By Vatican News staff writer
Pope Francis sent a message Friday for the six hundredth anniversary, on Sunday, of the institution of the Commissaries of the Holy Land.
“The coming 14th [of February] is the 600th anniversary of the institution of the Commissaries of the Holy Land by Pope Martin V,” Pope Francis noted in the letter addressed to Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Francesco Patton, OFM.
After all these centuries, the Pope said, “the mission of the Commissaries is still relevant: to support, promote and enhance the mission of the Custody of the Holy Land by making a network of ecclesial, spiritual and charitable relationships that have as their focal point the land where Jesus lived.”
Reiterating his support for their “precious service” and extending his blessing on it, the Holy Father went on to express hope that it may "increasingly become a seed of fraternity.”
“I bless all from my heart - and please do not forget to pray for me,” the Pope said, concluding his message.
Commissariats provide service of support to Holy Land
Expressing gratitude for his fatherly message, the Custos thanked the Holy Father, on behalf of the Commissaries and himself, for his closeness through his letter for the sixth centenary celebration.
He noted that even today, the service of the Commissaries is precious and, in many ways, irreplaceable, as it serves in making the Holy Land and its realities known. It also highlights the service of the Custody of the Holy Land in encouraging, organizing and accompanying groups of pilgrims to visit the Holy Places; promoting the annual “Collection for the Holy Land” and other forms of economic support for the mission; and encouraging vocations to the service of the Holy Land.
The Custos informed the Pope that at 6:30 am on 15 February in Jerusalem, there would be a solemn celebration of the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the 600 years of service and in memory of all benefactors at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He promised to read the Pope’s message on that occasion and to pray for him and his ministry, as well as for unity and fraternity among all peoples, adding that “it is precisely from the Paschal Mystery that this proclamation and ministry draws its origin and fruitfulness.”
Concluding his letter, the Custos reiterated his gratitude to the Pope, especially for all the support received through the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and its prefect.
Commissariats of the Holy Land
Established in 1421 by Pope Martin V with the bull “His quae pro ecclesiasticarum”, the Commissariats of the Holy Land were created to support the missions in the birth place of Jesus and to procure economic aid for the Holy Land.
“The Commissariats were not established six hundred years ago by chance,” explains Fr. Marcelo Ariel Cichinelli, the Custody’s delegate for the Commissariats of the Holy Land. “History situates their creation during a hard period for the life of the Custody when strong support was need for the mission in the Holy Land.”
The Franciscans, charged with the Custody of the Holy Land, initially gave laymen the responsibility for “procuring” economic support for the Holy Land. This gave rise to the position of the “procurator”, the forerunner of the Commissar. The first layman appointed was a merchant, Ruggero Contarini, whose name is mentioned in documents dating back to 1392.
Over the centuries, the laity were gradually replaced by Franciscan friars and today all the commissaries of the Holy Land are appointed by their territorial superior, after consultation with the Custos of the Holy Land.
The Commissariats of the Holy Land are spread all over the world. The Commissariats of Naples, Paris and Vienna, for example, were founded in the first half of the 17th century, while those in Mexico City, Lima, Cartagena, Quito and Bueno Aires were created at the end of the 16th Century with support from the Spanish crown.
Currently, there are 67 Commissariats of the Holy Land, distributed in 60 nations of the world. They represent a bridge between the mission of the Holy Land and the local churches, and they reassert the importance of support for the Holy Land with the “Collecta pro Locis Sanctis,” which was established by Pope Leo XIII on 26 December 1887 and is taken up each year on Good Friday.