(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land marking the 800th anniversary of their presence as guardians of the holy sites in modern day Israel and Palestine.
In the letter, published on Tuesday, the pope praises the Franciscans for their vital contribution to life in the Holy Land, in particular their work to accompany pilgrims coming from all over the world
The Pope recalls the way that Saint Francis, in May 1217 during the chapter of his recently founded order, decided to send the friars out on mission. The first missionaries to the Holy Land arrived that summer in the town of Acre, near Haifa, in northern Israel and just over a hundred years later, Pope Clement VI confirmed them as the custodians of the holy places.
Sowing peace, fraternity, respect
In the message, Pope Francis notes how the Franciscans live alongside people of different cultures and religions, sowing seeds of “peace, fraternity and respect”. As well as their work as guides for pilgrims, the Pope recalls, they are also committed to biblical and archaeological studies. Franciscans also work closely with the local Churches taking care of the poor, the sick, the elderly and the young people who find it hard to keep up hope amidst the ongoing conflict.
Collection for the Holy Land
The Pope says that the Franciscans are ambassadors for the whole people of God, who support them through the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land and through the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches, which is currently marking the centenary of its foundation.
From October 4-8, 2017, at the Franciscan Shrine of La Verna, the General Ministers of the Franciscan First Order and the TOR, Friars Michael Perry OFM, Mauro Jöhri, OFMCap, Marco Tasca, OFMConv, Nicholas Polichnowski, TOR, along with the friars of the General Definitoriums of the four families gathered on Retreat.
A few years ago, the brother Definitors of the four Franciscan Families participated a similar experience. It was a time of grace, of listening to the word of God and prayer. This year’s Retreat was designed as one of the elements of the process of preparing for the anniversary of the meeting of St. Francis with the Sultan (in 2019 we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of this event). For this reason, the reflections proposed by the presenters dealt with themes of dialogue, diversity, alterity and friendship.
The Franciscan friars were led, during the first days of the Retreat, by Mons. Jean-Paul Vesco, OP, Bishop of Oran (Algeria). Bp. Vesco dealt with the themes of dialogue and friendship. The Conference on the last day of the Retreat was entrusted to the Muslim theologian, Prof. Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh. She explained some issues relating to the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, pausing at length on dogmatic and spiritual matters. The brother Definitors left La Verna somehow changed and touched, certainly by the ideas shared by the presenters but also by cordial and generous hospitality offered by the friars who work and live at the Shrine of La Verna.
From October 9 to 14, the animators of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) from the EAC and SAAOC Conferences have met in the city of Seoul, South Korea.
With the welcoming words of Br. Aloysio Kim, the JPIC animator of the Province of the Holy Martyrs of Korea, was launched the JPIC Continental Meeting which aims to encourage the work of the brothers responsible for JPIC in the different countries of the continent, to improve the quality of the communication, to have time for formation, reflection and action of the priority themes that the International Council of JPIC, in the spirit of Enclíca Laudato si’, proposed for the whole Order: migration, mining and new lifestyle.
During these days the participants have shared the work that each animator or JPIC commission carries out in their region, through reports by entity. The reports have been submitted by India, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan and Australia. The animators also participated in the formation sessions such as “The Problem of Migration and Human Trafficking in the Asian Region” presented by Joyce Kim, the counselor of the Durebang Foundation who accompanies victims of sexual exploitation in the camptowns around US military camps in South Korea after the Second World War.
On the other hand, the American activist “Curry” has presented part of her works for the peace and opposition movement against the militarization of the region (innumerable military bases), particularly in Gangjeong village, Jeju island and in Okinawa. Finally, the theme of climate change has been present at this meeting in the presentation of Daul Jang, a Greenpeace activist who has brought particular attention to “the issue of Human Rights related to climate change and energy.”
The last two days of the meeting, the JPIC animators discussed the possibilities of work in both countries, making some concrete action plans to implement in their respective countries for the next three years.
The Holy Martyrs of Natal, Brazil and Tlaxcala, Mexico
The OFM General Postulator was given the task of preparing two special Positiones during 2015 and 2016. The first was for the canonisation of the Blessed André de Soveral, Bl. Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, Bl. Mateus Moreira and their 27 lay companions, protomartyrs of Brazil. The second was for the canonisation of the youths Blessed Cristóbal, Bl. Antonio and Bl. Juan, protomartyrs of Mexico. The favourable decision regarding the canonisation of the two groups of Blesseds was made during an ordinary session on March 14th, 2017, by the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A number of factors led to their decision including the joint request from the Episcopal Conferences of Mexico and Brazil; the spread of devotion to the Blesseds and the evidence of graces and favours obtained through their intercession; the pastoral importance of devotion to the martyrs; and the contemporary relevance of their message. Subsequently, on March 28th, 2017, the Holy Father authorised the publication of this Decision and then, during a consistory held on April 20th, 2017, fixed the date of the solemn Canonisation.
Blessed André de Soveral and Bl. Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, diocesan priests, Bl. Mateus Moreira and 27 Lay Companions
These Blessed martyrs met their deaths during the wars of religion which resulted in huge bloodshed in Europe and its colonies during the 16th and 17th centuries. They gave their lives in faithfulness to Catholicism and to the Roman Pontiff, and were victims of hatred and persecution of one set of Christians by another set of Christians, divided by doctrinal differences.
The evangelisation of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil) began in 1597, and was led by Jesuit missionaries and diocesan priests from the Catholic Kingdom of Portugal. In the decades following, the arrival of Dutch Calvinists had the effect of restrictions being placed on the religious liberty of Catholics, and the emergence of persecution against them. The 30 martyrs were killed in two separate incidents. The first took place in Cunhaú on July 16th, 1645, at the Chapel of Our Lady of Candles; as the pastor, André de Soveral, celebrated Sunday Mass, a troop of Dutch soldiers accompanied by indigenous people, stormed the holy place and massacred the defenceless faithful. The second happened on October 3rd, 1645. The Catholics of Natal, terrified by what had happened previously, sought safety in improvised refuges, but in vain. They were taken prisoner along with their pastor, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, and brought to Uruaçu where Dutch soldiers and about 200 indigenous people awaited them, all full of an aversion to Catholics. The faithful and their pastor were treated in a horrendous fashion and allowed to die following terrible mutilations.
Only thirty of the faithful could be identified with certainty, and their names are those proposed for canonisation. These are: Fr. André de Soveral, pastor and Domingo Carvalho, layman, killed in Cunhaú; Fr. Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, pastor, Mateus Moreira, Antônio Vilela Junior and his daughter, José do Porto, Francisco de Bastos, Diogo Pereira, João Lostão Navarro, Antônio Vilela Cid, Estêvão Machado de Miranda and two daughters, Vicente de Souza Pereira, Francisco Mendes Pereira, João da Silveira, Simão Correia, Antônio Baracho, João Martins and seven companions, Manuel Rodrigues Moura and his wife, a daughter of Francisco Dias Junior, killed in Uruaçu.
The memory of their martyrdom has been preserved in an uninterrupted tradition up to this day. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, understanding of the religious motivation for the killing of the Martyrs of Rio Grande do Norte has deepened, and practical steps for instructing the Process of Beatification began in earnest in 1989. During the celebration of the Jubilee Year in 2000, St. John Paul II then proceeded to the Solemn Beatification of the martyrs of Rio Grande do Norte, Protomartyrs of Brazil.
Blessed Martyrs Cristóbal, Antonio e Juan, Adolescents (1527-1529)
The blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, martyrs for the Christian faith, are considered by historians the Protomartyrs of Mexico and of the whole American continent, first fruits of evangelization of the new world. Their death is placed in the years 1527-1529, before the Marian event of Guadalupe (1531), when they were still very young. Their biographical information is scarce, but common to all three was a solid Christian education received from the early Franciscan Missionaries who along with Dominicans in 1524 set foot in Mexico, then called New Spain. The missionaries were interested in undertaking an extensive and solid evangelization and the promotion of human and religious formation among the native population, trying first to eliminate beliefs, superstitions and tribal rites in stark contrast with Christian faith and practice. In fact, they wanted to preserve the population from the most negative expression of idolatrous rituals, which unfortunately included human sacrifices as well as violent and immoral behavior.
The first of the blessed martyrs was Cristóbal, also called with the diminutive “Cristobalito”; He was born in Atlihuetzía (Tlaxcala) between 1514 and 1515 and was the favorite son and heir of the main Cacique Acxotecatl. He readily followed the example of his three brothers, who in 1524 had been schooled by the Friars Minor. Cristóbal received instruction in the Christian faith, and spontaneously requested baptism. In a short time he became an apostle for the Gospel among his relatives and acquaintances. Indeed, set out to convert his father urging him to change his habits, especially his drunkenness. His father ignored his pleas and Cristobal began break the idols present in his home. Unfortunately the pagan faith of his father was superior to its parental affection; so in a fit of rage he cruelly beat his son to a pulp. In his pain Cristóbal continued to pray, and his father threw him into a lit pyre. The father then secretly buried her son. The martyrdom occurred in 1527, when Cristóbal was only 13 years old.
Antonio and Juan were born between 1516 and 1517 in Tizatlán (Tlaxcala), Antonio was grandson and heir of the local Caciques, while Juan, of humble condition, was his servant: both attended the school of the Friars Minor. In 1529 the Dominican missionaries decided to establish a mission in Oaxaca; Consequently, passing through Tlaxcala the Dominican Friar Bernardino Minaya, asked Friar Martin of Valencia, Franciscan Director of the school, to point out some young men who might volunteer to accompany him as interpreters at the Natives. Meeting the school boys, Friar Martin asked who was available for such a task, warning however that it was a life threatening and dangerous task; immediately the thirteen-year-old boys Antonio and Juan came forth together with another noble young man named Diego (who did not die a martyr). The group arrived in Tepeaca and the youth helped the missionaries collect idols. In one occasion some Natives, enraged and armed with canes, approached and beat Juan to death as well as Antonio who rushed to his aid.
The historical fact of the murder of the three young men Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, was immediately after their death, regarded as a martyrdom, that is it was done out of hatred for the faith. This conviction, supported by documentary evidence was kept alive over the centuries allowing for their beatification by St. Pope John Paul II on 6 May 1990 in the shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Promulgation of Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
On October 9, 2017, Pope Francis received in audience his Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He authorized the Dicasterate to promulgate a Decree on the martyrdom of the servants of God Tullio Maruzzo, a priest of the order of Friars Minor and Luis Obdulio Arroyo Navarro, a layman of the third order of Saint Francis of Assisi, killed on July 1, 1981 in odium fidei in Los Amates, in the Apostolic Vicariate, Izabal in Guatemala.
Friar Tullio (Marcello) Maruzzo
Friar Tullio (Marcello) Maruzzo was born in Lapio of Arcugnano (Vicenza) on July 23, 1929. Educated at a deeply Christian family in 1939, he joined the seraphic College of the Friars Minor of Veneto in Chiampo. He made his solemn profession in 1951. He was ordained on June 21, 1953. In December 1960 he went as a missionary to Guatemala. His pastoral activity was done in the parishes of the Vicariate of Izabal, where with dedication and courage he exerted himself for the good of the faithful. Sensitive to cries of the poor peasants who because of the greed of a few landowners were dispossessed from the land that they were improving with hard work. His work as pastor was to address rampant poverty, to console the disheartened and especially to illuminate consciences to clearly promote the rights of Justice according to the dictates of the Gospel. His pastoral activity took on the character of a prophetic and courageous denunciation of the abuses of local despots who then decreed his suppression.
Luis Obdulio Arroyo Navarro
Luis Obdulio Arroyo Navarro was the faithful companion that the Lord placed next to Br. Tullio in the moment of ultimate sacrifice. He was born in Quiriguá (Guatemala) on 21 June 1950. He worked as a driver for the municipality of Los Amates. At the age of 26 years he joined the Franciscan third order, and become a Catechist in the parish. On the evening of 1 July 1981, on the way back from a meeting of Cursillos of Christianity, de Los Amates, Br. Tullio and Luis Obdulio fell victim to an ambush by those who wanted to silence their work of evangelization. Their cause of beatification, promoted by the Veneto province of Friars Minor, began in the year 2005.