My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Also attending were our Springfield Section Representatives, Jim and Mary Comerford, and their son, Father Christopher Comerford, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Granite City, and our local prior (chaplain), Father Christopher House. We also had three priests inducted into the Order as new members: Msgr. Carl Kemme, vicar general; Father David Hoefler, pastor in Effingham and Shumway and dean of the Effingham Deanery; and Father Daren Zehnle, my priest secretary, master of ceremonies and associate vocation director. I have been a member for many years and the order does important work for the church in the Holy Land, so I want to tell you about them.
The official title of the order is the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. While the word "equestrian" refers to the order's historical roots as soldiers who rode on horseback, there isn't too much riding of horses these days. In fact, the order today is very different from what it was centuries ago, but its history provides the foundation of its current activities in Jerusalem.
The origins of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem date back to the First Crusade to liberate Jerusalem at the beginning of the 12th century. The order's members included armed knights chosen from the crusader troops for their qualities of valor and dedication; they vowed to obey the Augustinian Rule of poverty and obedience and undertook specifically to defend the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Places.
In 1847 Pope Pius IX modernized the order, issuing a new Constitution which placed it under the direct protection of the Holy See and assigned its government to the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem. The order's fundamental role was also redefined: to uphold the works of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, while preserving the spiritual duty of propagating the faith.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members throughout the world are therefore the Patriarchate's institutions' main source of funding.
The order's support for the Christians in the Holy Land includes financial contributions, prayers and formal pilgrimages, in the course of which members do not simply view and explore the Holy Sites, but also have the opportunity to meet the people whom they are supporting and assure them that they are not forgotten.
Since the end of the 19th century, the Order has financed the construction of 40 patriarchate schools in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and it has a continuing commitment to fund at least part of their running costs. Today, around 19,000 students attend these schools, from nursery classes through elementary, middle and upper school, as well as in a number of technical schools. On average, the student breakdown is 60 percent Christian (Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) and 40 percent Muslim. It is noteworthy that many leaders of the Muslim community in the Holy Land have been educated in the patriarchate's school system, and that they continue to send their children to these schools.
The order's emphasis on education aims to deal with a very important problem in the region: how to get people of different races and religions used to living in peace and mutual respect. It is hoped that, if the values of mutual tolerance and cooperation are inculcated and encouraged from an early age, they may become a habit and continue into adult life.
Membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is by nomination. Exemplary moral conduct and true Christian feeling are the prime requisites for admission to the order. The practice of Christian faith must be shown in the heart of one's family, in obedience to the Holy Father, and in involvement in the Christian activities both in one's parish and in one's diocese. Nominations must include certificates of baptism, confirmation and matrimony (if married) and a letter of endorsement from the pastor of the nominee's parish on parish stationery. If you are interested in becoming a member of the order and believe that you qualify, please discuss this with your pastor. If he agrees that you qualify, he or any current member would forward your nomination with the pastor's letter of endorsement to our Springfield Section representative, James Comerford. Priests may be nominated only by the diocesan bishop.
It is my hope that we can build up a strong Springfield Section to carry on this important work of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
May God give us this grace. Amen.