Holy Land Festival Set for July 25 in U.S. Capital

James Gardiner, SA Franciscan World

The beautiful grounds of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

The beautiful grounds of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

In this season of carnivals and summer fairs, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land is holding its second annual festival this month. Below, a member of the monastery’s staff – a friar from a Franciscan community based just north of New York City – describes why the event was planned and gives information about other programs held at the monastery in the northeast area of Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Ever since it was established almost three years ago, the Holy Land Committee of the Archdiocese of Washington had two challenges. The first was to establish working relationships among the various organizations and entities in the D.C. area devoted to supporting the Holy Land; and the second was to address the prevailing image of the Holy Land as a dangerous and undesirable place. Regular meetings were instituted where the members — the Archdiocese of Washington, Bethlehem University Foundation, Custody of the Holy Land, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, and Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation, among others — could share information, elicit support and work more closely together.

“Why not a festival to present the Holy Land in a completely different light?” someone suggested last year. “It could be a day for entertainment, inspiration, food, culture and peace-building in the Holy Land.” Within a matter of weeks, the first Holy Land Festival was up and running. And it attracted roughly 500 people.

Besides the usual festival fare of food, crafts and demonstrations, visitors were treated to 50-minute panels that allowed the voices of Palestinians to be heard, explored how different Christian churches institutionally support Christians living in the Holy Land, and introduced the complementary missions of the groups comprising the archdiocesan committee. The fact that the presentations were held in the monastery’s new conference center, which is air-conditioned, was an additional attraction.


This year, the festival — the second — is scheduled for Saturday, July 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the monastery grounds on Quincy Street in Washington. Among the proposed panel topics are peace through health care, the role of museums, new hopes for the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “We Will Be Heard,” three young adult Palestinians sharing their hopes for the future.

The festival isn’t the only way that the Franciscan Monastery promotes interest in the Holy Land and generates support for the “living stones” who call the Holy Land home. Several thousand visitors – an estimated 25,000 in 2014 alone – take advantage of guided tours of the church, catacombs and gardens; two friars – Frs. David Wathen, OFM, and Garret Edmonds, OFM – lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land; and Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM, serves as associate editor of The Holy Land Review, which is published four times a year. Fr. Greg just returned from a month in the Holy Land, where he interviewed people, took photographs and made contacts for stories in future issues.

In addition to unique shrines and chapels both inside the church and throughout the grounds, the church has an impressive Lively-Fulcher pipe organ. In partnership with the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, “Music @ the Monastery,” a monthly recital series was organized. And a young organists’ competition drew interest from up and down the East Coast.

Although not a parish, daily Masses and an extensive sacramental reconciliation schedule — seven times a day, six days a week — serves the local church and visitors from near and far.

— Fr. James, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, has served as director of special projects at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land since 2012.