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Franciscan Minister General on the Custody of the Holy Land

"To the Service of the 'Pearl' of the Missions"

JERUSALEM, JAN. 14, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is address Father José Rodríguez Carballo, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, delivered Nov. 19 at the opening of the International Congress of the Commissaries of the Holy Land, which took place in Jerusalem.

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Almost 800 years have passed since Francis came to this land in 1219. Since then our presence in this land -- called, with reason, "the fifth Gospel," because it was blessed with the presence of the Son of the Almighty and his holy Mother, and bathed with the blood of the Redeemer -- has been constant in despite of the many difficulties and the all kinds of persecutions.

1. A little bit of history

The general chapter of the order in 1217 organized the fraternity into 11 provinces, and entrusted the province of Syria, also called Province of Holy Land and of Pro-Mission and Overseas, to Brother Elias.

In 1218, or maybe before, the first Franciscans arrived in Acre. Between the years 1217 and 1291, the Province of the Holy Land, today Custody of the Holy Land, had at least 12 friaries (convents): Acre, Antioquia, Sayda, Tripoli, Tyro, Jerusalem, Hefa, Damieta, Nicostia, Limassol, Framagusta and Paphos.

With the fall of the Latin kingdom, the convents were devastated and "the majority of the minors," states Wading, "put on the palm of the martyrdom." And not only our brothers but also the Poor Clares wrote, then, one of the most glorious pages of their history: In order not to be raped, they mutilated themselves, however, they were beheaded afterward.

A few years later, from Cyprus, our brothers will return to Jerusalem, probably before 1309. Between 1322 and 1327 we, the Franciscans, were already at the Holy Sepulchre, and in 1333 had possession of the Cenacle. In 1342, Nov. 21, the Holy See erects canonically the Custody of the Holy Land. In the General Chapter of Lausana (1414), the guardian of Mont Zion became the Custos of the Holy Land and still keeps that title.

Since their arrival, following the example of Francis of Assisi, "the saint of poverty, meekness and peace," the Franciscans, known here as "the friars of the cord," have interpreted -- along with our brothers of the Eastern Churches -- in the name of the Catholic Church, "the genuine evangelic way, the legitimate Christian desire to guard the places where our Christian roots were laid."

John Paul II had no hesitation to consider a providential act. Thanks to their presence, we, the Franciscans, have been great authors of the Christian history in the Holy Land, whether referring to the recovery of the holy places or the care of the Catholic communities in the land of Jesus.

The Popes have shown always great appreciation for the uninterrupted and providential mission of the Franciscans in the Holy Land since the 13th century until these days. The order considers it rightly so "the pearl" of their missions. I, as minister general, and in the name of the whole order, recalling the years that I spent in The Holy Land and therefore, aware of the work that it's being done there, wish to thank the many brothers who have come, in the past and the present, to this Custody from the most diverse places of the Franciscan geography for their "Christian animation" service even in very difficult and heroic situations that have led some of them to martyrdom.

We can say without boasting about it but honoring the historic truth that we believe that the Franciscans have responded, and are still responding, with fidelity to the trust that the Church has entrusted us. And as we thank the Santa Sede for the trust placed in us, we reaffirm our firm willingness to continue giving an example of fidelity to this responsibility entrusted to us, giving to the faithful of those places and to all the pilgrims, a testimony of love and union with Christ, redeemer of humankind.

2. 8th centenary of the founding of the order

With a solemn vigil prayer in the Basilica of St. Clare and San Damian (Assisi) on Oct. 28, 2006 and a solemn Eucharistic celebration in the Porciuncula on Oct. 29 we started the way to the preparation that will take us, with the grace of God, to the celebration, in 2009, of the 8th Centenary of the founding of our order.

In my letter to the whole order, "The Grace of Our Origins," issued on Dec. 8, 2004, I presented the program of the jubilee celebrations planned in three stages. The first one, in the year 2006, has been dedicated to discernment and the theme was: "Listen in order to transform your life!"

The second stage, which we will start soon and will last all the year 2007, will have as motto "Daring to live the Gospel!" and will be dedicated to the Life Project, which, for us, is rooted in the Gospel and the rule, and it is captured today in the ...

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