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To frame that presence properly it should be noted that, in Israel, in a population of 5.2 million people, there are 4.2 million Jews and one million Arabs, of whom 100,000 are Christian. In the Occupied Territories the population is roughly 1.8 million with 300,000 Jews and 1.5 million Arabs, of whom 50,000 are Christian. The Old City of Jerusalem, Christianity’s “home town,” has only 10,000 Christians, out of a total population of 160,000.

This Christian presence in the land of Jesus is declining. The order is called to assist in maintaining a living Catholic community in the Holy Land, not just to preserve church buildings and shrines.

Working with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the order provides funds to build and operate schools, churches, convents and a seminary. The order strives to maintain an infrastructure that will make life bearable for those embroiled in the political turmoil plaguing the region for most of this century.

Crucial to the maintenance of the Latin (Roman) Catholic presence is the seminar at Beit Jala. Here young men are trained to serve the Catholics of Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Cyprus. This far-flung archdiocese, the Latin Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Michel Sabbah, cares for the pastoral needs of an indigenous Catholic population whose families date back centuries.

When members of the order have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, they do more than visit biblical sites. They meet the people they serve and support.

In communities such as the parish in Karak, Jordan, the pilgrims meet the parishioners of the Catholic church. In Bir Zeit, the West Bank, they visit a parish school as well as the church. In Bethlehem, the knights and ladies visit the students who attend Bethlehem University. At the Ephpheta School for the Hearing Impaired, also in Bethlehem, they witness the great work of the Sisters of St. Dorothy. A journey to the Creche, an orphanage in Bethlehem operated by the Daughters of Charity, puts them in contact with children who have been abandoned or orphaned.

The Creche, and all the apostolates these people of goodwill have given both time and resources to support. are a testimony that Jesus’ message to “love one another” – especially the poor and weak – is still alive and well.

We use symbols to help identify our realities. The symbols of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, though rooted in the military reality of the 11th century, represent the ideals proposed in the Gospel. During public ceremonies, these modern knights and ladies wear white and black capes emblazoned with the Cross of Jerusalem in red, the insignia of Godfrey de Bouillon. The cross consists of one large cross and four smaller crosses signifying the five wounds of the crucified Christ. The garb and its insignia are ancient symbols linked intimately to the history of the Holy Land, a history that had its moments of glory with so many human endeavors, a history that had its tragedies.

Membership is not honorific. In his pre-amble to the orders constitution, Pope Paul VI defined knighthood as:

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Tags: Middle East Christianity Pope Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem