In their eight centuries in the Holy Land the Franciscans have established many social and welfare activities. These include running children’s institutes often in the care of other religious communities that collaborate with the friars. There are old people’s homes and medical-welfare centres for the elderly and there are also activities linked to the Custody, but not directly managed by it, like the Institute of the Antonian Society of Bethlehem.
The Homes activity is also very important for the local Christians, which aims to help families by contributing to the fundamental problem of housing. Through various building projects of whole areas, free housing is given to many families, contributions for the rent are given to other families and houses in precarious conditions are renovated.
Help for the problem of education is offered through Scholarships for University and programmes aiming to bear the costs of the whole school year for children. Lastly, the friars have started workshops to help deal with the employment problem.
The Franciscan Boy Home in Bethlehem
The Franciscan Boy Home is one of the many social institutions of the Custody of the Holy Land that celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2017. Established in 2007 as an affiliation to Terra Sancta College, it was created to take care of children and adolescents with situations of family hardship. It is located in Bethlehem a few meters from the Basilica of the Nativity and foresees various activities to support the little ones. Some children even spend the night at the House, while others attend after school and stay until it is time to return to their families in the evening. Br. Marwan Di'des takes care of them on a full time basis.
The Custody of the Holy Land provides continuous support to the local population, especially in times of difficulty caused by armed conflicts or poverty.
During the recent conflict in Syria, the Custody of the Holy Land has remained and still remains close to the faithful and the poor in the cities where their parishes are located. The assistance takes place through the distribution of food parcels, medicines, interventions to support youth education and development, spiritual and psychological support.
The Custody assists fugitives and refugees in different countries, providing them with clothing, medicines, food packages, with a special focus on unaccompanied minors. Since the beginning of the wars that have shaken the Middle East in recent years, Lebanon, Jordan and lately Greece have found themselves welcoming more refugees. In this context, the friars help the sick, the children, the elderly and the poorest families and they help meet their basic needs.
All of this is possible thanks to the financial support of the foundations that support the Custody, such as ATS Pro Terra Sancta Association and the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.
«Laudato si’, mi’ Signore». Saint Francis of Assisi sang these words: «May you be praised, my Lord.» In this beautiful canticle we remember that our common house is also a sister, with whom we share our existence, and she is also like a beautiful mother who welcomes us in her embrace: «May you be blessed, my Lord, for our sister mother Earth, which nourishes us and governs us, by producing different fruits with colourful flowers and grass.»
This sister is protesting for all the evil that we are provoking to harm her, because of our irresponsible and abusive use of the good things that God has given us in her. We have grown thinking that we were here proprietors and lords, and that we were authorised to ruin her. The violence present in the human heart wounded by sin is also manifested in the symptoms of illness that we notice in the ground, in the water, in the air and in all living creatures. For this reason, among the most abandoned and downtrodden poor, there is also our oppressed and devastated earth, which «suffers and groans in the pains of childbirth» (Rm 8:22). We forget that we ourselves are made of earth (cfr Gen 2:7). Our own body is made up of the elements of our planet, and its air is that which makes us breathe and its water gives us life and restores us [...].
From the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis on the Care of our Common Home.
As a response to the wishes of the Pope, the Discretorium of the Holy Land, meeting in Jerusalem on 16 March 2017, has established the Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
The projects currently involve three different areas: peace education, ecological education and spreading the encyclical Laudato Si’. The work of the Commission is directed toward the friars of the Custody, to the religious, to civil society, to the schools and to the parishes of the Holy Land.