Honoring Eight Centuries of Service and Sacrifice in the Holy Land
FR. GREG FRIEDMAN, OFM
On November 14, the Franciscans of the Holy Land celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas Tavelic and Companions. The first martyrs of the Custody of the Holy Land, these four 14th-century friars met their death in Muslim-ruled Jerusalem, near the present-day Jaffa Gate in 1391, nearly 60 years after the Franciscans were made the official custodians of the shrines in the Holy Land. The friars’ history includes more than 150 Franciscans who suffered martyrdom there.
In considering the missionary call of his friars—especially among Muslims—St. Francis offered two “methodologies.” The friars were to live among non-believers in a quiet way, giving silent witness. Only when they felt called by the Lord to do so, were they to preach Christ more directly and openly. Such was the case with Nicholas and his Companions.
Commenting on the 800th anniversary of the encounter between St. Francis and the Muslim Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt, in 1219, the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, has noted that, “From the perspective of 800 years, this meeting has assumed a historical reach that goes beyond the era when it occurred. Throughout eight centuries of Franciscan presence in the Holy Land, for example, the spirit of this encounter has permitted the Friars Minor to take root in a majority Muslim context and to avoid (with some exceptions) an approach of conflict, polemics and controversy.
“Rather, the followers of the Poor Man of Assisi have drawn inspiration from Francis’ instruction…to give testimony through a quiet witness of faith as the foundation for living together. Such peaceful testimony is marked by service and dedication to the point of giving one’s life (as during the plague epidemics when the friars cared for others, heedless of their own safety).
Please pray for all the friars who have given, and continue to give, their service to the people of the Holy Land—of all faiths. May our presence there promote the peace and welfare of the Land and its people.