Dear Friend of Saint Francis:
It was on September 25, 1988, that Pope John Paul II declared Frederick Jansoone blessed. The beatification was significant in many ways. It crowned with glory the life of a friar who had distinguished himself in humility by his intelligence and gifted communication.
Blessed Frederic was born in 1838 in France, near the Belgian border, of wealthy Flemish farm parents, the youngest of thirteen children, some of whom later joined religious orders. He was nine when his father died. Despite financial hardships, Blessed Frederic ranked high among students at the college that he attended at Dunkirk. His studies were interrupted, however, by the financial ruin of his family. He took a job in the textile trade as a salesman. This choice appears to have been prophetic as he would later become a tireless promoter of the Holy Land.
After his mother died in 1861, the twenty-three-year-old experienced a strong desire to join the Franciscan order. He made his initial vows in 1865 and went on to study philosophy at Limoges and theology at Bourges. His first ministry assignment was in a make-shift hospital before serving on the front as a chaplain in the Franco-Prussian War.
He was co-founder and superior of the friary at Bordeaux, but responsibility for a community did not suit him. His gifts were best suited to preaching retreats, leading pilgrimages and writing in newspapers. In 1876, he asked to be transferred to the Holy Land. He served initially at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he negotiated a framework for regulating services there and at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, enabling Greeks, Latins, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts and Abyssinians to share these sacred places.
Soon after, Blessed Frederic was named assistant custos (guardian), a mandate of protection of holy sites that had been conferred on the Franciscan order as early as 1342. Father Frederic preached in the places made sacred by Jesus himself. He is remembered even to this day for reviving an old custom of having pilgrims make the Stations of the Cross throughout the streets of Jerusalem.
His ministry in Canada began as a fundraising tour in 1881. Diverted from this purpose in France, he travelled to “New France” on the basis of a chance encounter in Paris with Fr. Léon Provencher, a parish priest from Cap Rouge. Friar Frederic’s talents served him well and his joyful spirit made him much loved immediately. His sermons and talks were said to be filled with interesting facts about the Holy Land. Soon he would establish in Canada the Good Friday collection that still to this day finances maintenance and ministry works in the Holy Land.
Blessed Frederic left for a time to take up duties again as assistant custos in the Holy Land. But, before doing so, he tried to persuade the Franciscans—absent since the suppression of the Recollets in 1796—to return to Canada. He also worked tirelessly to build up the shrine dedicated to Our Lady at Cap-de-la-Madeleine until handing over responsibility in 1902 to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
When in Montreal, he lived in a small, humble room at St. Joseph’s Friary, which stood on René-Levesque Boulevard. His death on August 4, 1916, was marked as the passing of a “holy Father,” as he became known even to the archbishop of Quebec. Large crowds gathered as his remains were transported from Montréal to Trois-Rivières where he was buried.
The legacy of Blessed Frederic is quite remarkable. He travelled gladly, doing whatever was required, wherever his superiors sent him. He was a true disciple of Christ and spiritual son of Saint Francis. To him are owed the popular practice of the Way of the Cross in the Holy Land as well as in Canada, the durable rooting of a Marian shrine to Our Lady at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, the rapid expansion of Secular (Third-Order) Franciscan fraternities in Canada, the return of Franciscan friars to Canada, and books and articles on a wide variety of religious topics.
Go on your way…Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”
Luke 10: 3-5
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Franciscan custody of Holy Land sites dates to the earliest years of the order. In fact, the Province of the Holy Land was created at the very chapter meeting at which provinces were created in 1217—six years before the death of the founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, who visited the region for several months in 1219/1220. It was during this time that Saint Francis encountered the Sultan Melek el-Kamel. This inspired meeting occurred at the height of the Crusades, pitting the prophetic style of respectful dialogue against the ill-fated policy of brutal confrontation that was promulgated by the church’s hierarchy.
When the last remaining Crusade stronghold fell into the hands of Muslim forces, some 70 years later, the Franciscans sought safety on the island of Cyprus. Yet, with the permission of Pope John XXII, friars would make two visits annually to Jerusalem and other sanctuaries in the land made sacred by the life of Jesus more than 1,000 years earlier. Despite difficulties, they ensured—as Franciscans do to this day—the maintenance of sanctuaries, totalling 50 today, and sacred rites.
The juridical constitution of the Custody of the Holy Land was established by the Bull of Pope Clement VI in 1342. In it, he thanks Robert d’Anjou, king of Naples, and Queen Sanche of Majorca for the donation of certain lands, to which was soon added property obtained from the sultan of Egypt.
The Custody’s work extends over a wide area in the modern Middle East, served by some 300 friars from all continents, as well as many sisters from various congregations. Popular shrines in the custody of the Franciscans include those recalling the Annunciation at Nazareth, the birth of our Saviour at Bethlehem, and his death in Jerusalem. As well, we find in ancient Galilee and Judea those sites marking the lives of apostles and saints that are pillars of our religious tradition.
In keeping with Jesus’ own life in the region, Franciscans have over the years also undertaken needed pastoral ministries, notably care of the poor. The friars also have strong roots in both big-city and village parishes of the region. Activities run along the same lines as those of parishes elsewhere in the world, with catechism, sacraments, youth work, the Franciscan secular order, prayer groups and lay associations, spiritual direction, social activities and social welfare activities.
Service to pilgrims is a key activity too. From the earliest days of Christianity, religious orders have helped people to discover the essence of heritage sites. In the Holy Land, that is the role of the Franciscans. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most important pilgrimage site of Christianity, receives millions of visitors annually.
People came running from everywhere, the crowds swelled, and were quickly joined as Living stones to the grand structure of this marvellous temple.
Thomas of Celano, The Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis
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For most Catholics in Canada, the only exposure to the work of Franciscans in the Holy Land occurs on Good Friday when a special collection raises money for their work there. This annual appeal for financial support happens in parishes around the world. It is a sign of solidarity across time, recalling the foundational events of our faith more than 2,000 years ago—and space, uniting people of all nations inextricably.
To live according to Gospel values, some sense of solidarity is important. As the encyclical Gaudium et Spes affirmed, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Beleaguered Christians in the perennially troubled Holy Land region are living witnesses to the reality that our spirituality is deeply incarnational. It is rooted in time and place. It holds in tension the archetypical human experiences of joy and grief.
In Canada, the Commissariat of the Holy Land, now located in Ottawa, promotes better understanding of the relevance to our own lives of the particular places where Christ lived and proclaimed the Gospel by the promotion of the ancient practice of pilgrimage to important shrines. It does this by creating interest in holy sites and by drawing attention to the vitality of Christian communities in these ancient lands—“the living stones where one meets the resurrected Christ.”
The Commissariat wants to foster a conscious and long-lasting solidarity between all parishes and religious communities and the world’s earliest Christian church: that of Jerusalem.
Friar Gilles Bourdeau, OFM, Commissary of the Holy Land in Canada
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May the good Lord draw you near. May his Holy Spirit bind you to the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of all the followers of Christ. May he grant us all his Peace.
Fraternally in joy and hope
crib and cross Franciscan Ministries