Peace in the Holy Land: Let’s pray and work for an end to conflict in the land of Christ’s birth Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Dec. 06, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

At this time of year, many of us put up our Nativity scenes as we prepare for Christmas. The scene from the stable in Bethlehem reminds us of that time long ago when Jesus was born.

The Holy Land of Jesus’ birth played such an important role in the development of our Christian faith. Jesus was raised in Nazareth and preached throughout the region. His passion, death, and resurrection happened in Jerusalem.

This area of the world is also sacred to people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. For example, Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Hebrew Bible. Many sites in the Holy Lane have been destinations for religious pilgrimages by people of these faiths for centuries.

Yet conflict and violence continue to plague this area of the world. It is always sad to hear about violence happening in the places where Jesus — the Prince of Peace — walked.

Order sustains faith in the Holy Land

As a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem myself, I am especially concerned about the situation today in the Holy Land.

We know that this region has always had a troubled history. The Equestrian Order actually dates back to the First Crusade. Its leader, Godfrey de Bouillon, liberated Jerusalem. As part of his operations to organize the religious, military, and public bodies of the territories newly freed from Muslim control, he founded the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre.

In 1103 the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership of this canonical order, and reserved the right for himself and his successors (as agents of the Patriarch of Jerusalem) to appoint Knights to it, should the Patriarch be absent or unable to do so.

In 1847 Pope Pius IX issued a new Constitution for the order which placed it under the direct protection of the Holy See and conferred its government to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The order’s fundamental role was also defined: to uphold the works of the Latin Patriarchate while preserving the spiritual duty of propagating the faith.

Today, the Equestrian Order’s main purpose is to sustain and aid the charitable, cultural, and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. The order promotes this work not only among Catholics, but also among all other Christians. Its educational and charitable works help people of all faiths.

Working for peace

The Equestrian Order continues to work and pray for peace in the Holy Land. As the late Cardinal John Foley, grand master of the order, said, “We have no military or economic power to press the parties involved in this conflict. We make a different kind of contribution . . . we have schools and social institutions to contribute to mutual understanding and reconciliation.”

This week the new grand master, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, is making is first visit to the Holy Land as head of the order.  Cardinal O’Brien told Catholic News Service, “We need to have a greater presence with the native Christians. Christian presence has to be encouraged,” he said, adding that other Christians visiting the Holy Land would help address the pressing issues facing the Church there.

Having come to the Holy Land just a week after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, Cardinal O’Brien said the violence would continue unless the “rights of all people are addressed, including those in the West Bank.”

What can we do?

What can we do to help bring peace to the Holy Land? The late Cardinal Foley said, “In my opinion it is very important for Catholics to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit places made sacred by Jesus’ presence; they should also meet local Christians and know about their problems. . . .  this is a way to give them hope again.”

While we can’t all go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we can also provide support to organizations such as the  Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land ( or Catholic Relief Services (, which offers a parish discussion guide, Voices for Peace in the Holy Land.

Above all, we can pray for peace. I like this prayer from Catholic Relief Services: “Lord God, we turn to you in these trying hours when conflict is a daily reality for our sisters and brothers in Israel and Palestine. Our prayer is that you help both sides overcome barriers that seem impassable and bring peace to the hearts of leaders who can end the violence. We pray that the Prince of Peace will bring justice and peace to this land that is so very dear to the peoples of your covenant. Amen.”