By Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service     5/23/2016

JERUSALEM (CNS) — The Holy See has approved the election of Franciscan Father Francesco Patton as the new “custos” of the Holy Land, replacing Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who held the position for 12 years.

The “custos” is the provincial minister of the Franciscans in almost all of the Middle East, with jurisdiction over territory extending through Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus and Rhodes, and at their monastery in Cairo. In these countries he serves as a liaison among the patriarchs, bishops and apostolic nuncios. In addition, he is authorized to sign statements with the Middle East patriarchs and must navigate the current delicate political landscape of the region.

The “custos” also cares for the needs of the local Catholic Community, “the living stones” of the region, and is responsible on behalf of the Catholic Church to care for and guard some 50 shrines, where the Franciscans welcome and coordinate the reception of pilgrims and tourists.

A date for Father Patton’s installation, which is marked by three traditional ceremonies in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank, has not yet been announced.

Father Patton received written statements of congratulations from Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. Patriarch Twal assured Father Patton of “the full cooperation of the Latin Patriarchate.” The ordinaries said they welcomed Father Patton’s appointment and wished Father Pizzaballa well, thanking him for his years of devoted service.

Father Patton, 52, currently lives in Italy and belongs to the Franciscan Province of St. Anthony. He was ordained in May 1989.

He served as secretary-general of the general chapters in 2003 and 200, and as visitator general in 2003. He was minister provincial in Trent, Italy, from 2008 to 2016 and has served as president of the Conference of Provincial Ministers of Italy and Albania. He also has served in various capacities outside of the order, including as a member of the presbyteral council and secretary of the pastoral council of the Archdiocese of Trent. He also has been a professor of social communications and contributed to archdiocesan publications, radio and TV.

Father Patton was elected beginning with the traditional two rounds of voting by secret ballot by the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land. The first three names of the second round were then sent to the general council of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome, which nominated Father Patton.

Traditionally, the “custos” serves a six-year term, which can be renewed for another three years and, if many of the friars desire it, it can also be renewed for another three years, as in the case of Father Pizzaballa, another Italian.

Father Pizzaballa previously served as vicar of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1990 and studied and taught at the Franciscan Studium Biblicum in Jerusalem.