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26 December 2011

The Custos

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The Custos of the Holy Land is the Minister Provincial (i.e. the major superior) of the Friars Minor living throughout the Middle East. He has jurisdiction over the territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt (in part), Cyprus and Rhodes without counting the numerous houses or Commissariats in various parts of the world (worth mentioning are those in Rome and Washington).

The main task of the Custos, in addition to animating the life of the friars, is to coordinate and direct the reception of pilgrims who come to the Holy Land for pilgrimage and pray at the shrines of our Redemption. This task was bestowed by the Holy See over 600 years ago. The term used at those times to designate this task was "custody" of the holy places, from which derived the terms still in use "Custody" and "Custos ".

The first and most important role of the Custos, therefore, is to receive the pilgrims at the Holy Shrines, offering them spaces of prayer and making available hostels for those who cannot afford expensive hotels.

The Custos ensures that friars are available to receive and talk with pilgrims at the holy places. His jurisdiction includes all the Catholic Christian sanctuaries. He ensures their economic support in order that this important function is fulfilled.

Another mission that the Custos assumes is to coordinate information about the Holy Land and instill in the Christians of the world the "loving care" for these sites: archaeological excavations at the holy places, publication of ancient pilgrimages and above all, the study of the Bible through geography and history of these same sites where the events took place. For this reason the Custody has set up the SBF, FAI, FPP, to name a few. These activities depend mainly on the Custos who sponsors such initiatives.

Another important task the Custos undertakes is to care for and sustain, in agreement with the local church, the Christian presence in the Holy Land through various initiatives. This includes ministry to schools and parishes and is done in conjunction with the local church.

These initiatives clearly require not only the moral support of Christians throughout the world, but also their economical support. It is for this reason that during the centuries various "Commissariats of the Holy Land" were set up world-wide to foster awareness of the friars living in the Holy Land and simultaneously solicit funds to help sustain the work of the Custody.

All these Commissariats (and they are many) depend directly on the Custos . Given the importance of the role of the Custos he is not elected like the other Ministers Provincial of the Order. Rather, he is directly appointed by the Holy See after a consultation with the friars of the Custody and the presentation made by the Order’s governing body.

In the Holy Land, the Custos is looked upon as one of the main Christian religious authorities. Together with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch, he is responsible of the status quo, the code that regulates life at the Holy Sepulchre in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. By right, he forms part of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (the Bishops of the local Catholic Church).

The current Custos

The current Custos is Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, appointed Custos of the Holy Land for the first time in May of 2004, for a period of six years, and reconfirmed by the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor in May of 2010 for another three-year term.

orn on April 21, 1965, in Cologno al Serio in the diocese and province of Bergamo, he began formation with the friars of the province of Emilia Romagna, to which he still juridically belongs. He was ordained a priest on September 15, 1990, and entered into effective service of the Custody of the Holy Land in 1999. Upon completion of philosophical and theological studies, he received a bachelor’s degree in theology on June 19, 1990, from the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome. He completed his studies of specialization at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem, obtaining his license in biblical theology on June 21, 1993, and afterward received his master’s degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was a professor of modern Hebrew at the Franciscan Faculty of Biblical and Archeological Sciences in Jerusalem, and has done pastoral work with the Hebrew-speaking faithful for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.