20 Apr

Orient and the Holy Land: Ordinary Custodial Chapter

On April 9-13, 2018, the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land held the first part of its Ordinary Custodial Chapter at the Our Lady of the Well Retreat Center in Bkennaya, Lebanon.

Those attending included the Friar Joaquín AGESTA CUEVAS, the Assistant General for the Federazione Inter-mediterranea Ministri Provinciali (FIMP); Friar Teofil PETRIŞOR, the Minister Provincial of the Mother Province of St. Joseph, Spouse of the B.V.M. in Romania; and the friars who juridically belong to the Custody. This is the Custody’s third Ordinary Chapter.
During the third session of the Chapter, Friar Anton BULAI was elected to his first term as Custos. The Definitory members are: Friar Roger KOUYOUMDJI, Custodial Vicar; Friar Lucian ABALINTOAIEI, Custodial Secretary; and Friars Dominique MATHIEU and Iulian PIŞTA, Definitors.
We thank the Lord for gathering the friars together for this fraternal meeting. The atmosphere was very warm and joyful.
The second part of the Chapter will be celebrated in Istanbul, Turkey, in on July 2-6, 2018.


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22 Jan

Istanbul: Christmas at the Basilica of St. Anthony

Inside our church, we emphasize all of the liturgical seasons with decorations that signify what the Church is celebrating. The short Advent and Christmas seasons usually take place within a month and a half. However, the Friars Minor Conventual celebrate them with meditations lasting almost three months.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that St. Francis loved this time of year. He celebrated the Child Jesus joyfully and tenderly, as he did at Greccio. The second is that, for us, it is an occasion to proclaim to our Muslim brothers that “in times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2), who now passes from the state of being the Divine Word to that of being flesh.
Today, the crib of the Nativity Scene contains the Holy Scriptures. Tomorrow it will hold the divine Child. Now the crib contains our faith and hope and, after experiencing these two theological virtues, tomorrow we will find the greatest virtue, love itself. Jesus says: “Ero cras” [“Tomorrow I will come”], to those who will be coming back to celebrate Christmas. This event takes place at the Franciscan Nativity Scene, in the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” located in front of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Beyoğlu, Turkey.
The courtyard at St. Anthony’s architecturally and spiritually embraces all those who pass under the portico. The portico leads them from the street into a common space for the people. Our first proclamation takes place in this courtyard. It is where we proclaim the incarnation of the Son of God with a simple and clear evangelical Nativity Scene. Mary and Joseph wait by the crib and, at the same time, they silently proclaim the birth of the Verbum caro factum est.
Several feet away, on the opposite side of the courtyard, like it or not, is the statue “Twisted Crucifix” by the artist Wim DELVOYE. It expresses another birth, the painful one, suffered by the One who was born exclusively for our salvation.
These two “Advents” of Jesus, his birth and crucifixion, follow each other under the gaze of the Immaculate, who appears as a mosaic in the lunette above the church door. The Virgin is shown with her arms down at her sides and her palms open, indicating the birth and the crucifixion. At the same time, she is seen as a patroness welcoming all who enter the courtyard. She invites us to go into the church in order to more fully discover the mystery of Christmas.
Whoever goes into the church cannot fail to notice the Advent wreaths on the columns. Lit up, the wreaths look like royal crowns proclaiming: “The righteous live forever, and in the Lord is their recompense…therefore shall they receive the splendid crown, the beautiful diadem, from the hand of the Lord” (Wisdom 5:15-16). The wreaths also point to the two Christmas trees on the altar. They burn like the burning bushes in the desert (with light bulbs), causing the spectator to say to himself, as Moses did: “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight” (Exodus 3:3). Those who come closer discover not only the trees, but also a larger, more elaborate Nativity Scene, which says something extra about the person of Jesus and his birth. This is a Nativity Scene for believers.
Thus, the Friars Minor Conventual, on the calenda, December 24, solemnly proclaimed Christmas to the citizens of Istanbul: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Friar Anton BULAI

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25 Nov

Meeting of the Friars of the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land

OFMConv Franciscans from the Middle East came together at Saint Anthony Friary in Istanbul from October 23 to 27, 2017, for a time of formation and sharing.


Together with the Provincial Minister of Romania, Friar Teofil Petrișor, the Middle East Friars meditated on their presence and activities in the Custody during these days of very intense meetings. The guide of these days was Friar Marius Petru Bâlha. He offered reflections daily on religious consecration and on dedication to the mission in simplicity and with the prudence of the Holy Spirit.

The fraternal sharing was another detail very useful for helping the brothers to feel that they work together for the Kingdom of God in these lands. The Middle East Custody has great diversity and a wealth of languages, cultures and activities. For this reason this meeting together guided the brothers in strengthening their fraternal spirit in the Franciscan way.

This meeting was part of the preparation for the next Ordinary Custodial Chapter that will be held next year.

friar Lucian Abalintoaiei

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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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22 Jun

Istanbul: Franciscan Priestly Ordination

On Saturday, June 17, 2017, Friar Andrew HOCHSTEDLER, OFM Conv., was ordained a priest at the Basilica of St. Anthony in Istanbul, Turkey.


This significant occasion was attended by friars from the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land, a Custody of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. The Custody belongs to the Province of St. Joseph Spouse of the B.V.M. in Romania. Other participants included friars from Italy, Croatia, France and the United States; priests of the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul together with the Most Reverend Rubén Tierrablanca Gonzalez, OFM, Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul; plus family and friends of Friar Andrew.


The Mass was presided over by the Most Reverend Cesar ESSAYAN, OFM Conv., Bishop of Beirut and former Custos of the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land. It was during his time as Custos that Friar Cesar first guided the newly ordained on his vocational journey. Now as a Bishop, he imposed his hands on Friar Andrew and conferred Sacred Orders upon him.
Before the Mass, there was a moment of interior preparation. Guests, tourists and music lovers were treated to a concert by Romanian organist Eduard ANTAL. His playing created a joyful atmosphere which was conducive to the celebration.


At the beginning of the Mass, Friar Martin KMETEC, the Vicar Custos, welcomed everyone and gave thanks to the Lord for the gift that Friar Andrew has been to the Custody. At the same time he stressed that there had never been a priestly ordination in this basilica before. In his homily, Bishop ESSAYAN mentioned Pope Francis’ message of June 10, 2017: “Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives.” In fact, recalling St. Maximilian Maria KOLBE, who gave his life to save another life in 1941, in Auschwitz, the Bishop of Beirut invited Friar Andrew to consider this example: being a priest is a grace from the Lord but at the same time this grace, this gift, becomes a gift to others.


Friar Andrew HOCHSTEDLER was born on July 20, 1983, in Istanbul, to a Protestant family. In 2008, after having worked for three years as a journalist, he started his vocational journey at the St. Anthony friary in Istanbul. From there, he entered the postulancy program in Brescia, Italy. He studied philosophy at the Theological Institute of Assisi and studied theology at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure (Seraphicum) in Rome. Friar Andrew professed his solemn vows in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual at the Basilica of St. Anthony, in Istanbul, on September 13, 2014. He was ordained a deacon in the parish of Saint Antoine in Beirut, on December 4, 2016.


friar Lucian ABALINTOAIEI, OFM Conv.



Ordinazione Sacerdotale A Istanbul

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