Jerusalem, 9 March 2020
May the Lord give you peace!
We are still at the beginning of Lent, which is a time that invites us to conversion as we embark upon our spiritual journey towards Easter. This time is presenting itself to us as a period which is strongly conditioned by that invisible threat that is called Coronavirus or COVID-19, if we use the more aseptic language of science. Our brothers in Bethlehem have already been closed in quarantine for some time within the confines of the city.
We are friars minor of the Custody of the Holy Land, and that is how we should present ourselves in front of this phenomenon. I would, therefore, like to propose some reflections which may help us to live this particular Lenten period not in atrivial manner, but according to our vocation.
As disciples of Jesus, we are first of all men of faith and we conserve the trust that the heavenly Father never ceases to take care of his people and of each and every one of us also at this moment. We do not waiver from our faith that He is the provident Father, who clothes the lilies of the fields and feeds the birds of the air, and therefore He will also take care of his children. At the same time, we continue to be aware of the precariousness of our human existence, to which the Word of God often recalls our attention.
Precisely because we are disciples of Jesus we believe that it is important to live in a personal and particularly intense way those three indications that He himself gave us on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lenten journey: namely to practice mercy, to pray and to fast, and to do all this in secret, in a way which only the Father knows (cfr. Mt 6). We first and foremost should be the ones to live these three fundamental dimensions of our Christian life and of Lent before everyone else and to propose them also to the faithful who frequent our sanctuaries, our churches, and our parishes. Let us live them as a form of intercession, of powerful prayer that penetrates the clouds, of faithful abandonment that moves our Heavenly Father. Let us make ours the litany that for centuries has flowed forth from the heart of Christians: “A peste et fame et bello, Libera nos Domine.” We can also actualize it in this way: “Free us, O Lord, from contagious epidemics, from hunger, and from war.”
We are citizens of many Countries, our home Countries, as well as of the Countries in which we are living and serving. The hysteria of the moment, instead of driving man to human and fraternal solidarity, is bringing many to discriminate against, and obviously, to many, to be discriminated against. We are part of those people who are suffering because of the virus and we are serving in Countries which suffer and probably will continue to suffer because of the virus and its consequences. In all these places we are called to be also good citizens, who welcome with trust the sanitary provisions that the various authorities adopt for the good of their own citizens. We know that in some of our Countries the health structures are in a situation to face this emergency and we also know that in some other Countries (I am thinking of countries already tried by war, like Syria), the virus can still be lethal precisely because the health structures are compromised because of the conflicts and because of sanctions that place in great crisis the civil population.
We are friars minor of the Custody of the Holy Land. In the past, our brothers have offered their life to take care of the sick, during epidemics of plague and cholera. Our first preoccupation should not be that of saving ourselves, but to look for the good of the persons who are entrusted to our care, to whatever people they pertain and to whatever religion they profess. If we are asked to make sacrifices we will make them for the good of all and with the willingness of those who give their own lives to the Lord for the love of their brothers. If we need to pay special attention it should not be, first of all because we fear being infected, but in fact to not be ourselves the ones transmitting the infection to others. We shall try in all ways to continue our mission, taking care of the health provisions of the civil authorities and of the pastoral indications of our bishops.
In the course of our history, we have experimented the powerful closeness and intercession of Saint Anthony, to whom we entrust ourselves in times of serious difficulty with a vow that we renew each year on the 13th of June. I invite you also today to recite privately and in community this prayer that we address to our patron and intercessor on his feast day, adapting it to the present situation:
O glorious Saint Anthony, we have gathered around you in this time in which the viral infection is afflicting the entire world, the Countries from which we come and in which we serve. We thank you humbly for our protection, together with that of our seraphic Father Saint Francis, with which you have always done good to the Custody and its members.
O beloved Saint Anthony, the Custody of the Holy Land is in a debt of gratitude to you and to our seraphic Father, for the good which you have worked in its favor along the centuries, both for the spiritual health of souls, as well as for the conservation of the Places of our Redemption. For all this, we render humble thanks to God, and to you who intercede for us.
O dear Patron of ours, continue to shower upon us those blessings which you draw from the most loving Heart of the Child Jesus, whom you lovingly hold in your arms. Obtain for us from Him the grace that we, aware of the sublime honor of having been chosen to be custodians of the Cradle and the Tomb of Jesus, will continue to strive to correspond in a worthy manner to our calling.
O great Saint, with all the gratitude of our heart, we entrust ourselves once again to you: this is what our forefathers have done throughout the ages; this is what the Holy Father has willed us to do when he proclaimed and constituted you as special Patron of the Custody of the Holy Land.
I ask all the brothers and all the fraternities to recite this prayer either at the end of the Holy Mass or in another moment of prayer of the community.
May Mary Immaculate, Mother of Jesus and our advocate spread upon us her mantle to protect the Holy Land and all humanity. May the Seraphic Father intercede for us to have the ability to withstand in peace “infirmity and tribulation” and may the Lord bless us protect each and every one of us, our fraternities and the persons who are entrusted to our care.
Fr. Francesco Patton ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
Fr. Marco Carrara ofm
Secretary of the Holy Land
Jerusalem, 13th March 2020
May the Lord give you peace!
A few days have passed since I sent you my letter with some reflections to help you live through the emergency of the epidemic we are in with faith and according to our vocation. In the letter, I reminded you that: “we will seek in all ways to continue our mission, taking into account the health recommendations of the civil authorities and of the pastoral authorities of our bishops.”
I am writing to you now to ask you to take the recommendations that come from the Ministries of Health and from the Bishops of the countries where we live and offer our service. We have already published on our site the specific instructions given by the Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa for the Pastoral region of Bethlehem and the general ones given for Israel, those who are in other countries must take into account the indications given in loco by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
In particular, taking our own situation into account, I would ask you:
- to pay special attention to the rules about hygiene and sanitization of our communal areas (where we pray, where we eat, where we meet and the bathrooms…);
- to wash your hands frequently and disinfect them, in particular priests should be attentive to this both before and after celebrating, but also the sacristans who prepare the altar and are in contact with the sacred vessels (it is useful if disinfectant is available in the porters’ lodges, in the sacristies and in the bathrooms);
- as the Apostolic Administrator has ordered, Holy Communion must be given to the faithful on the hand and the concelebrants must take communion by intinction, allowing only the presiding priest to drink from the chalice;
- to never have more than 100 people in closed areas (including the churches of the sanctuaries) and if the places are small, to further reduce the number, so that a distance of one metre between people can be kept;
- to suspend the “refreshments” after celebrations and pilgrimages, because they are difficult to control from a hygienic point of view;
- in houses where there are many brothers, they must take care over the arrangement at table and use the traditional horseshoe arrangement which avoids placing diners opposite one another at a short distance (I think the reason is obvious);
- the students in our houses (OFM and guests) must go out only if they have to go to school (e.g. to the SBF) or for religious celebrations (at the Sepulchre or on pilgrimages) otherwise they must stay in the house and use the time to study and pray; the same applies to the other friars, they must go out only when really necessary, otherwise they must stay in the friary and make the most of this time to intensify the life of prayer in the spirit of Lent;
- for the time being, it is better not to receive any guests in the refectory, unless in exceptional cases, in order to reduce the risks of spreading the virus.
I ask our friars who live and offer service in Syria, where the health system is particularly fragile due to the unjust provisions linked to the embargo, to pay special attention to hygienic provisions, because the spread of the virus in such a fragile context could be even more lethal for the country and for the now reduced Christian community. Take to heart the more restrictive indications, given by the Pastors of different countries and the Health Authorities of WHO (World Health Organisation).
I ask all the friars of the Custody to intensify their fasting and prayers so that this emergency may pass quickly.
May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Show you his Face and have mercy on you,
Look upon you from above and give you peace,
Fr. Francesco Patton OFM
Custos of the Holy Land
Fr. Marco Carrara OFM