From Wednesday, February 25, until Thursday, March 3, a group of Franciscans from Egypt visited the Holy Land. The visit took place as part of the ongoing training provided to Franciscans throughout their lives. It was organized by Br. Ibrahim Faltas, the current bursar of the Custody of the Holy Land, who is Egyptian.
Br. Kamaal William, the superior of the convent in Daher, who is responsible for continuing education, said, “This is the first time that these 25 Egyptian brothers visit the Holy Land. It is also the first time that such a visit is organized.” The 27 Franciscans (including two tour guides) were mostly young friars with less than 10 years of since they made their solemn professions. “So, they have a customized training program that is structured around visiting holy places,” stated Br. Kamaal.
The friars went to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. “The goal was to make it a biblical experience and to get closer to the holy places in the Gospels, in the physical context of Christ’s teaching. We, as Egyptian Franciscans, cannot separate Egypt from the Holy Land. Egypt is also a Holy Land because it is the country that welcomed the Holy Family. Therefore, our Franciscan province is referred to as ‘The Holy Family,’” continued Br. Kamaal.
Up until 1992, the Custody of the Holy Land was in charge of the entire region north of Cairo, whereas the region spanning from Cairo to Aswan was managed by friars who were part of the Province of Tuscany. Since 1992, the Egyptian monasteries have come together under the one province of the Holy Family, separate from the monastery of Musky, which still belongs to the Custody. The Custody still has nine Egyptian Franciscans who serve in Egypt or elsewhere.
“If I had to summarize my stay,” concluded the friar, “it was a profound biblical and spiritual experience that has undoubtedly impacted every friar and I hope that this will be reflected in their vocations.”
The trip for Br. Danial el-Tayyeb, OFM, the pastor of St. George’s Coptic Catholic Church in Luxor, is torn between sadness and joy. “Imagine, I walked on land that had been touched by Christ,” said Br. Danial, with emotion in his voice. “Everything I saw is evidence of Jesus’ presence. This is a striking experience. Speaking about the Holy Land is one thing but being there and experiencing it is another.”
“When you get used to the holy places, whether you are religious or laity, you sometimes lose the spirituality and the meaning of their holiness,” said the friar. “In Jerusalem, we can see how the three religions long for an encounter with God. We went to the Wailing Wall, and I saw how Jews pray with all their heart and we saw the fervor with which Muslims also pray to God. It is true that the situation is difficult here, and the body often has the upper hand on the spirit, and Man is weak. It is at that moment that God shows his mercy. Ever since I stepped foot on this land, I have felt a deep shaking within me.”
“Despite the difficult situation in the country, the friars are certain of God’s love for all human beings… Whoever has not visited the Holy Land should come, even if it means that he has to spend up to the last geneh (Egyptian pound) from his pocket to come. Those who do not have the opportunity to do so are not loved by God any less.”