Catholic Parishes in Early Modern Palestine

04/18/2014 in Blogs, Other, Parish Research Today

In her post published in December, Michal Bauwens reminded us about the variety of early modern parishes. Following this suggestion, I would like to draw attention to the Latin parishes in the Middle East and especially to those created by the Franciscans in early modern Palestine. The foundation and the development of these parishes was strictly linked to the missionary activity pursued by the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy land and to the diffusion of Catholicism in the area.

The spread of the Reformation in Europe with the loss of territories in the north, forced the Catholic Church to find allies in the east, with an increasing effort to reunify the eastern churches with Rome. In the 1620s, missionaries from different religious orders arrived in the Syro- Palestinian region. In Palestine however, the missionary activity was mainly pursued by the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land. Since the 13th century the Custody had been charged with guarding and maintaining the holy sites and with hosting pilgrims. Even though the first conversion to be recorded by the monks dates back to 1555, it is only in the 1620s that the evangelization among the Eastern Christians became one of the most important activities of the Franciscans. In the same decades the monks’ efforts in this direction were further encouraged by the foundation of De Propaganda Fide, the Roman congregation in charge of missionary activity worldwide. Despite Propaganda complaints, the Franciscans’ missionary activity resulted in the passage to the Latin rite for many followers of the Eastern Churches and lead to the formation of local parishes under the control of the monks (among which: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Ayn Karim, Jaffa).

Franciscan parishes in early modern Palestine had many characteristic features which distinguished them not only from the parishes located in Europe, but also from those located in other missionary territories. As in all the lands where there was not an established church hierarchy, in the Syro-Palestinian region Propaganda Fide was vested with full power and authority over missionary. When compared with other parishes established in missionary territory, Franciscan parishes in the Holy Land presented some particular features which resulted from the privileges that Propaganda granted to the Custody. When an apostolic vicariate was established in Aleppo (19th century), it had a limited jurisdiction over the parishes under the control of the Franciscans. The parish priests, for example, were named by the Custody of the Holy Land and the vicariate could not remove them. Furthermore the vicar did not have the right to conduct canonical visitations in these parishes.

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