Custody of the Holy Land
The Custody of the Holy Land (Latin: Custodia Terræ Sanctæ) is a custodian priory of the Order of Friars Minor in Jerusalem, founded as the Province of the Holy Land in 1217 by Saint Francis of Assisi, who had also founded the Franciscan Order in 1209. In 1342, the Franciscans were declared by two papal bulls as the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church.
The Custody headquarters are located in the Monastery of Saint Saviour, a 16th-century Franciscan monastery near the New Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. The office can bestow—only to those entering its office—the Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross upon deserving Catholic visitors to the city.
The Franciscans trace their presence in the Holy Land to 1217. By 1229, the friars had a small house near the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa and in 1272 were permitted to settle in the Cenacle on Mount Zion. In 1309 they also settled in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre along with the Canons Regular.
After the final fall of the second Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, the title of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was vested in the Custody ex officio in Rome, while resuming its activities in the Holy Land, including surveilling the accolades of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre 1342–1489 until its Grand Magistry was vested in the papacy. Following the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem as residential episcopal see in 1847, the Patriarch henceforth additionally assumed the position of the order's ecclesiastical superior, eventually supplanting the Custody of the Holy land as Grand Prior of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
The mission of the Custody of the Holy Land is to guard "the grace of the Holy Places" of the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East, "sanctified by the presence of Jesus", as well as pilgrims visiting them, on behalf of the Catholic Church.
The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land started in 1217, when the province of Syria was established, with Frater (Brother) Elias of Cortona as Minister. By 1229, the friars had a small house near the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa. In 1272 the Sultan Baibars of Egypt permitted the Franciscans to settle in the Cenacle (also called the Upper Room) on Mount Sion. Later on, in 1309, they also settled in Bethlehem and in the Holy Sepulchre, along with the Canons Regular.
In 1333, Robert d'Anjou, King of Naples, and his wife, Sancia of Majorca, bought the Cenacle from the Sultan of Egypt and gave it to the Franciscans. In 1342, Pope Clement VI, by the Papal bulls Gratiam agimus and Nuper charissimae declared the Franciscans as the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church. A portion reads:
A short time ago good news from the king and queen reached our Apostolic See relating that, at great cost and following difficult negotiations, they had obtained a concession from the Sultan of Babylon [that is, Cairo], who to the intense shame of Christians occupies the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord and the other Holy Places beyond the sea that were sanctified by the blood of this same Redeemer, to wit that friars of your Order may reside continuously in the church known as the Sepulchre and celebrate there Solemn Sung Masses and the Divine Office in the manner of the several friars of this Order who are already present in this place; moreover, this same Sultan has also conceded to the King and Queen the Cenacle of the Lord, the chapel where the Holy Spirit was manifested to the Apostles and the other chapel in which Christ appeared to the Apostles after his resurrection, in the presence of Blessed Thomas; and also the news of how the Queen built a convent on Mount Zion where, as is known, the Cenacle and the said chapels are located; where for some time she has had the intention of supporting twelve friars of your Order to assure the divine Liturgy in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, along with three laymen charged with serving the friars and seeing to their needs.
The Custodian was described as the "Guardian of Mount Zion in Jerusalem". Between 1342 and 1489, the Custodian was the head of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and held the ex officio title of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. From 1374, he was based at the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome.
In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII suppressed the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and ruled that it was to be merged with the Knights Hospitaller. In 1496, Pope Alexander VI, restored the Order of Holy Sepulchre to independent status, but the Custodian ceased to be the head of the Order. Instead, a Grand Master of the Order was created, and the office vested in the papacy. The Custodian continued to act as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem ex officio until 1830, and by being appointed to both offices until 1905. The office of Grand Master remained vested in the papacy until 1949. On 29 August 2011, Archbishop Edwin Frederick O'Brien was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI Grand Master to succeed Cardinal John Patrick Foley, who resigned the office on 24 February 2011 due to ill health. The Order is a member of many international bodies and has observer status at others (such as the United Nations). The Grand Master is a papal viceroy who assists Vatican diplomacy with procedural support for making motions, proposing amendments and requiring votes in the sphere of international diplomacy.
Franciscan friars cared for the Cenacle, restoring also the building with Gothic vaults, until 1552 when the Turks captured Jerusalem and banished all Christians. After the Franciscan friars' eviction, the Cenacle was transformed into a mosque. Christians were not allowed to use the room for prayer until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
In 1623, the Latin Province of the Holy Land was split into a number of smaller entities, called Custodies – creating Custodies of Cyprus, Syria, and the Holy Land proper. The Custody of the Holy Land included the monasteries of Saint-Jean-d'Acre, Antioch, Sidon, Tyre, Jerusalem and Jaffa.
In 1847, a resident Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was restored in the Holy Land, together with the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem became the ecclesiastical superior of the Order, and eventually assumed the title Grand Prior, supplanting the Custodian. The office of Grand Master still remained vested in the papacy.
In 1937, Alberto Gori was appointed Custodian of the Holy Land, an office he would occupy until 1949, when he was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, an office he held until 1970. In Gori's reports to the Vatican in the 1940s, he was critical of Jewish and later Israeli forces, whom he accused of destruction of holy places. Despite repeated Israeli assurances that Israel will guarantee freedom of religion and safeguard the Holy Places of all religions, Pope Pius XII issued several encyclicals expressing concerns about the holy places as well as access. In 1949, at the time of appointing Gori to the office of Latin Patriarch, Pius XII also relinquished the title of Grand Master.
On 15 May 2004, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa was appointed Custodian of the Holy Land, succeeding Giovanni Battistelli, who held the office for six years. On Friday, 28 June 2013, Pope Francis confirmed that he would continue as Custodian for at least a further three years. Pierbattista Pizzaballa was born in Cologno al Serio, Italy, on 21 April 1965. He was ordained a priest in September 1990. Since 2016, the chief custodian has been Francesco Patton.
The Custodian of the Holy Land, also called the International Custodian of the Holy Land, is appointed by the General Definitorium of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) of the Franciscans and approved by the Pope and the Holy See.
The Custodian has the role of Minister Provincial (i.e. major superior) of the Franciscans living in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, parts of Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes. The Custody has about 300 friars and about 100 sisters in these countries. The Franciscans serve the principal Christian shrines, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
During the later Middle Ages and early modern times the Custody was official provider of hospitality for Latin pilgrims to the Holy Land, i.e. Westerners be they Catholic or Protestant. Such facilities existed primarily at Jaffa and in Jerusalem
The Franciscan order owns a great deal of property in the Holy Land, second only to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. In addition to the major shrines of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which the Franciscans own and administer in common with the Jerusalem Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates, the Custodian also cares for 74 shrines and sanctuaries throughout the Holy Land, including properties in Syria and Jordan.
Schools founded by the Franciscan friars include Terra Santa College in Nicosia, Cyprus and Magnificat Institute in Jerusalem.
Fr. Pizzaballa expressed concern view that many Christians were leaving the region, especially the Christians of the Palestinian Territories, and that housing assistance was being offered to discourage emigration. He attributed the exodus to lack of prospects for the future and the political situation.