(custodia) In the Holy Land, the Franciscans celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order and one of most popular saints of Christianity, who visited the holy places in the thirteenth century.
On the eve of the feast of St. Francis, the rite of passage recalled the last moments of the life of the ‘Little Poor Man of Assisi’ and his meeting with whom he called ‘sister death’.
In his remarks, the custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, recalled the life of the founder of the Franciscan Order and stressed that his conversion occurred when he allowed God to transform him.
“The only way to transform history is allowing the Lord to transform us, letting our soul be captivated by the power of His love, therefore entering into the logic of His project. Anything that is our own initiative, whether it be political or social, changes history only apparently and superficially.”
While Franciscans recalled the death of their Founder, they also celebrated the birth of new vocations to the charism of the Order.
“Today I solemnly professed my vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for another year, but I especially professed the vow to live the Rule of St. Francis, that is to live the Gospel,” said friar, Clovis Luis Behinelli.
These students are living proof that, even after eight hundred years, St. Francis’ life continues to attract vocations to the Church, as happened to the young Ayman.
Friar Ayman Bathish said, “I decided to become a Franciscan friar for two reasons; the first one was to have the Gospel as a rule of life: it is a way to live Jesus Christ, who reveals Himself to us, who fascinates us, who gives me joy and love everyday. The second reason why I decided to become a Franciscan friar is to live the brotherhood.”
Sunday, on St. Francis Feast day, the parish of St. Savior in Jerusalem was filled with worshipers, and with authorities and religious of the Holy Land. As per tradition, the mass was presided by a local representative of the Dominicans.
Dominican friar, Fr. Marc Leroy celebrated the Mass as per Franciscan tradition. “St. Francis and St. Dominic are of the same period , the thirteenth century: perhaps they met, but we are not sure. In point of fact, Dominicans and Franciscans have the same Rule. We can say we live the same apostolic life.”
The presence of the Franciscans in the Middle East dates back to the beginning of the thirteenth century. At the time of the Crusades, Francis of Assisi had a peaceful meeting with the then governor of the Holy Land, Sultan Melek Al-Kamel, and managed to clear the way to the coming of the friars and facilitate their arrival here.
“The Franciscans came here following in the footsteps of St. Francis, who wished to come to the Holy Land at the end of his spiritual journey of his encounter with Christ…Later, the Franciscans came here and remained here and gradually received from the Holy See the mission to guard the holy places,” instructed Fr. Pizzaballa.
In addition to this, the Franciscans also give support to local Christians, through social works like schools and the construction of houses. St. Francis’ dream was to never forget the poor.
“We are here, first of all, to bear witness to the power of love that nothing nor nobody can defeat.”