“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

Terra Santa News Special Collection – Custody of the Holy Land.


The offerings collected around the world on September 13 constitute the “Pro Terra Sancta Collection”, an aid that for centuries has been destined to the Christians of the Middle East. For this occasion, accompanied by the Custos of the Holy Land Br. Francesco Patton, we propose a special issue dedicated to the history and activities of the Custody, for over 800 years committed to supporting the Christian presence in the land of Jesus.


Custos of the Holy Land
“Preserving history, keeping history means keeping memory. Ours is a time that lives a lot in the present, and therefore people, the communities, peoples and nations today tend to forget their history, to lose their roots. Memory, history and roots are fundamental.”

History, roots, memory: those of the Custody of the Holy Land are to be searched from over 800 years ago. When St. Francis of Assisi sent his friars to constitute the “overseas province”. Shortly afterwards they would receive a clear mandate: to guard – in the name of the Catholic Church – the Holy Places, witnesses of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Custos of the Holy Land
“We have very precious documents in the archives: papal bulls – including the 1342 bull with which Pope Clement VI of Avignon practically established the Custody of the Holy Land – but also earlier bulls. For us they have a double value: on one hand they remind us of our history, on the other they have a very tangible value because they allow us to document our presence…even when, sometimes, there are disputes that require us to be able to show documents that demonstrate why we are here.”

One of the key moments of this long history is represented by the meeting in 1219 between St. Francis and the Sultan of Egypt Al Malek Al Kamel in Damietta, on the Nile Delta. While the Fifth Crusade raged all around, this peaceful dialogue between two worlds deeply marked the style of the friars of the Custody.

Custos of the Holy Land
“The indications that Francis gives are subsequent to the meeting with the Sultan. Especially that first part where he says “do not make quarrels or disputes” and to be at the service of all with a clear Christian identity, it seems to me that this is an indication that for us, during these eight centuries, has really served as a guideline.”


The education and growth of the new generations are some of the fields to which the Custody of the Holy Land devotes more attention. A daily activity that comes to life in the 15 schools it runs in 5 countries, attended by 11000 students and 1100 teachers.

Schools are fundamental tools to guarantee the local population the possibility of access to Christian education – otherwise impossible to find in this land – but at the same time places to meet students and teachers of other religions and Christian denominations.

Custos of the Holy Land
“In many of our schools there is a strong Muslim component, yet we manage to share, to live together. With the Christians of the other confessions we do the hour of religion together: and it is an hour of Christian religion, from an ecumenical perspective, where you learn to know also some differences and peculiarities of one Church compared to another.”

“Director of Terra Sancta Schools
There is a beautiful coexistence and ecumenical dialogue in our schools. We live this coexistence practically every day.”

A loving care, the Franciscan one, that has not neglected even the students with special needs: they are welcomed in schools so that they can overcome their difficulties, and to bring a smile to their faces.

The Coronavirus pandemic failed to stop Franciscan educational activity. Through distance learning, teachers were able to remove the barriers of fear and through their competence they continued to give lessons, obtaining truly satisfactory results.

The Terra Sancta Schools cover the entire school curriculum, from kindergarten to high school. The majority of students then continue their school careers at university.

Director of Terra Sancta Schools
“We often have students who enter at the age of three and then we follow them until the end of their university studies. We also offer many scholarships.”

“I finished university last year… right there on the Mount of Olives.”

The objective is clear: to allow local Christians to study in their own land, to prevent them from deciding to move abroad to study and then, eventually, to live.

Each year a total of 500 scholarships are awarded, supported by two different programs that cover all or part of the school expenses.
The recipients are students with a low level of family income who maintain a high average of grades.

Holy Land Custody – Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land
“95% of these students now work in the legal, medical, accounting, engineering field. And when we see young people become professionals and being truly grateful to the Franciscan Custody, our hearts are filled with joy.”

“There are many kids who do not like the current situation, they would like to go abroad to find better opportunities. I’ve thought about it too, but I love being in the land where Jesus lived.”

Holy Land Custody – Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land
“It is extremely important to realise that if we want Christians to stay here we must give them motivation, incentives: this motivation and these incentives arise from the possibility of university education.”

Custos of the Holy Land
“Among the schools there is one, the music school “Magnificat”, which has the particularity of seeing Jews, Christians and Muslims together. And this helps us to understand even more the value not only of schools but also of the arts, because through music we create dialogue, through music and through what Pope John Paul II called “the way of beauty”, “the way of art”, we get to share values and also to do together something very beautiful.”

Director of the “Magnificat” music school
“It is a great project of the Custody of the Holy Land, and it is a school open to all: the majority of the students are Christian, but there are also Muslims and Jews. We have the great hope of raising a generation of musicians without boundaries.”


The stones and the people, the oil and the house…and the gratitude for the mission of the Franciscan Friars. In the middle of the last century, the Custody of the Holy Land offered “bread and oil” in its parishes as a daily help. Today, due to the different needs of the population, providing housing or shelter for a dignified life has become a way to keep the Christian presence in the Holy Land alive.

Inhabitant of the Old City of Jerusalem
“This house is my whole life. This house is a special place for me, and I could never leave it. My son Musa has repeatedly tried to convince me to go and live abroad, but I have always responded with an absolute refusal.”

The Custody of the Holy Land offers more than 582 houses in Jerusalem – distributed inside and outside the Old City – as well as 72 houses in Bethlehem, providing accommodation for a total of about 2,050 people.

To date, there are over 700 requests for housing, of which at least 250 are urgent.

The Franciscan friars in the Holy Land not only guard and preserve the Stones of these places, but they also take care of the living stones, that is, the local Christians. Especially those who find themselves in conditions of hardship. An example of this commitment is the House of the Child in Bethlehem, founded in 2007, which today welcomes more than 24 children and teenagers who find themselves in particular conditions of social distress.

“My father is sick, he has many health problems and does not work. Thank God my mother has recently found a job. Our house is very small and we don’t fit in it all together, but thank God we eat, drink and we are alive.”

Franciscan friars live and work in some of the most difficult crisis contexts in the world, such as Syria. The Custody of the Holy Land is also present here, where the commitment to stay close to a population is even stronger. The Christian population in particular is affected by war and a serious economic crisis, persecution and the difficulties of being a minority, which drive hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

Custos of the Holy Land
“One must also consider giving one’s life: the friars throughout history have done this in many ways, they have done it staying where there were hard moments of persecution, when there were moments of pandemic like those of plague and cholera. Today we find ourselves in another difficult moment, because precisely for those who are in Syria to the problem of war and economic crisis is added the problem of the pandemic.”

The lack of an essential asset such as a home to live in has affected in recent weeks the Lebanese capital Beirut, where the terrible explosion in August that destroyed the area around the port led to 300,000 displaced persons. The Custody, present in Lebanon with four convents, is doing everything in its power to give its active contribution to the reconstruction.

In Syria, the Custody has been helping the local population since 2017 to rebuild or renovate their homes affected by the long war that began in 2011. It does so in small towns through parish priests, and in particular in Aleppo in collaboration with the Pro Terra Sancta Association, 700 houses have already been rebuilt.

After the explosion the whole building collapsed, there was nothing left. Luckily at that time we were at the neighbors’. We could not take anything from our house. We ran away and rented another apartment.

We were at home when the wall came down. It was around one o’clock in the afternoon…a Friday…in 2013. Immediately after the collapse we ran away. Now we are happy, very happy.


But the first and fundamental mission for the Franciscans remains the same: to guard the Holy Places. There are 80 sanctuaries present in the current borders of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria.

Custos of the Holy Land
“We must always remember what is the mandate of Pope Clement VI of 1342, who asks us to stay in the sanctuaries, to dwell in the sanctuaries.”

From Mount Nebo, where Moses contemplated the Promised Land…

…to the sanctuaries of Jesus’ life, passion and death.

Jerusalem is considered the heart of the Holy Land.

On the Mount of Olives, the Sanctuaries of the Passion: Jesus’ weeping and lamenting over Jerusalem are commemorated in the Church of Dominus Flevit , which offers one of the most beautiful views of the Holy City.

A few meters below, next to the garden of olive trees, is the Basilica of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed on the night of the Holy Thursday, before being arrested.

Inside the Walls of Jerusalem, pilgrims follow the 14th Stations of the Cross. A practice begun by the Franciscans in 1600 and repeated every Friday until today.

For Christians, Jerusalem has a heart: the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where the Calvary and the Tomb of Christ are located.

The opening of the Basilica takes place very early at 4 a.m.: the three communities – the Catholic one, or Latin one, represented by the Franciscan friars, the Greek Orthodox one and the Armenian one – open its large doors together. Day and night, they take turns celebrating in different parts of the church and in common areas such as the tomb and Calvary.

And yet, after years of very strong growth, in 2020 the number of pilgrims was reduced to zero due to the spread of the Coronavirus and the consequent closure of the borders: no more groups throughout the Holy Land, no more long queues to access the sanctuaries, which for a long time remained closed to the faithful and are now almost empty…as are the streets of the city.

President Holy Sepulchre Convent
Hope has always accompanied us, even though the door was closed, the hope of opening it, of receiving Christians again, of showing the holy places, even of bringing them inside ourselves. This hope remains among us, among us friars, among Christians.

We must be cautious, of course, because the Lord recommends it to us. Hope must be enriched through time.

To pay the consequences of the pandemic is also the network of “Case Novae”, the hostels managed by the Custody created precisely to accommodate a number of pilgrims that in recent decades has continued to grow.

Director Casa Nova – Jerusalem
“Casanova, the house for pilgrims. Casa nova is the favorite place of all pilgrims who come to visit the Holy Land, the Holy Places. We have Casae Novae in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tiberias, on Mount Tabor, in Ein Karem: all of them welcome pilgrims who come here”.

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Good reception facilities, rooms with bathroom, restaurants: the Casa Nova in Nazareth, as well as all the others, has always offered quality services to pilgrims. After March 11, due to the pandemic, it was completely emptied.

Director Casa Nova – Nazareth
“It means that there was no economic income for the Casa Nova. There was no income for the works of the Custody, nor to support the sanctuaries, but above all there was no income for the workers of Casa Nova”.

Responsible for bookings – Casa Nova – Bethlehem
“A lot of people had to come this year, we were overbooked! Several people were also staying in other hotels so that everyone could work in Bethlehem. Unfortunately we had to close in March because of the Coronavirus, and so far the house has been closed, we have not worked anymore.”

Director Casa Nova – Ein Karem
It is clear that the structure can not be abandoned: it must be maintained, it must be cleaned every day, the ordinary maintenance must always be carried out inside.

Custos of the Holy Land
“We are a mendicant order as Franciscans, so St. Francis taught us that we must ask with confidence and welcome with gratitude. We also give an account of what we receive, because on the site of the Custody, on the site of the Commissioners of the Holy Land, on the site of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, every year is published the list of the works that we do largely thanks to the Good Friday Collection, the Pro Terra Sancta Collection which this year is held on September 13.”

So every year we ask for help and financial support from all Christians around the world, and then we give thanks for what Christians around the world give us as an expression of their closeness, their solidarity and their love.

Source: cmc-terrasanta.org

2021-06-17T07:33:24+00:00 June 17th, 2021|Categories: News|