THE FRANCISCANS AND THE CUSTODY OF THE HOLY LAND
VATICAN CITY, MAR 17, 2000 (VIS) - In 1217, during the
of the Franciscans, the order decided that it would extend
witness to the four corners of the globe and, to this
end, divided the
then-known world into provinces. One of these was called
of the Holy Land, and included all the regions around
Mediterranean, from Egypt to Greece and beyond.
This was considered to be the most important of all the
provinces as it included the land where Jesus Christ was
preached the Good News, died and rose from the dead. In
according to the Franciscan order, St. Francis himself
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
province was also, at this time, subdivided into small
"custodies," which encompassed the monasteries of each
Custody of the Holy Land comprised the friaries of Acre,
Sidon, Tripoli, Tyre, Jerusalem and Jaffa. A few of these
The early presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Land
ended in 1291,
when St. John of Acre fell to the Muslims. The Franciscans
in Cyprus, where they began planning a return to Palestine.
Pope John XXII, in a bull dated August 9, 1328, granted
provincial minister permission to send two friars to the
In 1333 Robert of Anjou, king of Naples. and his wife,
negotiated with the sultan of Egypt, through Friar Ruggero
purchase the Cenacle and functional rights to the Holy
Friar Garini, with financial assistance from the queen,
then built a
monastery near the Cenacle. The king and queen also secured,
Muslim authorities, the right for Franciscans to legally
sanctuaries and to have the right of use in others. These
marked the definitive return of the Franciscans to the
In 1342, Pope Clement VI, in two papal bulls, hailed the
work of the
king and queen of Naples and set forth instructions on
ecclesiastical province of the Custody of the Holy Land.
The first statutes of the Franciscans regarding the Holy
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
the Holy See conferred on it the status of a province
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
centuries, the Custody flourished and grew, performing
social and cultural activities. Popes encouraged the faithful
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
province, the Custos of the Holy Land is the minister
the friars living in the Middle East. He has jurisdiction
territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt
Cyprus and Rhodes.
Given the importance of his role, the custos is directly
the Holy See, after consultation with the friars of the
current custos, Father Giovanni Battistelli, was named
in June 1998.
Among the tasks of the custos are those of animating his
the Custody, welcoming pilgrims to the Holy Land and offering
spiritual guidance, coordinating and disseminating information
Holy Land, thus instilling a love for it among Christians,
for and supporting the Christian presence there through
schools and parishes.
The custos also oversees fund-raising for the Custody
of the Holy
Land. In recent centuries the Franciscans set up "Commissariats
Holy Land" with the twofold aim of fostering awareness
of the friars
and their work in the Holy Land, and taking up collections
them in their work.
The custos is regarded as one of the most important Christian
religious authorities of the Holy Land. Together with
Orthodox patriarch and the Armenian Orthodox patriarch,
responsible for the Status Quo, a code which has been
in force since
1862 and which regulates life at the Holy Sepulchre and
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