30 Oct

Lebanon: Chapel of the “Flying Saint”

On September 26, 2017, the Order of Friars Minor in Lebanon dedicated a chapel to the “Flying Saint,” St. Joseph of Cupertino. The chapel is located in the garden of their St. Anthony of Padua friary in Harissa.

On the evening of September 26, as Our Lady of Lebanon looked on, a considerable crowd of faithful gathered outside the small chapel for the blessing rite. It was presided over by Friar Francesco PATTON, the Custos of the Holy Land of the Friars Minor. Others attending the dedication included the Most Reverend Gabriele CACCIA, Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon; the Most Reverend César ESSAYAN, OFM Conv., Vicar Apostolic of Beirut; and Father Ivan SANTUS, Secretary to the Nuncio. There was also a sizeable group of Friars Minor from the Holy Land and Lebanon as well as various representatives of our own Order: Friar Martin KMETEC, OFM Conv, Vicar Custos; Friar Agnello STOIA, OFM Conv., Pastor of the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome (who was passing through Lebanon); and Friar Roger KOUYOUMDJI, OFM Conv., a representative of the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land in Lebanon. In addition, there was a large group of Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary.
Before the blessing, Friar Francis PATTON made a brief speech about the meaning of the chapel in this Jubilee Year of the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the first Friars to the Orient (1217-2017) and of the 500th anniversary of the infamous splitting up of the Seraphic Order (1517-2017). Our saints remain beacons of light in our search for communion within the same Franciscan calling and charism. Friar Francis mentioned three aspects of the spirituality of St. Joseph of Cupertino: loving God with all one’s heart and strength, praising God with one’s life, and loving one’s neighbor. At the end of the liturgy, the Custos gave a blessing featuring the relics of St. Joseph of Cupertino. They had been given to him by the General Postulator of the Conventual Franciscans.
At the end, everyone present took part in a fraternal agape meal.


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10 Aug

Pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Maximilian Kolbe with the Friars of the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land

From May 21 to 30, OFM Conv. Friars from the Middle East took a spiritual journey to Poland in the footsteps of the Polish Saint on the 100th anniversary of his founding the Militia of the Immaculate.

This year the Friars of Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land held their annual spiritual exercises in Poland. The retreat had a Marian focus as part of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Militia of the Immaculate by Saint Maximilian Kolbe and six other Friars Minor Conventuals in Rome.


The retreat was organized by the Custodial Vicar, Father Martin Kmetec, in collaboration with Friar Diarusz Wiśniewski. Each participant was asked to contribute to the pilgrimage by providing one or more of the spiritual meditations and homilies.


The pilgrimage began on the evening of May 21 with our arrival at our friary in Warsaw and the joyous welcome of our Polish Friars. After visiting the historical center of the city, Father Dariusz shared a meditation on the theme of Judaism, the relationship with the Church, and Antisemitism in order to prepare the group for a visit to the museum of Polish Jews. During the visit we had the opportunity to better understand the history of Polish Jews, beginning with their arrival in the country up until Auschwitz, and everything that it signified for their religious, political, economic and family existence. In the afternoon we went to visit and pray at the Church of Divine Providence.


Our presence in Warsaw concluded with mass celebrated at the altar dedicated to the memory of the blessed martyrs Michał Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski, two Friars Minor Conventual who were killed in Peru in 1991.


In a reflection titled, Popular Marian Devotion, Father Martin explained to us how from the beginning of the church until today, Mary has had a very important role among the people of God. Whether through prayer, or in songs or structures dedicated to her, the figure of the Mother of God, our mother, has always been present in our lives. With this reflection Father Martin helped us to enter into the atmosphere of the Sanctuary of our Lady of Licheń.


In the evening, we arrived at the seminary of Łódź. There student friars from two provinces, Warsaw and Danzig, live and study together. They welcomed us with great joy and much fraternal affection. Friars from the nearby friary explained the church building’s history and then we passed a pleasant evening of fraternity together.


The next day we departed for the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. We arrived in the midst of a rainstorm. Upon entering the sanctuary we had the opportunity to concelebrate the solemn first communion mass, surrounded by numerous pilgrims and many children who were receiving the body of Jesus for the first time. After the mass each of us stopped to pray before the miraculous image of our Lady, to offer her our supplications.


Afterwards, at the convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus, Friar Iosif Robu offered a meditation about Maximilian Kolbe and Missions. For Saint Maximilian, love must stand as life-giving spring at the root of every mission. For the Saint, every mission has its starting point in the hearts of each of us.


Filled with hope from the awareness that the Mother of God is always near to us, in our joys and our difficulties, we left this holy place and set out for Krakow. Here we soon discovered the city’s beautiful churches, including the Arch-cathedral of Saint Stanislaw and Saint Wenceslaus where John Paul II celebrated his first mass, on Wawel Hill next to the royal castle. Near to Krakow we also visited the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy and with it the tomb of Saint Faustina Kowalska.


Friar Anton Bulai also shared a reflection on Divine Mercy, highlighting Jesus’ desire, shared with Saint Faustina in a vision: “the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy, and I demand the worship of My mercy through the solemn celebration of the Feast and through the veneration of the image which is painted.”


Upon leaving this sanctuary we headed towards the salt mine of Wieliczka. Here we took a guided tour of this, one of the oldest salt mines in the world. In the afternoon we arrived in Wadowice, birthplace of Pope John Paul II (Wojtyła), and visited the new museum in the former Pope’s family home. In the evening we arrived at our order’s Friary in Harmeze. Here, after praying vespers, Father Iosif Petrila shared a meditation on the life and teaching of Saint John Paul II.


The morning of May 27 we arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, a Nazi concentration camp that had produced horror and death. Here, an Italian-speaking guide awaited us. Seeing the traces of this horror and hearing the explanation of the guide, we were left speechless. We also visited the place where Saint Maximilian offered his life in exchange for the life of another man, the father of a family, and ended up dying a horrible death, starved by the SS. In the cell where he died as well as outside the cell we spent several moments in prayer. This part of our spiritual pilgrimage took us to the way of the cross of Jesus, taking into our hearts the suffering of the world.


Returning to Harmeze, in the morning we celebrated the mass of the Solemnity of the Ascension and then departed for Niepokalanów. During a stop at Częstochowa, Friar Mihăiță Herciu shared a meditation on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, explaining how Saint Maximilian offers Mary as an example for all Christians. The Immaculate shows us that we are full of the gift of the grace of God and it prepares us to be saints. We are called to a great responsibility, following her example, in order to fulfill our journey of sanctification.


In the evening we arrived at the Niepokalanów friary, founded by Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Here we visited the city of the Immaculate, seeing the great works that the saint accomplished.


On the final day Friar Piotr Szczepanski, Provincial Vicar of the Friars Minor Conventual in Warsaw, talked to us about the life of Saint Maximilian, highlighting the different aspects of the saint’s life, from his mission in Japan until his death in Auschwitz.

fr. Mihăiță Herciu

Pellegrinaggio In Polonia

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07 Jul

Beirut: Priestly Ordination

Coming from an Armenian-Catholic family, Friar Elias Paolo had the joy of being ordained by the imposition of the hands of His Beatitude Gregory Petros XX GABROYAN, Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia.
Those concelebrating included the Most Reverend Cesar ESSAYAN, OFM Conv., Latin Bishop of Beirut, who gave the homily; the Most Reverend Georges ASSADURIAN, Auxiliary Bishop of the Patriarchal Eparchy of Beirut of the Armenians; and Conventual Franciscan friars from the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land. Also present were members of the Secular Franciscans in Zahle, (Lebanon) and many friends and family who fervently participated in the Armenian Rite of the Eucharist and the priestly ordination.
On Sunday, July 2, Friar Elias Paolo celebrated his first Mass at the friary of St. Anthony in Sin-el-Fil (Beirut).
Friar Elias Paul was born in Beirut and began his vocational journey at the Armenian Seminary in Bzommar (Lebanon). After discovering the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, he entered the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land of the Minor Friars Conventual. He studied theology at the Seraphicum International College in Rome and made his solemn profession on September 18, 2016, in Beirut.

Friar Lucian ABALINTOAIEI, OFM Conv.


Ordinazione Sacerdotale A Beirut

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10 Dec

Faithful flock to Immaculate Conception Mass, procession at parish in Beirut

Faithful from different Christian rites gathered at the Conventual Franciscan parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Beirut, Lebanon, on the evening of December 8 to venerate the Virgin Mary and celebrate her Immaculate Conception. More than 100 worshippers, an unusually large number for a weekday evening, gathered on Thursday night to attend mass with the Franciscan community of the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land.

The Friars put heart and soul into celebrating the solemnity with great dignity. Through musical animation and the homily they took the opportunity to remind the faithful that Mary’s Immaculate Conception, while unique, is a sign of the transformation that God desires to bring about in each person’s life. After mass, the assembly formed a procession that, following various Marian hymns and readings from the Franciscan sources, made its way out onto the plaza in front of the church where the evening concluded with a solemn blessing.

The diverse group of the evening’s participants represents the unusual make-up of the Latin-rite parish community, which often serves Maronite, Syriac and Greek Catholic Christians, to mention just a few of the groups that attend. The evening mass was the third of three solemn parish masses (one in the morning and one the previous evening) celebrated in honor of God’s work in bringing about the Immaculate Conception.

Throughout its history the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, known as “Franciscans”, has sought to deepen and defend the Church’s understanding of the Immaculate Conception, ultimately founding it in the grace of Christ’s death and resurrection.


fra Andrew Jeylan Hochstedler

Festa Dell’Immacolata A Beirut

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09 Dec

Franciscan Conventual Friars ordained deacons in Beirut, Lebanon

Middle East Custody’s first ordinations to the diaconate in 14 years

Sunday, December 4, 2016, was a day of intense celebration for Conventual Franciscan Friars in the Middle East. For the first time in 14 years, two young brothers from the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land were ordained to the transitional diaconate in preparation for the priesthood (many members of the custody arrive from other parts of the world already ordained as priests or deacons).

Lebanese Friar Elias Paolo Marswanian and US Friar Andrew Jeylan Hochstedler were ordained during a packed 11 A.M. solemn mass at the Custody’s St. Anthony of Padua parish in Beirut, Lebanon. Parish faithful were joined by the Friars’ families and friends, including a bus-load of members from St. Francis church in Zahle, Lebanon, where Marswanian serves as friary vicar and vice-rector of postulants. Also present, these postulants worked together with Beirut Friars and the parish’s altar servers to provide liturgical service for the mass, while the parish choir brought life and beauty to the celebration through their music. Brothers from all of the Custody’s friaries in Turkey and Lebanon were present for the ordination, as were many of Lebanon’s Latin-rite female and male religious.

The presence of Beirut Bishop Msgr. Cesar Essayan, celebrating the mass and ordaining the two young men, was especially significant for the young Friars. Msgr. Essayan, himself a former Conventual Franciscan Friar, had been Custos of the Middle East Custody until his nomination as Bishop in August, and had been responsible for Marswanian and Hochstedler during their formation years, receiving Hochstedler’s solemn vows in 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey. Essayan preached a passionate homily on diaconate service as a bridge between the Bishop and the faithful, pointing out where the young Friars have already begun this type of activity through evangelization efforts and exhorting them to grow in their responsibilities as deacons.

Also present at the celebration was Father Toufec Manuel, permanent deacon of the Beirut diocese. Following the ordination, it was Manuel who officially welcomed the two friars to the order of deacons with a heart-felt ritual embrace.

The mass concluded with a procession to the statue of St. Anthony of Padua in the plaza in front of the church. There the parish Boy and Girl Scouts distributed a souvenir of the ordination, while refreshments and a time of fellowship were enjoyed by all.

fr. Andrew Jeylan Hochstedler

Foto: Natalie Khairallah

Ordained Deacons In Beirut, Lebanon

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