The commissaries of the Holy Land of some Asian countries are currently visiting Jerusalem on a trip which will then take them to Rome, Naples and Assisi.The visit to Jerusalem is part of a wider itinerary, which involves the commissaries of India, Singapore-Malaysia-Brunei and South Korea to further the knowledge of the reality of the Holy Land and its commissariats.
The commissariats of the Holy Land were established in 1421 by Pope Martin V. More recently Pope Paul VI reconfirmed their role, which is that of ensuring concrete support for the Franciscan mission in the territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria. Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes, encouraging pilgrimages, organizing the days of the Holy Land in parishes and collecting the Good Friday collection.
The three Asian commissaries, Fr. John Oh, Fr. Joseph Nasanathan and Fr. Francis Saviour, come respectively from the Franciscan provinces of South Korea, Singapore-Malaysia-Brunei and India. During their stay in Jerusalem – where they celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost –the three Franciscans were guided by Fr. Silvio De La Fuente, in charge of the coordination with the commissaries for the Custody of the Holy Land and by Fr. Lionel Goh, who coordinated the meetings.
With this trip to the Holy Land, the three commissaries from Asia were able to renew their contacts with the friars of the Franciscan community in Jerusalem, to meet the Father Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton, and to be a full part of the mission entrusted to them through three days of prayer, of study sessions and visits to the Holy Places. Fr.Albertus Gesu also took part in the meeting, replacing the commissary of IndonesiaFr. Robert Wowor, his fellow countryman.
Taking advantage of their stay, we met the three commissaries so that they could tell us about the situation in their provinces.
Fr. John Oh, OFM–South Korea
Fr. John, how do you carry out your work as commissary of the Holy Land in Korea?
"Mainly through the pilgrimages. In 2023, I have already come to the Holy Land four times, accompanying groups of pilgrims. In Korea, due to the pandemic and the slow return to normality, there are groups of faithful who have been waiting for as long as three or four years to come.I can also add the activity of promoting the Holy Land which I do through writing articles for a Catholic newspaper, which wis owned by the diocese.
What is the vocational situation like in Korea?
In Korea, at least on paper, about 10% of the population are Catholics, but the Korean Church is ageing very quickly and is also going through a period of vocational aridity. As Franciscans, for example, this year there have been no new vocations for the first time after more than half a century. Our bond with the Holy Land nevertheless continues to be very strong, we have a friar here in the Holy Land, Fr. Teofilo Kim, who has been here for 15 years and represents our community here in Jerusalem."
Fr. Joseph Nasanathan, OFM - Singapore - Malaysia - Brunei
Fr. Joseph, can you tell us about the Franciscan situation in your province?
"In April we received the Minister General (OFM, Ed.’s note), Fr. Massimo Fusarelli in Singapore for the occasion of the erection of the autonomous Custody of St Anthony for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. The Franciscan presence has three communities in Singapore and four in Malaysia. We are involved in different ministries, mainly parish ones, but we also do service as chaplains in hospitals and prisons. We are also engaged on all fronts in activities to help the poor.
What is your relationship with the Holy Land?
It is a very strong relationship. We have a number of friars in the Holy Land who act as bridges between Jerusalem and ourselves for the pilgrimages. I was recently appointed for the second time commissary of the Holy Land for my region, after a period of study of a few years in the United States. As a commissariat, our commitment is essentially expressed in promoting the Good Friday collection. We know how important the revenue from the collection is for the Custody to protect and maintain the shrines in the Holy Land. We naturally also work on organizing pilgrimages, to allow people to come here to the Holy Land and experience the places of the redemption as pilgrims. It is a great honour for me to serve the Order through this mission.”
Fr. Francis Saviour, OFM - India
Fr. Francis, how is this trip to the Holy Land going? How can it help your commissariat?
This trip to Jerusalem is going very well because it is raising awareness on the vital centre of the mission of the Custody of the Holy Land, which does not intend only to protect the Holy Places but also those who are known as the living stones, i.e. the Christians who live here. The work we do as commissaries is also oriented towards protecting the local Christians who thanks to the presence of the Custody of the Holy Land have the means, including material, to be able to remain here. Through the activities we are doing here, we are also learning how to make our commissariats work better.
In India we inaugurated the commissariat of the Holy Land in 2020 in Bangalore. Covid and the lockdown prevented us from operating effectively immediately, but we have gradually made up for lost time. This year alone I have brought three groups on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, from the south of India to Jerusalem.
New challenges are always opening up before us. For example, vocations are falling with us for a number of reasons. However, every Sunday, we have eight eucharistic celebrations and the churches are packed. We are confident that through the announcement of the beauty of the Holy Land and the increasingly numerous participation of pilgrims, we will be able to invert the trend on the level of vocations as well.”
Filippo De Grazia