It was St. Francis who traveled to the Holy Land in 1219 to meet with Sultan Melek-El-Kamel, having the conviction that all man's problems could be resolved through the Gospel. "Let us proclaim the Gospel to everyone" was the Franciscan founder's motto.
St. Francis's desire to create the religious province of the Holy Land was helped out by the by the successes of the Christian Crusades, which had extended the region's apostolate to include the southeastern Mediterranean basin, Egypt and Greece.
In 1263 territorial boundaries were drawn up and given the name "Custodies".
1291, the year the St. John of Acri fell into Muslim hands, marked the beginning of Islamic domination of Palestine. The Franciscans transferred their Holy Land communities to Cypus.
In 1309 Sultan Bibars II allowed the Franciscans to remain caretakers of the Room of the Last Supper, the Holy Sepulcher and Bethlehem. In 1336, thanks to the support of the kings of Naples, the Franciscan community fully sets itself up again in the Holy Land and has been there ever since. This came after having obtained the necessary legal rights of the holy sites, properties and religious residences.
After the two Papal Bulls, "Gratis agimus" and "Nuper carissimae" in 1342, Pope Clement VI officially recognizes Franciscan ownership, when the Room of the Last Supper became the Holy Land Custody's headquarters.
In 1511 the Franciscans were expelled from Mount Zion. Since 1560 the San Salvatore convent in Jerusalem has served as the seat of the Custody, unchanged even today.
The Holy Land Custody operates in the following countries: Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and in Greece (Rhodes). There are about 300 Franciscan friars of 32 nationalities and from 59 religious provinces working for the Custody.
The Custody's main task is to safeguard holy sites, just as it has been since the very beginning of their service in the Holy Land.
The Custody also provides welcome services and guides for pilgrims. It also undertakes pastoral care at the Holy Sepulcher, at sanctuaries in Bethlehem and Nazareth, and 74 other holy sites, including 5 basilicas, 60 churches, 43 chapels and 29 parishes.
The order also runs 16 schools having 10,000 students as well as Jerusalem's renowned theological institute, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.