How are the friars of the Custody formed?

How are the friars of the Custody formed?

For the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, the month of June marks the end of the formative year. On 7 June, the Secretariat for Formation and Studies met in Jerusalem, to assess this year’s path.


The Secretariat is a body of the Order of the Friars Minor which has the task of coordinating the formative activities. It usually meets at the beginning and the end of the formative year. For the Custody, it is made up of about 15 members and is chaired by the Custos of the Holy Land: “The young men who apply to join the Custody,” he stressed, “follow a path which has the purpose of discerning their call and as a consequence being formed to be able to live it to the full.” Fra Ulise Zarza is the Secretary for Formation and studies: “Our task,” he explained, “is to share, discuss, make suggestions, face the problems that rise during the formative year and walk together.”

An all-round formation

The formation takes place according to the guidelines in the Ratio Formationis Franciscanae of the Order and in the specific “Ratio” of the Custody. It is developed along five main dimensions: human, intellectual (which includes study), spiritual, charismatic (or Franciscan) and missionary formation (in the Holy Land, in particular, the Custody of the Holy Places). Learning a job or musical education are also part of the formation, “This is the content of all the stages of formation,” fra Ulise explained. “The candidate is helped to mature; he is accompanied and consulted, in these dimensions, to reach total consecration to God.” Each friar is always supported by educators, and every effort is made so that the formation adapts to the needs of each person as best as possible.


The formation of a friar of the Custody starts from the vocational discernment, followed by a year of aspirandate, in the community. The young men can then enter the postulandate in Montefalco (Italy) and, after one year, the Novitiate at La Verna. After the simple profession, the formation continues in the Holy Land. Here, the friars start studies of philosophy (2 years) and then theology (4 years). A year of service in a shrine, commonly called “the Franciscan year,” useful for an immersion into the charisma of the Order, is proposed between these two cycles, or, for the majority of them, a year of studying a language (Arabic, Hebrew or Greek) , useful for the mission in the Holy Land.

The international dimension

A specific element of the formation of the friars of the Custody is learning several languages, together with a dimension of international life. “These two elements help open-mindedness and overcoming nationalisms,” said the Custos. “Learning a language means learning to enter the world of others without losing your own identity, but at the same time without making it absolute. Our young men begin to live this from the very start. Sometimes it can be hard, but it being an extraordinary richness.”

Learning languages is closely connected with the Custody’s mission: “Our mission requires knowledge of Arabic or Hebrew or modern Greek, as well as English, to welcome the pilgrims.” In addition, the common language of the Custody is Italian, so generally a friar in the Custody should know at least two or three languages. “Then there is Latin, which is the language of the liturgies and the official language of the Church – let’s not forget that here we are known as ‘Latins’.”

“The Custody,” fra Patton explained, “has always had an international outlook, because Pope Clement VI wanted this in 1342.” And it still has this characteristic today, with friars from about 40 different countries. Seventy friars are involved in formation, of whom about thirty belong to the Custody and about 40 come from different Provinces of the Order. “It is a service we do for our Order and at the same time an enrichment for the Custody itself.” It can happen that someone, being here, discovers a particular call and asks to stay at the service of the Custody.

Marinella Bandini