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Head of Franciscans worldwide visits brothers in the Holy Land

Franciscans pray at Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem

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John Burger - published on 05/07/24

A word of encouragement for those who are suffering through war.

There are scores of Franciscan Friars in the Holy Land – many of them from outside the region. In the midst of war, they received encouragement to stay and continue to carry out their mission of caring for the Holy Sites related to the Life of Christ.

“I found the brothers better than I thought: hurt by what is happening, but also determined to stay here,” said Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, on a recent visit to the Holy Land. “So the first word is ‘please, brothers, stay here. Stay not locked in, but stay with the people, next to the people, as you can.’”

The Rome-based minister general, along with the Order’s Vicar General, Brother Ignacio Ceja Jiménez, visited the Holy Land April 15 to 20. The visit had been planned for some time, but the war in Gaza and the risk of an expansion of the conflict throughout the Middle East postponed the trip.

“Many advised us not to come because of the great danger,” said Fr. Fusarelli. “But considering that the friars, the Christians, who live here in danger every day, I thought that for a few days I could be there too. I came precisely in this spirit of closeness and listening.” 

Between God and Man

He called the Friars in the Holy Land “intercessors, from the Latin intercedere, to “walk between God and people, in the midst of the battlefield.”

“We are in a battlefield,” he said. “Remain as those who walk between the two sides, reminding God that this is His people.”

But, during his visit, Fr. Fusarelli also encouraged the Friars to look already to the future and “think about the children, think about how to continue to give hope and confidence to this land. While we are stuck in war look already to the future.”

On April 16, after visiting Magdala, Tabga and Capernaum, on the Lake of Galilee, Fusarelli met all the friars of the region on Mount Tabor. The Minister General recalled the many fraternities of the Order “present in the wounded places of today’s humanity,” inviting the friars of the Custody to “remain in this land that bears so many stigmas to be responded to by our charism.”

Presiding at Mass in the Basilica of the Transfiguration, he spoke about the tension between light and darkness, experienced by St. Francis himself, who found his solution in the Risen Christ: His prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano was, “O high and glorious God, illuminate the darkness of my heart.”

After Mass, in the presence of the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, the “LuxTenebra” exhibition was inaugurated for the centenary of the dedication of the Basilica of the Transfiguration.

Stay awake!

In Jerusalem, the Minister General visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. 

In Bethlehem, Fusarelli went to the Children’s House, which for 17 years has welcomed Christian children (currently 26) from families in difficulty, and the Michele Piccirillo Center, which employs disabled children in the creation of handicrafts and artistic artifacts.

Back in Jerusalem, he presided at Mass in the Basilica of the Agony, in Gethsemane. During the homily, he recalled how, from the arid earth, flowers can grow.

“In trial, the attitude that Jesus indicates is not to resist against feelings of fear and anguish, but vigilance, to stay awake, not to let ourselves be overwhelmed by suffering.”

In this way, he encouraged those who live in the Holy Land and are going through a period of obvious difficulties. 

Fr. Patton spoke of the minister general’s visit as an important “sign of closeness.”

“It is a difficult time for the whole Holy Land, for the whole Middle East. Many are not coming. Many are afraid to come,” said Patton. “Instead, the minister and the vicar general chose to be close to us, to come and visit us to realize what the real situation is and also to encourage us.”

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