DAILY CATHOLIC    WEDNESDAY     September 1, 1999     vol. 10, no. 165

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Custodians of Holy Places Prepare For The Jubilee

        JERUSALEM, AUG. 30 (ZENIT).- The deep desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus drove Francis of Assisi to visit the Holy Land in 1219-1220. To accomplish his feat he had to overcome serious obstacles in order to finally meet with sultan Melik-el-Kamil and thus began a long history of permanent dialogue with the Muslim world.

        Thanks to that first visit of St. Francis and his love for the land of Jesus, the "Custody of the Holy Land" was established and today consists of Franciscan friars from 37 nations, dedicated to helping others get to know the land where Jesus of Nazareth once lived. Their custody is not only oriented to conserving archeological treasures but especially to sustaining the light of faith and the heritage of the marvels worked by God in these lands, in the example of Mary who "guarded all things in her heart."

        With only four months remain before the beginning of the Jubilee Year 2000, which by express wish of Pope John Paul II will be simultaneously celebrated in Rome, the Holy Land, and each local church around the world, the Guardian of the Holy Land, Father Giovanni Battistelli, admitted that they are expecting the largest numbers of pilgrims in history. The role of the custodians will be, above all, of a spiritual and religious nature, since transportation, lodging and practical arrangements will be taken care of by the Israeli and Palestine governments.

        "We take care of the sanctuaries, the holy places," Fr. Battistelli said. "To accomplish this we have formed a Secretariat in which all the different Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land are represented and which serves as the intermediary with the local governments."

    A Point of Reference

        "Nevertheless," he added, "regarding the work of the custodians, we have a specific Secretariat, the C.I.C. (Center of Christian Information), that is in charge of organizing all pilgrimages and events within the sanctuaries themselves. This helps to avoid confusions and everything is a little better organized. For example, in Bethlehem, by using a large area of our school there, we have been able to build a comfortable auditorium for 6,000 people.

        Today, the Custody of the Holy land consists of over 300 religious brothers (priests and laymen) distributed among 74 locations in Israel, the occupied territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes. The brothers work in a very important social, cultural and religious context for the whole Church.

        "This is a land where the three great monotheistic religious meet," Fr. Battistelli said; "Western and Oriental culture; peoples of Semitic, Arab and Israeli civilizations. In a situation like this the presence and activity of the Franciscans is not in any way something secondary."

        Among its numerous activities, they direct 15 schools with over 7,000 students and some 480 teachers; homes for the elderly and orphanages; hostels for pilgrims; as well as providing scholarships, housing and medical attention for poor families.

        The "Studium Biblicum Franciscanum" and the "Franciscan Press" offers theological and scientific formation for members of the Custody, especially regarding ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and the archeological exploration of the important sites and shrines.

        But the Franciscans are best known for their hospitality towards the numerous pilgrims who venture every year to the Holy Land to retrace the footsteps of Jesus in these historic places, as Francis did so long ago, in order to deepen their faith in the Son of God and of Mary. ZE99083005

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 1, 1999       volume 10, no. 165


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