The Custody at Bethlehem: Pastoral activity
What in the late medieval period was a simple presence, in a place inhabited primarily by Muslims, has today become an active and important witness for the town of Bethlehem. The Franciscans are always present to protect and defend the Christian faithful who live as a minority in a Palestine that is majority Muslim.
This care and attention brought the number of faithful in the Franciscan parish of Bethlehem from 128 in 1664 to 5,172 in 1909. In all of the Holy Places the Custody carries out an important role of care and assistance for those who have come to be called the Living Stones, the local Christian communities.
It should be noted that all of the services offered are directed to the entire local population, without any distinction in terms of religious faith. In the case of Bethlehem there is a well-developed program of activities. The contribution of the Franciscans is carried out on various levels, one being direct activities of the Custody implemented through the Parish: pastoral activities; schools for boys; the ACL Center; and the Franciscan Social Services Office.
Then there are activities linked to the Custody but not carried out directly by it: e.g., the Società Antoniana. Finally, for centuries around the Franciscan presence and the life of the Custody in Bethlehem, centers indirectly linked to the Custody have been created, managed by women’s and men’s religious institutes that cooperate in a synergistic manner with the Franciscans.