Economically engaged for “the battle of gratuitousness": the second day of work of the International Conference of the Commissaries of the Holy Land | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Economically engaged for “the battle of gratuitousness": the second day of work of the International Conference of the Commissaries of the Holy Land

Jerusalem, Convent of St. Saviour, 31st January 2012

The activity of the Commissaries of the Holy Land, who have come from all over the world to meet in the Convent of St. Saviour for their 3rd International Conference, continues. The second day, 31st January, began with the celebration of Holy Mass celebrated by H.B. Mons. Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the Church of St. Saviour. In his homily, Mons. Twal thanked the Franciscan Custody for the precious work that it has carried out for centuries in the Holy Land, through its many pastoral, social, cultural, educational activities and in the field of communication. The Commissaries of the Holy Land have a special responsibility in guaranteeing and supporting the good functioning of this large and complex institutional system. In these places, said Mons. Twal, although in the midst of many difficulties and great suffering, a “battle of gratuitousness” has to be conducted, to be ready, like Jesus, to accept suffering everything for the life and the good of His Church and the whole of humanity. The wish, therefore, is that the mission of the Custody continues, always animated by new vigour and enthusiasm and that every Christian feels that he shares in and is responsible for the Holy Land, as the promoter and custodian of its places and its peace.

The second main topic of the Conference, The economic situation of the Custody. The contribution of the Commissaries was introduced in the morning. The introduction was given by Brother Ibrahim Faltas, the current Bursar of the Custody and in charge of representing the Custody with the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He placed the accent on the centuries-old commitment of the Custody of the Holy Land to preserve and protect the Holy Places, to keep alive the liturgy in the Sanctuaries, to assist pilgrims, to intensify the apostolic works, to support the Christian communities and to offer social and educational assistance to safeguard the local Christian presence. The Commissaries have the fundamental role of being “bridges” between the Custody on the one hand and the Provinces, the Dioceses, the Bishops, the parishes and the faithful on the other. Their task, today certainly made more difficult by the precarious economic situation which is also affecting the most developed areas of the world, is that of promoting in their territory knowledge of the Holy Places and of the Pro Terra Sancta Day, to encourage pilgrims through the Dioceses and the parishes and organize pilgrimages in the Holy Land according to the Franciscan spirit, to diffuse and cultivate Franciscan vocations for the Holy Land, to seek material aid for the preservation of the Holy Places and for the social, charitable and pastoral works of the Custody. Brother Faltas then presented in detail the very many socio-welfare, health, pastoral, educational and cultural projects that the Custody has always promoted and supported in the Holy Land: these initiatives in favour of the Holy Places and for services to residents and pilgrims; services offered specifically to the local community, in favour of young people for example, or activities for families, housing projects; aid given to local parish communities; schools and other cultural initiatives (Franciscan Media Center, Magnificat Institute and the Franciscan Printing Press). Lastly, Brother Faltas listed some of the projects that will be carried out by the Custody in 2012. During his presentation, a video was also screened showing the many Franciscan initiatives in the Holy Land.

Brother Faltas was followed by Brother Peter Vasko, President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, established by the executive body of the Custody of the Holy Land in 1994 not only to provide supplementary funding for the increasingly growing needs of Christians in the Holy Land but also to establish new humanitarian programmes and projects to help curb the exodus of local Christians. Brother Vasko illustrated in detail the projects which the FFHL, since its foundation, has financed, also providing the updated figures on donations. These are initiatives which cover many sectors, from schooling and higher education, through support in paying fees and granting scholarships, to aid for children, from the contributions for the Magnificat Institute to the social and humanitarian services (homes for minors and services for needy families), from the support for projects and special events and for the construction of new housing to contributions for health care for subjects in difficulty and in disadvantaged conditions. In his contribution, the President of the FFHL wanted to underline above all how the key to successful fundraising is a good network of contacts and efficient teamwork by many people who join forces to achieve the best results. The words of Brother Vasko were then followed by some brief observations by Mrs. Denise Scalzo, Vice President of the FFHL.

Lastly, Dr. Carla Benelli, an art historian, who has collaborated with the Franciscans in the Holy Land for some time now, illustrated the commitment of the Pro Terra Sancta Association (ATS), the no-profit non-governmental organization of the Custody, founded in 2002 on the suggestion of Brother Michele Piccirillo, archaeologist and professor of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, who passed away in 2008. In particular, ATS gives technical support to the Custody in its sectors of activity and in the places where it operates, through specific projects, in collaboration with public and private institutional supporters. The many projects supported by the Association are grouped into two main areas: emergency, education, development, which include the initiatives in support of the weaker groups in society and the educational initiatives in schools, in vocational training and in training trainers; memory and culture – Holy Places, which concerns the preservation and development of the archaeological areas and the sanctuaries, the protection of the archives and museum heritage and the production of informative material. Many of the projects linked to this second area are carried out with the scientific contribution of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, the Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology since 2001. Dr. Benelli highlighted how the development of the archaeological heritage of the Holy Land is also a service for the pilgrims, who can thus also appreciate and learn about the sanctuaries in their diachronic perspective. The Holy Land exhibitions, such as the recent ones on Capharnaum and on the mosaics of the Holy Land, have been very successful and represent an excellent opportunity to develop and promote the local cultural heritage, as well as training professional figures specialized in this sector. Lastly, Dr. Benelli dwelled on the organizational structure of the ATS, on the importance and role of the main collaborators and volunteers who operate in it, on the need to develop the channels of communication to make the Custody of the Holy Land and the activities supported by the ATS known, to circulate the human, social and cultural results of the initiatives undertaken, and to keep donors and friends regularly informed.

In the afternoon, the linguistic groups continued with the work, discussing in particular the ideas, suggestions and stimuli received from the experts who spoke in the morning about the economic situation of the Custody and the contribution made by the Commissaries.

The group then went to Bethlehem, where the day came to an end with the celebration of Vespers by the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, and with dinner at the Franciscan Casa Nova.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Miriam Mezzera

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