The Parishes of the Custody
The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land is at the service of the Christians of the Latin rite and so the friars of the Custody collaborate with the pastoral work through several initiatives. For a long time, the friars of the Custody were the only ones to look after the small groups of Christians in the Holy Land, creating parishes and organizational structures for these communities.
The Franciscan friars are also in charge of organizing an annual encounter for young people: the Franciscan march. Among the various forms of pastoral activity that the Custody carries out in the Holy Land, one thing that makes up a significant portion of it is spiritual assistance (masses, confessions, retreats, etc.) for the religious communities who are involved in projects and missions in this land.
Spirituality in Gethsemane
Among the Holy Places where you can have spiritual retreat experiences, there is the hermitage of Gethsemane.
The life and lifestyle that the Friars Minor offer at the Hermitage are centered around Prayer, Adoration, listening to God’s Word, as well as Lectio Divina and the Liturgy. In this mystical Garden, in which God has returned to walk with man, all the while respecting people’s different sensitivities and needs, opportunities for personal prayer are offered and guests are asked to share in some moments of prayer and community service.
The Shrine of Gethsemane also celebrates the Holy Hour, an hour of meditation on Jesus’ Agony . In commemoration Jesus’ blood sweat that dropped on that night in that same place, the priest sprinkled the bare rock that is exposed in front of the altar with red rose petals. Every year, on the evening of Holy Thursday, the Franciscan Community meets, along with the local faithful, for the celebration of the Holy Hour. A similar ceremony takes place on July 1 every year on the occasion of the Feast of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and every first Thursday of the month at 4:00 p.m. (local time).
By virtue of the Franciscan spirit that motivates them, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have always contributed to spearheading dialogue with other Christian denominations in the Holy Land.
Firstly, the Franciscan friars of the Holy Land share the prayer spaces in the Holy Places with the representatives of the other Churches, like the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. The different religious communities are therefore called upon daily to develop collaborative relationships.
Secondly, every year, on the occasion of the religious feasts of Christmas and Easter, the main representatives of the Christian confessions of the Holy Land meet to exchange greetings, visiting each other in the respective seats of their patriarchates. The Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the local leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian churches participate in these moments.
A fundamental moment of ecumenism during the year is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place in January. Every day during this special week in Jerusalem, the faithful go to a different church belonging to one of the Christian confessions of the Holy Land and, according to a specific calendar, the representatives of the various rites lead the prayer for unity.
The Franciscans of the Holy Land also dedicate themselves to dialogue with the other religions present in the Holy Land, which is necessary considering the particular context of the region: Christians represent only 2 percent among the largely Muslim and Jewish population.
Dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian society is carried out through cultural initiatives and inter-religious conferences, as well as by opening monasteries at special times.
Furthermore, in the scholastic institutions of the Custody, friars and nuns establish positive relationships with families who are of other religious traditions and who enroll their children to Christian schools, driven by the high quality of the institutions, where students are taught the human values of respect and peace.