Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, visited Malta between 8-11 May 2024 upon invitation of Fr. Anthony Chircop, Minister Provincial and Commissary of the Holy Land. He met the Franciscan friars of the Maltese Franciscan OFM Province of St. Paul the Apostle, as well as the benefactors of the Holy Land Custody. On Thursday 9 May Fr. Patton delivered a conference to all the Franciscan Family of Malta on the significance of the mystery of the cross in the shrines of Calvary and La Verna on the occasion of the 800 years of the stigmata of St. Francis. On Friday 10 May Fr. Patton presided over a concelebrated Mass in the Ta’ Ġieżu Church in Valletta, with the aim of praying for peace in the Holy Land during this troubled period of its history. He spoke about the need to continue to support the Christians of the Holy Land through material help and also by organising pilgrimages to the Holy Places. The presence of pilgrims gives hope and is the guarantee for the livelihood of many Christians living around the Sanctuaries.

Fr. Patton also met the Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Apostolic Nuncio Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB, and other bishops during a reception held in the cloister of our Franciscan friary of Valletta. During the same occasion he also decorated Professor Horatio C.R. Vella with the medal “Grato Animo” for his service of transcribing documents in the Archives of the Custody of Jerusalem. Many benefactors of the Holy Land, together with the members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre were present for the occasion.

During his short visit to Malta Fr. Francesco Patton was accompanied by Fr. Narcyz Klimas, Archivist of the Custody. Together they visited various historical and cultural sites, including St. John‘s Co-Cathedral, the Palace of the Grand Masters, and the Neolithic Temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. They also visited the Commissariat of the Holy Land and the Provincial Archives.

On 20 May 2016 the Holy See appointed Fr. Francesco Patton as Father Custos of the Holy Land, as successor of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is now Cardinal and Patriarch of the Latins in Jerusalem. Fr. Patton was reconfirmed in the office of Custos on 29 April 2022.

The Father Custos is the Superior of the Franciscan Mission of the Holy Land. Ever since the time of Saint Francis, in 1219, the Franciscans have been present in the Holy Land as missionaries. In 1333 they settled in their first friary on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In 1342 Pope Clement VI officially founded the Custody of the Holy Land, with the Father Superior as Custos. In this way the Holy See entrusted the entire mission of the Holy Land to the care of the Franciscan Friars Minor. The mission is spread out over the entire region of the Middle East, principally in what is nowadays Israel and Palestine (where the majority of the Holy Sites are based), and in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Rhodes. There are around 300 Franciscans working in the mission. They come from more than 50 different countries since the mission is international.

The mission of the Franciscans in the Holy Land consists, first and foremost, in the care (custodia) of the Holy Places or Sanctuaries, where thousands of pilgrims flock every year to pray on the very places where Jesus lived and where the Gospels were written and the first Christian communities were founded. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis have all visited the Holy Land as pilgrims. The second area of activity of the Franciscans is the pastoral care of the Catholic communities of the Holy Land, particularly in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as well as in other parishes in the other countries of the Middle East. The Franciscans provide opportunities for work for the local Christians, as well as offer them education in the Terra Sancta Colleges and in the scholarship programme funded by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. The Franciscans also have a Faculty for Biblical Theology and Archaeology, namely the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem, and have conducted archaeological studies in all the shrines and in Mount Nebo in Jordan. They have a Centre for Christian Oriental Studies in Cairo, Egypt, and an International Theological Seminary in Jerusalem.

The Custody of the Holy Land is supported through the work of the various Commissaries of the Holy Land spread out throughout many countries. The Commissary of the Holy Land in Malta, based in the friary of Ta’ Ġieżu in Valletta, dates back to 1636 and is one of the oldest. Many Maltese Franciscans have been missionaries to the Holy Land along the centuries.