The Franciscans arrived in the Holy Land in 1217 and are present since. Drawn by love of the poor and crucified Christ, our founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, went to the Middle East in 1219 in order to “touch” the places which, up to our day, offer an irreplaceable testimony to God’s revelation and to God’s love for the world.
This year marks 800 years of the Franciscan presence there.
Over time the Holy Places associated with the earthly life of Jesus were entrusted to the care of the friars, and also the pastoral care of the local Christian communities and of pilgrims.
During his pilgrimage, and despite the Crusades, Saint Francis encountered and dialogued with the sultan Melek al-Kamel, who was governing the Holy Land at the time. It was a peaceful encounter, which marked the beginning of the Franciscans’ presence in the Holy Land and also influenced the way in which we have been present in the course of the centuries until today.
Over the course of time, this province of the Franciscan Order took the name “Custody of the Holy Land”.
Saint Francis and the Franciscans always had at heart the love of the Incarnation of Jesus, and that is why they have loved the Holy Land since the beginning. For there is no Incarnation without a place. For us, loving this land means to love Jesus. And we cannot think of Jesus without loving His land. Because of the Franciscans’ special attachment to the Gospel of Jesus and to his Incarnation, the Catholic Church entrusted to the Franciscans the mission of preserving the places of our salvation.
There are concrete ways of watching over the holy places: animating the holy places for the pilgrims and the local Churches by means of the liturgy, welcoming the pilgrims who come from every part of the world in order to pray and to become recollected, and preserving the structures of these places.
Local Christian communities live alongside the holy places. The local communities are made up of parishes of different Catholic rites and traditions (Western and Eastern). We Franciscans have the responsibility for various parishes whose heart and whose seat are in the holy places.
Loving the stones that preserve the memory of Jesus also pushes us to love the living stones, the Christian communities who, throughout the centuries, live here. The Custody has many formative and social activities, which aim at supporting the Christian presence in the Holy Land: running schools, constructing housing, helping people who suffer from various forms of poverty.
A spiritual guide and guesthouses are available for the Christian pilgrims who come from every part of the world, as well as the guarantee and the grace of being able to celebrate the mysteries of salvation in the holy places.