Bethlehem (AsiaNews) - The Custody of the Holy Land has concluded this evening, Monday, 11 June, its triennial Chapter, held this time in Bethlehem, at its monastery and pilgrim guest-house next to the Shrine of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Chapter, presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, The Most Reverend Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, had opened on Sunday , 3 June. Its 46 members (who became 47 before it ended), out of the 300 Friars Minor (from more than twenty nations) who serve in the Custody, heard reports of the activities of the Custody in the past three years, enacted certain changes in its legislation, and elected the new Venerable Discretorium, the Custos's Council. By decree of the Holy See, the Discretorium is so composed as to assure the presence within it of Friars from the different major geographical-linguistic regions, from which the Friars come to serve in the Holy Land.
Father Athanasius Macora, from Austin, Texas (USA) will continue to represent the English-speaking world, while others will represent the French and German Lands (Father Gregor Geiger), the Arabic-speaking Middle East (Father Rashid Mistrih), the Spanish-speaking countries (Father Nicolas Marques, a Mexican), Central and Eastern Europe (Father Dobromir Jasztal, a canon lawyer from Polan), Italy and Malta (Father Noel Muscat). The Vicar of the Custos, The Very Reverend Father Artemio Vitores, is himself from Spain.
Before concluding their Chapter with Solemn Vespers at the Franciscan Parish Church of St. Catherine, right next to the Grotto of Christ's Birth, the Friars adopted a Message to all persons, which accentuates their choice of "closeness" to the "much-tried" civilian population of Bethlehem, which it is understood had led them to choose to hold their assembly in this town. The Message pays homage to the "heroic faithfulness" of those Friars who had remained steadfast at the Shrine of the Nativity through the 39 days of occupation from within, and siege from without, in the spring of 2002, as well as to the extraordinary care given by the Friars to the people of Bethlehem during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when "terrified and needy" civilians were given shelter and aid, and dissuaded from abandoning the city.
Both the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem, Archbishop Antonio Franco, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah (accompanied by his Coadjutor, Archbishop Fouad Twal), paid visits to the Chapter and dialogued with its President and memebers.
Father David-Maria A. Jaeger, a canon law professor who took part as a member of the Chapter, has told AsiaNews: "For myself, I have been amazed to see just how tremendously full of vitality the Custody is, just how much has been accomplished in the last three years, and how much is being done right now, and already planned for the future. Having lived for years in the U.S. and in Rome, it has all been a tremendous revelation for me, and has made me feel even more grateful for the privilege of belonging to this extraordianry group of dedicated men."