“I didn’t expect it. I welcome this appointment with trepidation and faith, the faith that stems from the vow of obedience. I am being asked to carry out a very delicate service on behalf of the Order of the Friars Minor and for the Church as a whole. Our choice of life is to have faith in God, and if He calls us to serve elsewhere it’s time to go.” Father Francesco Patton, Provincial friar of the order of “St. Anthony of Friars Minor”, in northern Italy, originally from the Trentino region, in an interview to SIR spoke of his appointment as new Custos of the Holy Land, announced in a statement issued by the Press Office of the Holy See. Fr Patton succeeds Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who guided the Custody for the past twelve years. He was elected by the General Government of the Order of Friars Minor, approved by the Holy See in accordance with the General Statues that govern this body of the Franciscan Order.
First thoughts. Your first thoughts went to the Christian Communities in the Holy Land:
“accept me as a brother. I come with humility and with much love for this Land.”
In his Franciscan sac he also carries “dialogue, reconciliation and peace”, the harmless weapons that “Saint Francis gave to all Franciscan friars when he called upon us all, as men of peace, to be at the service of all, to bear Christian witness. As a Franciscan Friar this is the task I feel I have been entrusted by the Founder of my order.”
The newly appointed Custos had a special thought for the friars in Syria: “the friars are carrying out a heroic service in that Country plagued by the war. They chose to devote themselves entirely, at the risk of their own lives, to the people who have been entrusted to their care. It’s important for them to know that the entire world – thus not only Christians – feels close to them. Our prayers go to Syria, a land with strong ties to the dawning of Christianity, that it may see epoch of peace.”
Father Patton received the good wishes of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, who in a letter to the new Custos conveyed his best wishes on behalf of the entire diocesan clergy, assuring him the support of prayers and the “full cooperation” of the Patriarchate. “The availability and proximity of the Patriarchate is very important. I am given the opportunity to experience the collaboration of all those present in the Holy Land. They will be my guides. I also count on the words of advice of Father Pizzaballa, whom I have known since I was a novice. We share a fraternal bond and mutual esteem.” The hope of the new Custos is
“to live there with the spirit of Saint Francis, building bridges through daily contacts, and through a life based on dialogue and peace-building.”
The role of the Custos. The figure of the Custos, he said, is extremely significant for the Church in the Holy Land and in the Middle East. In the Holy Land the Custos leads the Custody of the Holy Land, which is the primary mission of the Order of Friars Minor, a member of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL), which brings together all the bishops and the Catholic Episcopal Vicars and Bishops of Latin and Eastern rite. The territory of the Custody is spread out over several countries: Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus and Rhodes, and in Cairo, at the monastery in Mouski. The Custos is the liaison between the patriarchs, bishops and apostolic nuncios of these countries.The current situation in the Middle East requires that the Custos follow the social and political situation in these countries in order to decide what the Franciscan mission’s priorities are, wherever it is present. As part of his service, he must constantly adapt this mission to the needs – including the material needs – of the local Christian population. For this reason across the centuries the Custody of the Holy Land has developed a network of social, educational and cultural activities to preserve, maintain and revitalize the faith and the daily life of local communities.
Solemn entry into Jerusalem. Three ceremonies will mark the installation of the new Custos: solemn entry into Jerusalem, from the Jaffa Gate on the way to Saint Savior’s Monastery, the headquarters of the Custody’s Curia. The Custos makes his vows, and the outgoing Custos solemnly gives him the seal of the Custody, on which is written “Conventus Sigillum Guardiani Sacri Montis Zion.”The friars then head to the Holy Sepulcher for a solemn entry where the Custos is welcomed into the basilica’s threshold by the superiors of the three main communities of this holy place: the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscans and the Armenians.Finally, the entry into Bethlehem. Leaving from Jerusalem, the procession takes the ancient path of the patriarchs with the traditional stops at the Mar Elias Monastery, which marks the entrance into the conglomeration of the three Christian villages of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala; it then stops at Rachel’s Tomb, and finally, at the Church of the Nativity where the Custos is welcomed by the Superiors of the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian communities. The Franciscans have been present in the Holy Land since the XIII century.