The franciscan formation
The Custody of the Holy Land is blessed with a large number of vocations to Franciscan missionary life. Since it is an international body it accepts candidates from all over the world, particularly from the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and the U.S.A.
The Custody has four training centres:
- the convent of S.Fortunato at Montefalco (near Assisi, Italy) as postulancy house and welcome house for vocations;
- the convent of Bethlehem (Palestine) is a novitiate house (temporarily closed); the novices are now in the convent of La Verna (Tuscany, Italy);
- the convent of St Saviour in Jerusalem (Israel) serves as a post-novitiate house, and seminary for theological studies.
The Custody also has houses to welcome young candidates in Montefalco (Italy), Washington D.C., (U.S.A.), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Harissa (Libanon), Aleppo (Syria) and Amman (Jordan), in all countries where Custody of the Holy Land Franciscan fathers minister to Catholics.
The Initial Formation of the Custody of the Holy Land
This is the year of initial training when a candidate enters the Franciscan Order after undergoing the necessary discernment for his calling, a period when he is supported by vocational supervisors and it has been ascertained that he is seriously motivated to become part of the Order. The novitiate is the time for direct learning of fraternity life, whilst remaining a lay person. The Custody of The Holy Land has postulancy houses at Ain Karem (in Israel) and at Harissa (Lebanon). The postulants generally come from different countries and continents, and therefore immediately live in that conviviality of differences whose wealth of human rapport and brotherly relations offers a taste of spirituality and of the Franciscan project. Study, prayer, communal life, participation in the life of the Custody, familiarizing with St Francis’ ideal of life, for one year help the postulant to understand and formulate his life commitment.
On donning the Franciscan habit, after a year of postulancy, the year of novitiate begins. The programme during this time includes playing an intensive part in everyday life in the brotherhood where they are admitted. The studies programme includes courses on the Franciscan Rule, Sources, History and the history the Custody. The daily lectio divina, training in religious and Gregorian chant, the responsibility of manual work about the house, service in the sanctuary and in the convent, but also serving the poor and supporting the parish’s pastoral activities including the commitment to participation in Jerusalem’s great liturgical feast days, as well as the attention to the contemplative dimension that must be experienced during the days of retreat, all making up the programme of this period, which bonds them closely to the life project that they are called upon to confirm. The novitiate house is in Bethlehem.
At the close of this year of novitiate, and with the approval of their trainers, the novices take a simple religious vow, in other words they make the public commitment to live according to the rule of St Francis: obedience, poverty, chastity. This commitment is repeated for four separate years. The professed friars live in the Convent of St Saviour, in Jerusalem, during this second training period. In this great brotherhood, home of the Custody of the Holy Land, they attend the international seminary together with the brethren who have been sent here by their Provinces for a life and study experience. The training programme includes a two-year period of philosophy studies and one year for the specialization in a language spoken in the territory served by the Custody. At the end of these three years the theological quadriennium begins. Everyone takes part in the life project of the St Saviour community: they offer their services for celebration of the liturgy in the Basilica of the Resurrection, they participate in the Custody’s cultural initiatives.
The four years of temporary profession conclude with the solemn profession, which makes the novices permanent members of the Order, with full rights and duties in the Custody. After the solemn profession they continue to study theology, but they reside in one of the convents in Jerusalem or the neighbouring areas, and are gradually guided into taking fully responsibility for their training, which passes from initial to permanent.
Where are we?
We’re in one of the oldest sanctuaries in Umbria: the church of San Fortunato of Montefalco. Here are venerated the remains of this saint, its patron, who died here in 395 A.D. The first church was later built by San Severo, a knight of the city of Martana, who had it consecrated in 402 and lived there until 445, the date of his death. In 1443 this place was acquired by the Franciscans of the Observance in order to build a monastery, the same monastery that now, after various renovations is home to the initial phase of Franciscan life.
You might ask yourself: why this place exactly? Well! Above all, here you have the privilege of beginning your path of vocational discernment right here in the “Franciscan Holy Land.” In fact, it’s in this area that Saint Francis was born, grew up and followed the Lord. Holy sites such as Assisi, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Spoleto, Gubbio, Rivotorto and other sanctuaries bring to mind the life, events and stories of the Seraphic Father. This setting provides an intimate and frequent contact with the environment in which the Order was born, with the places that saw the first and the last steps of the Poverello of Assisi. In addition, this house is found in one of the most verdant and scenic areas of Umbria. The garden and woods which surround the monastery offer a rare possibility to immerse oneself in silence and contemplation, fundamental conditions for this first phase of discernment.
What is the objective of the year of Postulancy?
During this phase, you’ll have all the possible help for verifying your decision to initiate the following of Jesus Christ according to the Franciscan way of life in the Holy Land, and to adequately prepare yourself for Novitiate. For this we will give particular attention to your growth as a person, to your ability to be a part of an international community, to confront you with its riches and its difficulties, and to listen to the voice of the Lord through your companions. To support you in this, we offer an enriching program:
I search for you with all my heart...
In a climate of serenity and prayer, you’ll have direct contact with the Word of God: daily Eucharist, frequent confession, the liturgy of the hours, lectio divina and devotional practices, which will give you continual exposure to the Word of life. This Word will be your guide, consolation for your heart and ideal for your existence. You’ll meditate on it and share it with your brothers, and in this you’ll also listen to the marvels that God has worked in them, and you’ll praise Him because you’ll know that “His love is eternal.”
Your teachings are my delight...
You’ll also have formative encounters that embrace different fields: the Christian vocation, biblical and Franciscan spirituality, psychology, liturgy, song, etc. You’ll have the opportunity to be together with the others and share their culture, story and experience. Not only that, thanks also to frequent encounters with the postulant director you’ll be personally accompanied in your path of vocational discernment. There’s a lot to learn and discover because, as Psalm 133 says, “there the Lord sends His blessing”, everywhere that “brothers live in unity.”
If someone wants to be first, he would be the last of all and the servant of all...
Saint Francis wanted to follow Christ poor and crucified and to embrace Him by means of the lepers of his time. Today, also, our world is full of different types of “leprosy”: you’ll have the grace of encountering Christ through contact with the disadvantaged of our society; you’ll have the gift of seeing them smile and rejoice every moment that you spend with them, working, eating and praying.
From the work of your hands you shall live...
Manual work will also be an important training ground for your soul thirsting for happiness! Here, working together with the others and fulfilling the different responsibilities given to you, your sense of responsibility and belonging to a common project will grow. With humble daily fatigue you build, here and now, the Kingdom of God; working the land with simplicity you prepare, almost without realizing it, the terrain of your existence to welcome the rain of Grace and to mature the fruits of the Spirit.
Go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel…
What’s more, you’ll be given the opportunity to taste the joy and the fatigue of the apostolate. With the Franciscans you’ll live a unique experience: as missionaries. This is a time of grace not only for hundreds of people thirsty for an encounter with God – who thanks to your effort will be satisfied and will change their lives – but above all for you, who search for the face of God. You’ll experience firsthand what Jesus says: “The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few!” You’ll also verify better whether the Lord is calling you to give your life to bear witness to the Risen One, in the simple and joyous style of Francis of Assisi.
How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts!
Your heart longs for the land where “the Word was made flesh.” The year of postulancy provides an opportunity to listen better to that voice that suggested to you the idea of serving God and humanity in the places that guard the memories of our redemption. For this, some time will be reserved to introduce you to this enchanting reality: the formation of this year will be oriented towards the knowledge – also direct – of the Holy Land, where people of diverse religions and creeds live together, where the liturgies are more alive and colorful, where millions of pilgrims come from afar to pray, where one day you too could be a drop of water in a spiritual desert…
If you feel that the Lord is calling you to this life, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re waiting to hear from you!
The year of the "trial"...
Contemplation, work and apostolate: three dimensions of a single charism, the Franciscan charism. And the Sanctuary of La Verna in Tuscany - the place where St Francis received the stigmata of Christ - the current site of the Novitiate for the Custody of the Holy Land, is one of the most suitable places to live all three.
Its isolated position at the top of the mountain, the immense woods that surround it and the various places linked to the most important Franciscan memories help the novices to immerse themselves in the deepest prayer, to experience God in the most profound silence. A dimension we often forget about. Even the possibility of spending several days in the sanctuary's hermitage, a place of isolation and assiduous prayer, can prove to be a wonderful opportunity to "leave the world" for a while and thus allow us to experience a new dimension of our relationship with Christ.
In such a large and busy sanctuary, with a land area of over one hundred hectares, there is certainly no lack of work. Those who accept to work with patience and humility, carrying out serenely all that is asked of them, will discover with joy that it is possible to spend oneself everywhere, fraternally, according to needs and requirements.
The incredible number of pilgrims who come to La Verna from spring to autumn is an opportunity for the professed brothers and novices to spend time on guided tours that aim to leave a mark in the hearts of the listeners. One does not speak to show how much one knows, but only to bear witness to Christ through the life of St Francis. And so, the very experience that we live is strengthened more and more. To all this we must add the possibility of participating in the Popular Mission which, every year, aims to meet the inhabitants of the cities of Tuscany and bring Jesus directly into their homes.
But we must not forget the most important thing, which is that every dimension of the Franciscan charism, especially in this third year of discernment, has the sole purpose of kindling in the novices a love for Christ and confirming to them whether they are really called to follow him on the path that St Francis first trod 800 years ago. The Novitiate, with all its activities, exists solely for this purpose. It is the year of falling in love with the Lord and of verification. All the lessons offered in this year's formation (Rule and writings of St Francis, history of Franciscanism, documents of the Church and spirituality of the consecrated life) have the sole purpose of helping in discernment and confrontation with one's own humanity and experience of Jesus. A journey that is sometimes tiring, but always possible because it is right and based on the grace of Christ and on our personal commitment.
The Spirituality of the Franciscan Seminar of the Holy Land
The entire life of St. Francis was a constant search for conversion and union with Jesus-Christ, and of Praises of God, Creator and Father. Walking in the footsteps of the Little Poor Man of Assisi, who came to the East to preach the Gospel, the Friars of the International Seminary of the Custody of the Holy Land base their testimony on peace and non-violence, on the respect of the faiths, cultures and laws of the people which they live among in the Middle-East. The Seminary is a real unique place for the Franciscan Order. Today, young men coming from different countries find in it their first school of evangelization. It’s in internationality that this cosmopolitan environment sees his founding and great wealth.
To live in the Holy Land represents an incomparable privilege for a young Christian seeking God
Prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures, Eucharist, personal prayer and meditation, celebrated on the actual site, through the true rocks sanctified by God’s footsteps and blood. It all becomes Holy Places of the spirit, cherished by the sons of St. Francis. With the love of those who know that with age-old love they have been loved, without saving themselves, they’ve been lovingly and practically taking care of these memories for more than 8 centuries.
Among these rocks and among the dust, on the sunny paths of the Judean desert and in green Galilee through which flows the once fresh waters of the Jordan river, the young students of the Holy Land Studium Theologicum express their gratefulness and love to God who became child in Bethlehem, to the divine teenager and worker of Nazareth, to the divine Master and Healer across the whole region, to the divine Crucified on Calvary, to the Redeemer Risen from the sepulcher we find inside the “Temple of the Resurrection” (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Nobis in animo, on the necessities of the Church in Holy Land).
Moreover, to keep and, for the new students arriving each year from every part of the world, to discover the beauty and wealth of the old liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, the Seminary takes care of all the celebrations ruled by the Status Quo, under the guidance of the Masters of liturgical ceremonies of the Custody. Christmas in Bethlehem and Easter at the Basilica of the Resurrection are the year’s peak time. The ecumenical dialogue is cultivated in that atmosphere of prayer and respect for the Communities with which is shared a path of reconciliation and unity. Especially also in unofficial occasions, understanding and commonality of sentiments and convictions are felt when, for example, the 19th century church of St. Saviour’s opens its doors allowing us to meet and pray together.
It is not possible to visit Jerusalem without being marked by that experience
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. The words of the psalmist looking for the Absolute express at the same time, in a real oriental way, the nostalgia and desire of the Holy City that we feel when we get away from it. It is like the burning thirst, the contrast between the desire for water and the disappointment in front of a dry torrent.
A For you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless, and without water..