Order supports Christian presence in Holy Land Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Nov. 08, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

While we in the United States were devastated by the recent shooting of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, there has also been continuing violence in the Holy Land.

A Catholic News Service (CNS) article published on October 29 said Holy Land Church leaders expressed concern in the wake of recent incidents involving the Christian community.

Monks of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jamal west of Jerusalem discovered October 16 that their cemetery had been vandalized, including broken crosses and damage to tombs. The monastery, which has good relations with its Jewish neighbors, was vandalized two years ago and again in 2017.

No suspects have been arrested, reported CNS. About 50 incidents of vandalism on Christian holy sites have occurred in the last six years, according to several sources.

Equestrian Order

As a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, I am especially concerned about what’s happening in the Holy Land. Our order dates back to the First Crusade, when the leader, Godfrey de Bouillon, liberated Jerusalem.

As part of his reorganization of the religious, military, and public bodies of the territories newly freed from Muslim control, Godfrey founded the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre.

The first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed leadership of this canonical order in 1103, and reserved the right for himself and his successors to appoint Knights to it, should the patriarch be absent or unable to do so. Later, women were admitted to the order.

Supporting Christian presence

The Equestrian Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which supports the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members throughout the world are the main source of funding.

All of the order’s Lieutenancies also arrange pilgrimages, during which members visit the holy sites and meet the people whom they are supporting and assure them they are not forgotten.

It’s important to note that the order supports cultural and social works and educational institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. These services are open to people of all faiths.

Declining numbers of Christians

From the latter half of the 20th century, the flow of middle-class Christian families leaving the Holy Land has become a real exodus.

Today, the order reports that the proportion of Christians varies from two to four percent (some say even lower) in different areas of the Holy Land. Those who remain are largely craft workers, small tradesmen, and those working in the tourist industry.

Importance of education

Since the end of the 19th century, the order has financed the construction of 40 Patriarchate schools in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, and it continues 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 technical schools.

The order’s emphasis on education aims 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 encouraged from an early age, they may continue into adult life.

The Patriarchate is able to manage its budget largely thanks to the continuing generosity of the active members of the order. Catholics also support work in the Holy Land during a collection taken on Good Friday every year in all Catholic parishes.

I encourage everyone to join with our order in praying for peace in the Holy Land, the land where Jesus lived.