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800 years of the Franciscan presence in the Middle east.
The Overseas Territory of Syria, the Custody of the Holy Land, was later established in 1217 during the first general assembly of the Order, which opened in Assisi (Italy) at the Church of our Lady of Angels during Pentecost. In the same complex seven provinces were established in Italy and six abroad. Upon the establishment of the Overseas Territory or the territory of Syria, St. Francis personally intervened in the appointment of Brother Ilya bonabaroneh from Cortona (Italy) as the first servant of this new province.
It is believed that the first monks arrived in the autumn of that year to the city of Acre after passing through Antioch, Tripoli, Tire and Sidon. They were also established in Damascus and Aleppo, as well as Jordan in the last century, as well as the natural presence in Palestine, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and the main places related to our salvation in the Holy Land.
The arrival of Saint Francis in the East in 1219 is a historic event of a great importance. After a century of wars between the Christian and Muslim armies to control the Syrian and Palestinian coasts, Francis was a true follower of Jesus who proclaimed the bible of peace to friends and enemies. For rapprochement and coexistence with Muslims, a method based on dialogue, tolerance and mutual love.
With the fall of the coastal cities the younger brotherhood offered many martyrs: the head of a monk was cut off in Asdov in 1265 accompanied by 2,000 Christians were also martyred. Four monks were cut off with all the Templars after the capture of the fortress of Safed, and the destruction of two monasteries in Antioch in 1268. The martyrdom of eight monks in Tripoli in 1289 with the first martyr of the Second Order (Sisters of Clarisse). Two years later, in 1291, in the city of Acre, fourteen Franciscan monks and seventy-four nuns of Clarisse presented their blood to keep faith in the Lord Jesus.
With the final fall of the Latin Kingdom in 1291, everything seems to have ended for the pilgrimage and overseas provinces. But the seed of peace delivered by St. Francis during his meeting with Sultan Kamel al-Ayyubi in 1219 in Damietta, and the many blood shed by the martyred monks began to bear fruit.
In 1333, the king and queen of Naples, Roberto and Sanchez, of the Third Franciscan Order, who were raised by the Franciscans, were able to purchase after a great deal of effort and cost: Zion and the Holy Sepulcher of the Franciscan monks. So 12 monks were appointed in Jerusalem to take care of the shrines and four monks in Naples to raise funds in the kingdoms of Sicily, southern Italy, to support the shrines.
The Custody of the Holy Land was formally established, supported by two papal documents, and so the Franciscans were called the Peaceful Pilgrims and succeeded in a peaceful way to rid most of the holy sites.
In later centuries, guest houses were established for pilgrims and social facilities such as schools, nursing homes for the elderly and hospitals for the sick.
Today, the Custody of the Holy Land operates in Judea, Galilee, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Italy, Buenos Aires and Washington. About 300 monks from all over the world are interested in 29 parishes, 10 of them in Syria and Lebanon and 14 schools and colleges.
In recent years, the situation in Syria has become critical because of the ongoing war that has resulted in the displacement of millions. Therefore, the efforts of the monks in this area have intensified to build and renovate the places and take care of the living stones both physically and spiritually.
In conclusion, we can say that the Franciscans have been present in the Middle East for eight decades continuously. This presence takes its strength from faithful service to God, to the Church and to the neighbor.
The Custody of the Holy Land, the reception of the pilgrims, the care of the Christians and the dialogue with all were and still are the reason for which the younger brothers give their lives passionately in the hands of the Lord, following his printed steps on the land where he lived.
Terra Santa Tripoli