Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 05/03/2000 info: custodia@netvision.net.il

Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
Pastoral Ministry

In regards to this area the Custody has 29 parishes and with numerous churches and chapels here in the Middle East. Our parishes are as follows: 9 in Israel and the Occupied Territories, 4 in Egypt, 8 in Syria, 2 in Lebanon 3 in Cyprus 2 in Rhodes, and one in Italy. They are administered by 70 religious. Within the sphere of pastoral ministry resides other apostolates of the Custody of asocial nature: schools & 'colleges' (16), student housing (5), trade schools (3), parish organizations (18), rest homes for the elderly (2),orphanages (2), after school activities (7), women's workplaces(8), summer camps (7), clinics (3).

Religious Personnel Religious Activity
   
Bishops 2
Friars, priest 205
Friars, brothers 92
Friars, students 28
Novices 5
TOTAL: 332
Sanctuaries 74
Basilicas 5
Churches 60
Chapels 43
Parishes 29
Clubs & Centers 17

Option for the Poor

Pilgrims who go to the Holy Land generally encounter the Franciscans almost exclusively in the sanctuaries yet very few know about the extensive involvement in the pastoral areas. In reality, far beyond the care and ministry of the shrines, the Custody is hard at work in a vast and active pastoral ministry in serving the poor whether they be Christian or non-Christian.

We would like to give a few examples. The Custody has been maintaining for over a century two orphanages, one for boys and one for girls. The Custody has also been involved in helping and assisting the elderly, by establishing two nursing homes called "Terra Sancta Rest Home" one on Cyprus and another in Nazareth. In assisting the sick, the Custody provides medical care through its various clinics,coordinating the efforts of doctors, nurses, and religious. This particular work is flowering especially in Egypt, Syria and Cyprus. The"Eastern Organization of the Holy Land" has, for example, opened a center for children afflicted with polio.

For a very long time, the Custody has been assisting the homeless as well as the poor with housing accommodations through our ministry of housing. This ministry or apostolate is attempting to alleviate the plight that many of our poorer Christians find themselves in, by providing an incentive to stem the alarming exodus of Christians leaving the Holy Land, and especially from Jerusalem due to political turmoil and economic instability which they are facing. The housing projects are built around our churches so as to give our people a sense of identity as well as to show a pastoral concern for them. We have provided in Jerusalem alone over 357 housing units for our people - many of which pay only a small symbolic token for rent, with the Custody paying for all repairs. We have other apartments, 35 in number, that are offered completely "gratis" to the poor. The Custody has already built 42 apartment units in Beit Hanina (Jerusalem) and rented them to Christian families at a third of the normal rate. Another building project was recently built and dedicated in June, 1994 in Bethany. Other similar projects are now being proposed for Nazareth, Jericho, Bethlehem and Bethphage. Needless to say, our housing is open to all Christians without regard to denomination. Similar help is now being given to our poor in Egypt through an organization called, "The Oriental Works of the Holy Land."

Formation of Youth

One service that the Custody feels very strong about when speaking about an "option for the poor" in relation to the cultural formation of young Christians is that of providing scholarships for our young people, and especially for those students, whether male or female, who show academic acumen. Many of them attend Middle Eastern universities, and some are even sent to European universities. Financial assistance ranges from full scholarships for those students whose families are destitute to partial scholarships for those students whose families are able to assist in their educational expenses.

Faithful to its commitment to education, the Custody has built many educational facilities within the elementary and secondary educational range. Our schools are open to all youth, without distinction to religion, nationality or race. Because of the diverse social and political conditions in the vast areas served, involvement varies from country to country. Responsibilities in this field present a notable challenge, especially in organization as well as finances. For example, many students come from indigent families with limited resources and hence must work. Yet the Custody continuously welcomes them and educates them free of charge, a concept which is part and parcel of our Franciscan tradition in assisting the poor.

The Custody has schools in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon, numbering 16 in all. These serve a total of 10,000 students of various Catholic rites ( Roman, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Maronite, Chaldean) as well as non-Catholics and non Christians. This mixture of various Christian denominations and non Christians (which make up 60%of the student body) certainly provides the Custody with new horizons in the field of evangelization.

Prayer and Worship

For many centuries the Franciscans in the Holy Land did not enjoy freedom of speech except in the language of prayer and liturgical celebrations. There were not many opportunities for evangelization or pastoral ministry (apart from the perennial possibility of desiring martyrdom). In recent times, though, some things have changed for the better. Prayer and worship of the Friars remains the most noble dimension of service in the Custody, a faithfulness flowing from the roots assuring true vitality in experiencing the holy places.

We refer, above all, to the Peregrinations and to the liturgies which are celebrated at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and the Basilica of the Nativity. It has been said that pilgrimages represent the most distinctive aspect of the liturgical life of the Custody of the Holy Land. They constitute a continual movement, laborious to besure, but never abandoned. They serve as a means of reliving, in all its splendor, a corner of the earth precious for its incomparable link with the history of salvation. Without these pilgrimages, the meaning of the sanctuaries would be obscured. Pilgrimages to Jordan, to Emmaus, to Bethphage, to Bethany,to the Place of the Ascension, to the Pater Noster, to Dominus Flevit, to the Flagellation, to Ein Karem, to the Cenacle; they are in a sense the living stones of our faith.

"Just think of the Holy Sepulchre. Who ever visits this Basilica will always find some friars there, moving to and fro, just as Christ did on his last paschal journey. It would be easy to spend a day immersing one self in the spiritual ambiance around you but to do it every day be speaks of a dedicated love of the liturgy, a'pondus' understood as a faithful response of love to the love God.

This could be equally said about the daily liturgical activities at the Basilica of Bethlehem or the many other shrines. It is probably better to leave the value seen in these liturgical practices to the individual, so that each person may evaluate the riches enshrined in these daily liturgical practices,especially those celebrated before, during and after Easter.

Promotion of the Holy Places

The Custody has two chief means of promoting information about the Holy Places: The Franciscan Printing Press located in Jerusalem and our numerous religious branches called" Commissaries of the Holy Land" scattered throughout the world. The Franciscan Printing Press is a publishing arm of the Franciscan Custody which publishes a good amount of scholarly work in close collaboration with the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. The press also publishes a wide variety of materials, including greeting cards, post cards, maps, etc. as well as popular books (including guide-books to the shrines), periodicals,and scholarly works coming out of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.The most widely-known work of the Press is the periodical "The Holy Land," first published 70 years ago and now printed in English, Spanish, Italian, French, and Arabic. It offers an interesting combination of spirituality, archeology, biblical studies, history, and the activities of the shrines, presented in a way that appeals to a broad spectrum of readers.

A second effective means of spreading information as well as building interest in the Shrines of the Holy Land is the network of our Commissariats. Numbering 82 and found in 44 different countries, their work is to actively make known the ideals and needs of the Custody as well as preaching the word about the Holy Land. In this way they are able to foster a worldwide interest in the Holy Shrines which serve as the roots of our Christian faith and which will hopefully provide an incentive to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Services for the Pilgrims

Although the pastoral activity of the Custody spoken of above tends to be directed towards the people who live within its geographical area, the Custody's activity is also directed towards those pilgrims who come from all over the world. Many religious, brothers and priests, are actively involved in providing hospitality and serving as spiritual guides for those who come on pilgrimage. In keeping with the tradition that goes back for centuries, the Custody maintains "Case Nova's" that is, hospices for pilgrims. These "Case Nova's" are located in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ain Karem, Nazareth, and Mt. Tabor, and are modern, well-kept and comfortable. Once the pilgrims reach the Holy Land, we provide another service for them, and that is our Franciscan Pilgrims Office. This pilgrims office has fo rmore than 30 years given invaluable service to priests and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, not to mention visitors from every race and religion. Finally, the Custody organizes pilgrimages from over the whole world assuring highest quality arrangements as well as providing qualified spiritual guides.



Created / Updated Sunday, March 05, 2000 at 20:53:50