lasted until 10:30, at which time we saw all the Brothers that work in Syria.
The meeting began with a reading from Sacred Scripture read by the Custos and followed by a brief reflection. We had the opportunity to share experiences, plans and projects for the future. After some interventions, we stopped to reflect seriously on the lack of vocations. At the end everyone offered all of their support to the promoter of vocations (vocation director). To remember this event a photo of the group was taken. At lunch Bishop Nazzaro, O.F.M. was present among us! At 2:10 p.m. we left the College with the final destination being Damascus. During the trip we had the opportunity to reflect among ourselves about all that we had initially found. We recited Vespers (Evening Prayer) where we wanted to express our thanks to the Lord who is present and operating in each of the Brothers. Being already close to Damascus, our eyes contemplated the snow that covered the surface! In the city, however, there was no snow. We arrived at Bab Touma where Br. Giuseppe Constantin, Br. Atef and Br. Bassam awaited us and offered us rooms and a welcome dinner. Giving thanks to the Good God, we retired to our rooms early.

Novembre 24
Damascus

Damascus - Bab Touma,
Convent of St. Paul the Apostle
Chapel of St. Ananias

Monte Hermon, Sydnaya

 Damascus - Salhieh,
 Convent of St. Anthony
 Damascus - Tabbaleh,
 Memorial of St. Paul

At 7:00 a.m. some of the Discreets wanted to participate in the parish Mass in Arabic (Fr. Rachid presided); the others celebrated immediately after (Fr. Nicolas presided). At 8:30 we began the visit to the entire house, seeing first the Church and the altar dedicated to Blessed Emmanuel Ruiz and Companions, martyred here. The devotion of the people to these Saints- our Brothers- is growing; it is true that the students, before going to school, enter into the church and invoke their protection! The parish has around 200 Latin families scattered around in the area. The activities include Catechism and diverse groups: OFS, the Legion of Mary, handicapped, and young students.
Afterwards, we went to visit the House of Saint Anania, the place where Saint Paul was healed from his blindness. Br. Atef was our guide in the Sanctuary. It is a place frequently visited by tourists and pilgrims; it is the center that distributes all the books of the Catechism in Syria! The Sanctuary invites one to enter into silence and prayer; recently it became a reference point for prayer groups.
Accompanied by all our Brothers that work in Damascus, at 11:40 we went to Sidnayeh (just outside the city) to visit the property that we bought. Br. Romualdo Fernandez explained to us how the project foresees the construction of a welcoming center for groups that during the summer will want to spend time studying the Catechism or other activities organized by the parishes. We found the snow and the whole environment very attractive. After a coffee break we returned to Damascus where the Apostolic Nuncio awaited us.
Having arrived at our convent of Salhieh, we had the opportunity to listen to the impressions of the Nuncio (who just arrived 3 months ago). He spoke to us about the problems that one experiences in the in the world and in the country. He is completely convinced that, after an accurate sociological study, the religious life itself will have big challenges ahead to face; the role that they must carry out now is very important. Reevaluating our presence in the society that we want to serve, Religious are called to give an ecclesial service, going to help at the many local churches, and this requires us to make concrete pastoral choices; and finally to be vocational promoters!
At 1:00 we ate lunch, being honored by the presence of the Nuncio and by Bishop Nazzaro eating with us. The appointment for the reunion of the Discreets was set for 4:00 at Tabbaleh, where the memorial of St. Paul is. We began the meeting punctually, and it lasted until 7:30 when the other Brothers and the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were all ready for dinner. After sharing in this fraternal moment, at 9:00 we returned to the friary of Bab Touma. The Custos departed from there to Rome. After wishing him a good trip and a happy return home, we retired for the night.

November 25th
Damascus – Amman – Jerusalem
At 7:00 a.m. after saluting and thanking the Brothers for all of their hospitality, two taxis arrived to drive us to Amman. Beginning our return trip back home, our minds were still full of the experiences we lived, the faces of the Brothers committed to their evangelical works, the hospitality they offered to us, the generosity of the persons in the two countries we visited, the social realty that invited us to continue our work because the Kingdom of God is present in it! Truly the Lord was very close. At 8:15 we were already at the Jordanian border and we did not experience any difficulties. We resumed our trip at 9:30, and at 10:40 we were already at the College, where Br. Ibrahim Sabbah and Br. Nerwan Baho awaited us. After drinking coffee, we were accompanied to the Jordanian border and crossed the Allenby Bridge without difficulty. After crossing we had to wait on the other side of the border for a little while, and we arrived at Saint Savior’s around 3:00 p.m. Giving thanks to the Lord for all that He gave us on our trip, we resumed our daily work.

To the glory of Christ. Amen.

Reverend Father Nicolás Márquez, O.F.M.
Discreet of the Holy Land


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