Presentation CTS in Lebanon | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Presentation CTS in Lebanon

Dear friends, permit me to greet you all with the salutation that was so dear to Saint Francis of Assisi: “May the Lord give you Peace”. Here, this kind of greeting has a particular echo in our hearts, because we feel how important is that the Lord give us His peace, a true peace, a stable peace in the Middle East.

In my speech I want to touch on just two points:

  1. Our Franciscan presence in the Holy Land and in all the Middle East, it is a presence of eight hundred years;
  2. The importance of Your continued (and) committed presence as young Christians here in the Middle East, is a true vocation and mission.

1. Permit me to recall briefly the reality of the Custody of the Holy Land, which is the Franciscan presence here in the Middle East. 

It was in the year of our Lord 1217, when the Chapter of Pentecost, held in Assisi, decided to send a small group of brothers beyond the sea, to the Holy Land. They were animated by the Spirit of Pentecost, the Spirit of the universal mission of the Church. They were guided by brother Elias of Cortona, a brother with great ability, in whom Saint Francis placed his trust.
In 1219 St. Francis himself came to the Holy Land, as a pilgrim of peace, he met the Sultan Malek El Kamel in Damietta-Egypt, he preached the Gospel to him, and thereafter received a special permit (a safe-conduct), to visit the Holy Places, places like: the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, that enshrines the place of the Crucifixion and the tomb in which Jesus conquered the death, rising again on the third day.
The missionary spirit that has accompanied us and characterized our presence during these last 800 years is the same spirit transmitted by Saint Francis. He taught us not to engage in litigations or disputes, but to place ourselves at the service of every human person for the love of God and to confess that we are Christians. He has taught us that it is only when we live this kind of witness of life in a solid manner that we will find the way opened to allow us to proclaim the Gospel and enable us to share our faith in communion with the Church. In fact He reminds us that our life does not belong to us, because it is already a life that has been offered in the hands of the Lord, and it is a life that we are called to offer to the point of martyrdom.


Actually, our communities are in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, here in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Rhodes, Egypt, Italy, Washington and in Buenos Aires.
The Custody is an international reality. In fact, we are approximately 300 brothers coming from 45 different Countries.
The Custody is a reality which tries to live the Franciscan life, a life modelled upon the Gospel, a life of prayer, fraternity and service to the Church and to the people. The activities which characterise our mission are truly many:

  1. We have received the mandate to be custodians of the Holy Places of Christianity. We offer our service in approximately 70 shrines, where pilgrims can receive an experience of faith and where they can read the Word of God in the very places in which this Word was proclaimed and became flesh. I hope that very soon you too can visit these Holy Places.
  2. We carry out our pastoral service in the parishes of the Latin rite but also cooperating with the other Rites, and thus we take care of the “living stones”, namely the local Christians, who still live here in the various Countries of the Middle East, even in the midst of great sacrifices.
  3. The Custody is strongly dedicated to serve in the field of education. It does so through the fifteen Franciscan Terra Sancta Schools where approximately ten thousand students receive education. These schools are recognised as models of social coexistence in inter-religious dialogue and they contribute to create and to promote a climate of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians.
  4. Another fundamental duty of the Custody concerns its insertion in social work, through which we try to sustain the Christian presence in the Middle East and we welcome also the foreign Christian workers and refugees.
  5. A special word is merited regarding our commitment in Syria during this present moment. Syria is a land which is particularly important for the history of Christianity, since it was on the Road to Damascus that Saint Paul experienced his conversion. It was in Damascus that he received baptism and preached for the first time. Syria is the second cradle of Christianity and it is also a land in which our Franciscan presence is very ancient. Our brothers are committed in their parish ministries, and during this difficult moment they are trying to sustain the local Christian community, keeping alive the flame of hope and contributing to help those who have remained.


2. The second point that I want to touch on in my speech is about Your continued (and) committed presence here in the different Countries of the Middle East, specifically in Lebanon as young Christians, here in the Middle East, is not a fate or a misfortune but a true vocation and mission.
In these last decades the number of Christians has progressively diminished in the entire Region of the Middle East. Yet you still continue to be present as leaven and as salt among your fellow citizens, in contexts which necessitate our peaceful Christian presence, a presence of dialogue and of social commitment and outreach.
The Christian presence in Lebanon is so important for many reasons. I underline only two of them:

  1. because it started at the time of Jesus himself, when he listened to the poor widow looking for the healing of her daughter. You should read that story often, we can find in the Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 7. It is the narration of when Jesus came into the region of Tyre and Sidon, here in Lebanon. It is the narration of the power of Jesus that is the power of healing. But it is also the narration of the power of prayer and faith, that precisely the Lebanese widow showed to Jesus. So when you think of your Christian identity and of the importance of staying in this Country despite all the difficulties, you should think of your roots that are in the visitation and preaching of Jesus in your Land and in the prayer of that widow so full of faith.
  2. You should also think that to be a Christian here, is a special vocation and a special mission. In the Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente”, Pope Benedict XVI had specific words for you: “Dear young people, I encourage you to cultivate a true and lasting friendship with Jesus (cf. Jn 15:13-15) through the power of prayer... Do not be afraid or ashamed to bear witness to your friendship with Jesus among your family and in public. In doing so, always be respectful towards other believers… with whom you share belief in God, the Creator of heaven and earth, as well as lofty humane and spiritual ideals. Do not be afraid or ashamed to be a Christian. Your relationship with Jesus will help you to cooperate generously with your fellow citizens, whatever their religious affiliation, so as to build the future of your countries on human dignity, which is the source and foundation of freedom, and on equality and on peace in justice... The Church in the Middle East counts greatly on your prayer, enthusiasm, creativity, know-how and deep commitment to serving Christ, the Church, society and especially the other young people of your age. Do not hesitate to take part in every initiative that will help you to strengthen your faith and to respond to the particular call that the Lord addresses to you. Do not hesitate to follow Christ’s call by choosing priestly, religious or missionary life” (EIMO 63).


As I have already said, you are called in this context– to be salt, to be leaven and to be light. Can you imagine your Country without the Christian presence? Can you imagine what it would become? Do you think that it would be better or worst?

3. I conclude my speech hoping that I have said to you has been understandable.
I invite you to remember the example of St. Francis of Assisi and also his teaching, that it is very important not to engage in litigations or disputes, but to place ourselves at the service of every human person for the love of God and to confess that we are Christians.
I invite you also to take seriously the appeal of Pope Benedict to live your vocation and mission, that is, to bear witness to your friendship with Jesus in a peaceful and respectful manner. In this way you will become salt, leaven and light of the Gospel in your Country.

Peace and goodwill to each and every one of you!


Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land