Like many places of Catholic mission, the Holy Land Franciscans are also in need of vocations.
“We do need more brothers,” Macora added. “The shrines need friars because sometimes it gets really busy, and you need to give the guys a rest. A presence is really important in the shrines and that requires a lot of friars.”
Besides accompanying pilgrims and staffing the shrines, Franciscan friars also work in areas like parish ministry and as directors of schools.
“A vocation is from God and so if one feels called to serve here they have to consider it,” Macora said.
For Owusu, knowing the Holy Land and developing a particular attachment to it helps contribute to one’s vocation and desire to serve there.
“Serving in the Holy Land opens one to the reality of the world,” said Owusu, who said this service opens one to others who do not necessarily share one’s faith.
Israel itself is majority Jewish, with a predominantly Muslim Arab Palestinian minority. Many Christians have emigrated in recent decades, and now make up about two percent of the population.
Jerusalem itself is politically contested, with many in the Palestinian Authority hoping to secure East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
“It is a place where you meet different people, and different people have different views,” Owusu continued, tying this diversity to the Franciscan mission.
“It has opened me to accepting different people, because we are international,” he said. “You meet a lot of friars, even within our monastery, who come from different backgrounds. It has enriched me more, as far as my Franciscan vision is concerned.”
Macora was 15 years old when his father retired from the military in Texas, and he began exploring a religious vocation a few years later.
(Story continues below)
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“In university I started to have strong feelings about serving the Church, feelings I could not dispel even though I tried,” he said. “So I started to think about where to serve, and the international dimension of the Franciscans and the Holy Land really appealed to me since we grew up in many places because of my father’s military career.”
Owusu said being a Holy Land Franciscan means “there’s always something to learn.”
“You need to learn, first of all, to accept other people,” he said. “You need to learn languages, and languages open you to culture, and culture also brings you that reality of the place. There is a lot to learn.”
“Of course, you don’t have to understand all these things to be a friar,” he added. “What you have, will be developed. What you have as a friar can be developed from there. There is always room to learn more.”
Pilgrimages to the Holy Land have resulted in some vocations. Owusu said one such vocation is a California priest who was drawn by the organ played at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“We have another one who came from France on a pilgrimage. Afterwards he came back, and is now a friar over there,” said the D.C.-based friar.