Learning the love of the Holy Land with the Franciscans

The Custody of the Holy Land is multifaceted and can be discovered in different ways. It regularly hosts priests and religious for several months at at ime, as was the case for Br. Ronal Antívar Muriel, a native of Colombia and a religious of the Order of Saint Augustine.

Wearing his Augustinian black habit, we often crossed his path, and he would be smiling, outgoing and serene, in the hallways of the Custody, at the Holy Sepulcher or during celebrations at the holy places. His primary objective was studying biblical archeology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, but mostly deepening his faith by the discovery of the holy places. “Having been a priest for four years, I had just completed my degree in Sacred Scripture in Rome. I felt the desire to come to the Holy Land in order to finish my studies, and to more deeply live out what I had learned. My superiors gave me their blessing and I came to the Custody.” He explained, smiling, “My goal in this is to better serve God and men, and to share this experience with those who do not have the opportunity to come here. The Holy Land is a stage of my life, and the discoveries I made and the knowledge I acquired will help me to serve the church in her mission.”

And when asked if he could do anything he wanted, he delightfully replied, “I got even more than what I asked for!” Being in contact with the holy places and in the region of the world that God chose as the place for his son Jesus Christ to come into the world is important for every Christian. By staying for months, Br. Ronal was able to take full advantage of this place. “I was able to celebrate mass and experience the liturgy. It is one thing to come here and visit, but it is quite another to have the time to pray and contemplate on these places. For example, I had the opportunity to spend eight days with the Franciscan community in Capernaum. I would celebrate with them, and when I opened the window, I could see the Sea of Galilee. I was able to meditate on the Word of God and go to the house of Peter. I was able to reflect on what Jesus did at the places where he was … I was very touched.”

On this land that is primordial to all Christians, ecumenism is a daily and visible occurrence, especially in certain holy places that different denominations share. This will also remain engraved in Br. Ronal’s memory. “There was a gesture of friendship by an Orthodox priest at the Holy Sepulcher that touched me. I always greeted him when I came to pray, and we would exchang a few words. When I told him I was leaving, he went and got a rosary and images of the Virgin to give me. It’s not much, but it was very beautiful, in a context where people always say that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are very far apart from each other.”

Exchange with the Franciscans

Hosted at St. Savior’s Monastery in Jerusalem, Br. Ronal has been living at the Custody and he is leaving after being touched by his experience. “My experience of the Holy Land would not have been the same without the Franciscans. What has more value to me is having lived with them: having shared their meals, their celebrations, their recreations, their feasts, their life. What touched me was this religious brotherhood between different spiritualities. We brought together St. Augustine and St. Francis! I was asked to guide certain reflections and meditations during my stay. I was able to share some of my spirituality, my vision, what God has made of me thus far.”

“With them I learned the love of the Holy Land, hospitality, the Franciscan charism, and the value of Franciscan history in this region. For several centuries, many brothers gave their lives for the Holy Land. Every evening in the refectory, we read about the life of the friars who lived here: for a number of years of religious life, and for years in the Holy Land, through missions and actions … They all worked to preserve the memory and to guard the holy places, in order to allow pilgrims to get in touch with this land. I have a great appreciation for them. They are examples; they invite each of us to do something for the Holy Land. I am going home to Colombia, but I am now linked to these places. I feel a sense of duty to this land, wherever I will go and in my own way, whether through preaching, material support, or prayer.” Good luck dear brother!

Hélène Morlet