Pope Francis has written a Letter to the Custos of the Holy Land celebrating 800 anniversary of the arrival of the friars. He tells the friars living there that they are “ambassadors of the whole People of God.”

To the Most Reverend Father
Custos of the Holy Land

I have learned with joy that this Custody, on the occasion of the 800 years of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land, wished to celebrate this important and happy occasion with a number of religious, pastoral and cultural activities, all orientated towards the rediscovery of the commendable contribution made by the “brothers of the cord” – as they were known – in those places where the Son of God was made flesh and lived in our midst. On this occasion, I am glad to address a special greeting to you and to all the friars, who kept the Christian witness alive, study the Scriptures and welcome pilgrims.

The Seraphic Father, St Francis, in the Chapter of Pentecost of May 1217, opened the Order to the missionary and universal dimension. He send his friars to all nations as witnesses of faith, fraternity and peace. And in this way the Province of the Holy Land was created, initially referred to as ‘Overseas’ or ‘of Syria’. This broadening of the horizon of evangelization was the beginning of an extraordinary adventure, which eight centuries ago led the first Friars Minor to disembark at Acre, Egypt. In that place, last 11 June, you began your centenary celebrations, renewing your commitment to Jesus’ calling, faithful to the Gospel and the Church.

Assiduous in contemplation and in prayer, simple and poor, obedient to the bishop of Rome, you are engaged also in the present in living in the Holy Land next to brothers and sisters of different cultures, ethnicities and religions. Among this great diversity, and sadly at times tensions and conflict, you seek to sow peace, fraternity and respect. And you continue to accompany the steps of countless pilgrims from every part of the world through your Franciscan welcome and guidance.

Also among you, there are friars who have dedicated themselves to archaeological research in the sacred sites, and others who have spent their lives in the detailed study of the Sacred Scriptures, taking to heart the famous affirmation of Saint Jerome, who for many years lived in retreat in Bethlehem, ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ Himself.’

I do not wish to forget, aside from the guardianship of shrines – making them living sanctuaries of prayer and community – your commitment to the service of the local Church community. I encourage you to persevere gladly in supporting these brothers and sisters of ours, especially the poorest and weakest. Thank you for the education of young people – who so often risk losing hope in a context that is still without peace – and for your welcoming the elderly and the care for the sick. You are living out the works of mercy in a concrete way in daily life.

Joining with my venerable Predecessors, starting from Clement VI in 1342, who with the Bull Gratias agimus entrusted to you the custody of the Holy Places, I wish to renew this mandate, encouraging you to be joyful witnesses of the Risen Christ in the Holy Land.

You are ambassadors of the entire People of God, who with generosity have always sustained you and your ministries, especially through the Collection for the Holy Land. This world-wide collection taken up in churches on Good Friday helps ensure that in the Land of Jesus, faith is made visible in good works.

Finally, I wish to recall to you the words of Gospel counsel your Founder gave to you, ‘Indeed, I counsel, warn and exhort my friars in the Lord Jesus Christ, that when they go about through the world, they are not to quarrel nor contend in words, nor are they to judge others, but they are to be meek, peaceable and modest, meek and humble, speaking uprightly to all, as is fitting’. (Earlier Rule 3)