A historic anniversary, to be celebrated in grandeur: 800 years of Franciscan presence in the Holy Land. On October 16, officials of the Custody launched the friars’ celebrations in Jerusalem, and they will continue until October 18. For this historical milestone of the Franciscan Missionary Province, the General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, Fr. Michael Perry, came to the Holy Land and was involved in the first part of the celebrations. With the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, and the Bursar, Fr. Ramzi Sidawi, thanked the Custody’s partners who allow it to engage in multiple projects, and he offered them merit awards.
In the afternoon, a liturgical ceremony presided over by the Order’s General Minister began the anniversary celebrations. At the Church of St. Savior, the foundation of the province, which is now the Custody of the Holy Land, and Fr. Michael Perry said the homily. Later, the Father General wanted to personally meet with the friars of the Custody, together with Fr. Julio César Bunader, the Vicar of Order.
Important people, such as Cardinal Sandri, who will bring Pope Francis’ message on October 17, also joined in the celebrations along with the Franciscans.
Fr. Michael Perry expressed all of his joy for the anniversary of the 800-year anniversary of the Franciscan presence. Here is what he said about the anniversary and the mission of the Custody in the Holy Land.
What is the importance of the Custody for Order for the Friars Minor and the Holy Land?
In this jubilee year, this is a good opportunity to remember Christ’s presence, his mercy, his love in this land and in all parts of the world. If anyone asked me what the significance of our presence here is, as Franciscan friars of the Order of Friars Minor, I would answer that it is simply this: accompanying all of the Christians and the people who pass through here, to communicate this love, this mercy, this joy of life in Christ and in God. Our presence is an event not only for all Christians but also for all of mankind. Yes, our presence is for all of humanity. This was also the view of Francis of Assisi, who wanted to visit the Holy Land, reaching Damietta, in a situation where there was ongoing dehumanization. Even today, these dehumanizing movements still exist. The Custody’s vision is to promote dialogue and harmony among people and to promote humanity’s integral development.
Regarding the path that has been made over these 800 years, for what do you feel grateful to God?
I feel that I have to thank God for the friars who have worked here, but not just them. Throughout history, there have always been lay people who have wanted to associate themselves with this spiritual and human path. I thank the Lord for the Friars Minor and for all of its collaborators. Even today, the Franciscan presence has meaning, because it is not only important in order to welcome pilgrims, but also to accompany all of humanity in this area that has experienced horrible expressions of violence. But our presence continues to remember the dignity of every person and we have the vocation of promoting peace among all human beings.
What are the future challenges that the Custody of the Holy Land will have to face?
In order to understand the way in which the Franciscan Custody’s work will be carried on in the future, we must look at what they are doing today. The challenges of tomorrow are the same as the past. Today, the friars are accompanying pilgrims and Christians in the various countries in which they are present, promoting dialogue and being witnesses through their lives: a life that finds roots in God’s message through the fathers and mothers in the history of salvation.
The Custody has the challenge of involving every person in the search for God, but also that of human dignity, and of the dignity of the planet itself, about which Pope Francis speaks in the encyclical Laudato si’, “stealing” the words of Saint Francis. This quest for harmony, like a spiritual dance, like a cosmic dance, is the future for all of us in the Holy Land.