On February 14th, 1421, Pope Martin V issued the papal bull “His quae pro ecclesiasticarum” which became the birth certificate of the Commissariats of the Holy Land. Six hundred years later, on February 14th, 2021, this anniversary was celebrated by the Custody of the Holy Land and the 67 Commissariats of the Holy Land. (Photo courtesy of ofm.org)

600 Years of the Holy Land Custody and Other News of the Order

Jim McIntosh OFM Franciscan World

The March issue of Fraternitas, the Order’s international newsletter, highlights the 600th anniversary of the establishment of the Commissaries of the Holy Land by Pope Martin V on Feb. 14, 1421. To mark the occasion, the Holy Father sent a handwritten letter to Br. Francesco Patton, OFM, the custos of the Holy Land. The newsletter also provides information about the 100-year presence of the Order of Friars Minor in the Congo, a friar whose work is displayed in the Vatican Museum, the invocation and prayers for the upcoming General Chapter, and reviews of new Franciscan books.

The descriptions below summarize other recent developments throughout the Order of Friars Minor. Additional details can be found on the OFM website and by following the Order on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

► On March 11, Michael Perry, OFM, wrote a letter to the friars on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his letter, the Minister General said, “It is difficult to verify exactly how many of our beloved friars have died as a result of complications from COVID-19, but the numbers are significant.” He went on to say, “We do not know the full weight of collateral ‘damage’ that might come as a consequence of the pandemic, but we already are sensing increased challenges that touch every aspect of our lives, our institutions, and our evangelizing presence in the world today. It is my prayer that each of you has been able to take sufficient time to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on your life, on the other brothers in the fraternity, on your pastoral and missionary work, and on the lives of those whom we have been called to serve.” The Minister General also called all friars to a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. “The focus clearly is on a radical change of heart and mind, and is also linked with acts that contribute to the liberation of God’s people by uniting our efforts in one great act of solidarity, something so much needed in our world prior to and as a consequence of the COVID pandemic,” he said. The letter from the Minister General coincided with the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s March 11, 2020 declaration of Sars2-COVID-19 being a global pandemic.

A Franciscan friar with an indigenous Cuban in Plaza San Francisco in La Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Jim McIntosh.

► Cuba is not the easiest of missionary locations, as attested to by the experience of numerous congregations that have found it difficult to find candidates willing to go and stay for a reasonable period of time. Yet, a half-dozen Franciscan friars serving in Cuba – including four from foreign countries – are providing hope that friars from different entities will feel called to the challenge of this mission. The numbers are a far cry from the Franciscan presence in the 1950s, before the Cuban Revolution, when there were 104 friars in 17 communities spread across various parts of the country. Today, the six friars – two Cubans and four foreigners, one each from Mexico, the U.S., Guatemala, and Ireland – are living in two fraternities in the capital city of Havana. The Cuban presence is a semi-autonomous delegation of the Arántzazu Province in Spain and also part of the Custody of Our Lady of Hope with two other countries that include the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

► Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, OFM, as the new bishop for the Apostolic Vicariate of El Beni in Bolivia. Many HNP friars who studied Spanish in Cochabamba knew Aurelio when he served as director of post-novitiate formation and later as provincial minister of the Missionary Province of San Antonio en Bolivia. He had been serving as the auxiliary bishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of La Paz and Secretary-General of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference before his new appointment.


► General Minister Michael Perry, OFM, was among four panelists in a March 4 webinar who discussed the encyclical released last fall by Pope Francis. The program, titled “The Peace Dimension of ‘Fratelli Tutti,'” was sponsored by Franciscans International in partnership with three other organizations. The other panelists were Cecelia Suarez of Catholic Relief Services, Anna Floerke Scheid, associate professor of theology at Duquesne University, and A. Rashied Omar of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

► The Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University in England is hosting a two-week online Franciscan Summer School program from May 17 to 28. The online format enables interested parties to participate from anywhere in the world and fit the courses around their schedule. There are different levels of participation, either attending only the public lectures or selecting one or more of the course offerings. The summer program gives vowed and secular Franciscans the opportunity to learn from authorities internationally renowned in Franciscan studies. They include two members of English-speaking Conference provinces – Dan Horan, OFM, of Holy Name Province, and Bill Short, OFM, of St. Barbara Province – as well as Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF, a Franciscan sister who holds the Josephine Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University, and Jacques Dalarun, a French author, historian and leading scholar in Franciscan studies. The registration deadline is April 17.

The friars in Korea protest the military coup in Myanmar. (Photo courtesy of ofm.org)

► The JPIC Commission of the Korean OFM Province joined 17 other organizations in a campaign to stop the coup in Myanmar. The military there declared a state of emergency saying that the general election held last November was fraudulent. Tanks appeared on the streets of the capital city of Naepido and Yangon, along with a declaration of martial law. The Korean friars see many parallels between their country and Myanmar, in that both had military regimes in the 1960s that killed many citizens. The friars write, “Myanmar’s democracy, which was regained after half a century of military dictatorship, is faltering again. [The choice of] Myanmar’s citizens in the general election was not the military rule by force, but the progress of the civil government and democracy.” The friars find the citizens’ resistance to the coup encouraging, but they fear that the bloodshed of 1988 and 2007 will recur.

— Jim McIntosh is a communications assistant for the HNP Communications Office.