Celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Franciscans’ presence [in the Holy Land] have reached the United States. The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, visited the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., from November 7 to 12, and this was an opportunity to celebrate the important anniversary of the eighth centenary and to meet with friends and supporters of the Holy Land. The close bond that connects these two places was reinforced, as it is every year, during the Custos’ visit.
The Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C., which was built about 120 years ago, contains replicas of the Holy Land shrines and is therefore a pilgrimage destination in the U.S. capital city.
On Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, the Custos presided over some celebrations so as to meet local friars and faithful. In his homily on the Gospel reading of the wise and foolish virgins awaiting the bridegroom, Fr. Francesco urged those present to try to fill their lamps with the oil of charity.
November 11 was the day of charity gala, which brought together more than 200 guests, who came to support the work of the monastery in Washington, D.C., and the friars in the Holy Land. The Custos thanked them for their generosity and shared with them a series of good news from the Holy Land from the past year. The restoration of the Shrine of Jesus’ Tomb, the ongoing work on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the positive status of vocations within the Custody and, above all, the beginning of peace in Syria were some of the topics that were discussed. “Our friars in Syria, despite all of the hardships of the war, have carried out their mission with faith and courage,” said Fr. Patton. “Since last Christmas, the conditions in which they have been living have become slightly more stable and less dangerous.”
There are many signs of hope for Syrians: the “Children praying for peace” initiative; recreational projects for children, reconstruction of houses, an increased number of faithful in certain areas. But the Custos also urged the public to pray for peace, especially for the friars and their people in areas that still have to fight against violence daily .
One issue that deserves to be remembered is also the continued exodus of Arab Christians from the Holy Land. Fr. Patton asked those present to continue to support the Custody’s efforts to ensure that Christians can still find a home and an identity there. Despite the difficulties of living and being witnesses in the Land where Jesus invited his disciples to be “the salt and the light,” the Custody is working hard so that they do not abandon their homes.
In front of hundreds of benefactors, thanks to whose dedication the Custody’s work is supported every day, Fr. Francis said: “The Franciscan monastery of the Holy Land here in Washington is very important to us. From here, we invite Catholics across the United States to support the Holy Land through the Good Friday Collection. Here we welcome generous friends, like you, to share our 800-year-old mission.”
Accompanying [the Custos] in this visit was the Custody’s bursar, Fr. Ramzi Siwadi. He shared with the guests some of the special practical necessities that friars have in order to carry out their mission.
Every year, at the charity dinner of the Franciscan monastery, the Grato Animo prize is given, in recognition of special service for the Holy Land and its people. This year’s prize went to Carl Anderson, a knight of the Knights of Columbus, who since 2014 has donated more than $13 million for humanitarian aid, mainly to Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region. In recent years, Mr. Anderson has led an important effort to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East, which is why he was given this honor.
Therefore, there is an unbroken thread that links the Holy Land to Washington, D.C., and there seem to be no obstacles between charity and prayer.