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.
   .../CUSTODY HOLY LAND/... VIS 000317 (760)