Celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the Franciscans’ presence in the Holy Land have reached the United States. The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, visited the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., from November 7 to 12. It was an opportunity to celebrate the important anniversary of the eighth centenary and to meet with friends and supporters of the Holy Land. The close bond that connects these two places was reinforced, as it is every year, during the Custos’ visit. The Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C., which was built about 120 years ago, contains replicas of the Holy Land shrines and is therefore a pilgrimage destination in the U.S. capital city.
On Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, the Custos presided over some celebrations and met local friars and faithful. In his homily on the Gospel reading of the wise and foolish virgins awaiting the bridegroom, Fr. Francesco urged those present to fill their lamps with the oil of charity.
The charity gala was November 11. It brought together more than 200 guests, who came to support the work of the monastery in Washington, D.C., and the friars in the Holy Land. The Custos thanked them for their generosity and shared with them a series of good news from the Holy Land from the past year. Topics included the restoration of the Shrine of Jesus’ Tomb, the ongoing work on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the positive status of vocations within the Custody and, above all, the beginning of peace in Syria. “Our friars in Syria, despite all of the hardships of the war, have carried out their mission with faith and courage,” said Fr. Patton. “Since last Christmas, the conditions in which they have been living have become slightly more stable and less dangerous.”
There are many signs of hope for Syrians: the “Children praying for peace” initiative, recreational projects for children, reconstruction of houses, and an increased number of faithful in certain areas. But the Custos also urged the public to pray for peace, especially for the friars and their people in areas that still have to fight against violence daily .
Urging the audience to remember the continued exodus of Arab Christians from the Holy Land. Fr. Patton asked those present to continue to support the Custody’s efforts to ensure that Christians can find a home and an identity there. The Custody is working hard – with the support of the FFHL – to ensure that Christians do not abandon their homes despite the difficulties of living and witnessing in the Land where Jesus invited his disciples to be “the salt and the light.”
In front of hundreds of benefactors, whose dedication supports the Custody’s daily work, Fr. Patton said: “The Franciscan monastery of the Holy Land here in Washington is very important to us. From here, we invite Catholics across the United States to support the Holy Land through the Good Friday Collection. Here we welcome generous friends, like you, to share our 800-year-old mission.”
The Custody’s bursar, Fr. Ramzi Siwadi, accompanied the Custos on his visit. Fr. Siwadi shared with the guests some of the special practical necessities that friars have in order to carry out their mission.
Every year, at the charity dinner of the Franciscan monastery, the Grato Animo prize is given, in recognition of special service for the Holy Land and its people. This year’s prize went to Carl Anderson, a knight of the Knights of Columbus, who since 2014 has donated more than $13 million for humanitarian aid, mainly to Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region. Mr. Anderson received the honor due to his leadership of efforts to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
>> courtesy of Custodia Terrae Sanctae, author Beatrice Guarrera