Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 20/03/2000 info:
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VATICAN CITY, MAR 17, 2000 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls held a briefing this morning on Pope John Pauls's trip to the Holy Land, which starts on Monday, March 20. He listed a few changes and additions to the Pope's itinerary, highlighted the elements needed to understand this 91st foreign trip of the Holy Father's pontificate, and answered questions posed by journalists.

One addition to the Pope's itinerary, said Navarro-Valls, occurs in Jordan where he will make a brief personal visit to Al-Maghtas (immersion, or pool) in the Jordan Valley near Jericho. Nearby there is a Greek Orthodox monastery where, since the fourth century, the Baptism of Jesus has been commemorated.

On Thursday, March 23, the Holy Father will concelebrate mass with 12 bishops and the cardinals of the papal party in the Chapel of the Cenacle in Jerusalem, after which he will sign this year's Holy Thursday Letter to Priests.

Navarro-Valls also indicated that on March 23, the diplomatic corps and at least half of the Israeli Knesset or parliament will be present during the meeting between the Pope and the president of Israel. Afterwards, when the Pope goes to the Hall of Remembrance of Yad Vashem, there will be two rabbis present and about 20 Polish Holocaust survivors from the Pope's home town of Wadowice. Inside there will be a brief ceremony, following which the parties will go outside where the Pope will give a speech.

He pointed out that on March 24, while the Holy Father is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, one of the cardinals in the papal entourage will accompany a government official to a wooded area which will be named for John Paul II.

On Saturday, March 25, the day of the papal Mass in Nazareth, the Holy Father, in his popemobile, will go through a Muslim neighborhood in Nazareth, according to the press office director.

He underscored the importance of using the term "pilgrimage" to describe this trip to the Holy Land, as well as last month's papal trip to Egypt and Mount Sinai. This term, he stated, defines the very nature of the trip.

Navarro-Valls then listed four aspects which must be born in mind to understand the meaning of this trip. He said that the Pope wishes this to be a pilgrimage to Biblical sites linked with the life of Jesus and a return, in a way, "to the roots of our faith," a continuation of the paths he has undertaken in the search for Christian unity and for interreligious dialogue, and lastly, a step forward in the search for peace in the Middle East.

The fact that this is a pilgrimage, said the director, explains the great number of personal and private visits which the Holy Father will make during his stay. "He wishes to pray in these places and to bring the Church with him into the Third Millennium, following in the steps of Jesus." This was what was stressed to all the officials with whom we dealt in preparing for the pilgrimage, said Navarro-Valls.

Saying that the Pope "is going to Israel as a friend of the Jewish people," he pointed to the friendly relations which Pope John Paul has with the Jews and underscored how, throughout his life and pontificate, "the Pope has told Catholics that anti-semitism and any form of racism is a sin." It was during John Paul II's pontificate that the Holy See and Israel established diplomatic relations.

"The Pope is also going to the territories of the Palestinian National Authority as a friend of the Palestinian people," Navarro-Valls added. "He is going as the Pope who more than once has spoken of the right of Palestinians to a 'homeland'. In his homily the first Christmas that he was Pope, the Christmas of 1978, the Pope had already spoken of his desire to go to Bethlehem."

Turning to the ecumenical dimension of the Holy Father's trip, he noted that, while the Church was founded here, the complete unity that Christ intended for His followers does not exist yet. The Pope, he said, hopes to pursue the path of ecumenical talks, in particular during his meeting in the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, and with the religious leaders of all the Christian Churches. On Sunday, March 26, the Pope will visit the Armenian Patriarch.

Navarro-Valls then pointed to the inter-religious aspect of this trip, highlighting that Jerusalem is a sacred city for followers of the three monotheistic religions; Jews, Christians and Muslims. "The Pope thinks," he said, "that religions must play a more determining role in the efforts made to establish a just and lasting peace" in the region.

Quoting what he termed "a serious and well done Gallup poll" on the Pope's visit to the Holy Land, Navarro-Valls said that most Israelis believe that John Paul II is coming to either influence the Middle East peace process or spread a message of peace and dialogue.

Calling it "an exceptional fact," Navarro-Valls affirmed that the Pope's trip will include an inter-religious encounter. A rabbi and a Muslim religious leader will attend.

What cannot be overlooked, said the director, is that this pilgrimage also includes a visit to the local Church. He underlined the Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes as a singularly important event for Catholics. OP/PILGRIMAGE HOLY LAND/NAVARRO-VALLS VIS 20000317 (890)


VATICAN CITY, MAR 17, 2000 (VIS) - In 1217, during the General Chapter of the Franciscans, the order decided that it would extend its Gospel witness to the four corners of the globe and, to this end, divided the then-known world into provinces. One of these was called the Province of the Holy Land, and included all the regions around the southeast Mediterranean, from Egypt to Greece and beyond.

This was considered to be the most important of all the Franciscan provinces as it included the land where Jesus Christ was born, lived, preached the Good News, died and rose from the dead. In fact, according to the Franciscan order, St. Francis himself visited the Holy Land and this province between 1219 and 1220.

In their 1265 General Chapter, the Franciscans decided to limit the province of the Holy Land to Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The province was also, at this time, subdivided into small areas called "custodies," which encompassed the monasteries of each region. The Custody of the Holy Land comprised the friaries of Acre, Antioch, Sidon, Tripoli, Tyre, Jerusalem and Jaffa. A few of these disappeared over time.

The early presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Land ended in 1291, when St. John of Acre fell to the Muslims. The Franciscans took refuge in Cyprus, where they began planning a return to Palestine.

Pope John XXII, in a bull dated August 9, 1328, granted the Franciscan provincial minister permission to send two friars to the holy places every year.

In 1333 Robert of Anjou, king of Naples. and his wife, Queen Sancia, negotiated with the sultan of Egypt, through Friar Ruggero Garini, to purchase the Cenacle and functional rights to the Holy Sepulchre. Friar Garini, with financial assistance from the queen, then built a monastery near the Cenacle. The king and queen also secured, from Muslim authorities, the right for Franciscans to legally own certain sanctuaries and to have the right of use in others. These events marked the definitive return of the Franciscans to the Holy Land.

In 1342, Pope Clement VI, in two papal bulls, hailed the work of the king and queen of Naples and set forth instructions on running the ecclesiastical province of the Custody of the Holy Land.

The first statutes of the Franciscans regarding the Holy Land date from 1377 and state that a maximum of 20 friars should serve the Holy Places of the Cenacle, the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem.

In 1517 the Custody of the Holy Land was granted complete autonomy and the Holy See conferred on it the status of a province with special privileges and particular rights. Since 1558 the Custody has had its seat in the convent of the Most Holy Savior.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of the 16th through the 19th centuries, the Custody flourished and grew, performing many religious, social and cultural activities. Popes encouraged the faithful to give economic assistance to the Custody. Pope Urban VII, in a bull dated 1623, said that "it was the duty of all Catholic Princes, as well as of the Popes, to protect the Franciscans in the Holy Land."

While the term Custody of the Holy Land refers to the ecclesiastical province, the Custos of the Holy Land is the minister provincial of the friars living in the Middle East. He has jurisdiction over the territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt (partially), Cyprus and Rhodes.

Given the importance of his role, the custos is directly nominated by the Holy See, after consultation with the friars of the custody. The current custos, Father Giovanni Battistelli, was named in June 1998.

Among the tasks of the custos are those of animating his confreres in the Custody, welcoming pilgrims to the Holy Land and offering them spiritual guidance, coordinating and disseminating information on the Holy Land, thus instilling a love for it among Christians, and caring for and supporting the Christian presence there through initiatives in schools and parishes.

The custos also oversees fund-raising for the Custody of the Holy Land. In recent centuries the Franciscans set up "Commissariats of the Holy Land" with the twofold aim of fostering awareness of the friars and their work in the Holy Land, and taking up collections to sustain them in their work.

The custos is regarded as one of the most important Christian religious authorities of the Holy Land. Together with the Greek Orthodox patriarch and the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, he is responsible for the Status Quo, a code which has been in force since 1862 and which regulates life at the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem.

VIS 20000317 (760)

Created / Updated Monday, March 20, 2000 at 09:59:53