The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is believed to date back to the First Crusade, when Jerusalem was liberated. Part of the reorganization of the religious, military and public bodies of the territories newly freed from Muslim control at that time made way for the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre to be founded.
According to most accounts of the Crusades, the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership of this canonical order in 1103, and reserved the right for himself and his successors to appoint knights to it, if the patriarch was absent or unable to do so. Throughout the centuries, the Holy See has reorganized and revitalized the organization to uphold the standards of the Roman Catholic Church.
In February 1996, Pope John Paul II further enhanced the order’s status. Today it is a Public Association of the Faithful with a legal canonical and public personality, constituted by the Holy See under Canon Law 312, paragraph 1:1. Men, also known as “knights,” and women, who are referred to as “ladies” in the United States and as “dames” throughout the rest of the world, may join the order often through invitation of an existing member, as long as they are baptized Catholic and in good standing with the church. In the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, there are currently 22 members of the order.
Members must be at least 25 years of age. Their current purpose is only the support of Christians in the Holy Land, specifically, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, an archdiocese comprised of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. Local leader Dr. Tom McGovern noted: “In Israel and Palestine, less than 2 percent of the population is now Christian. Christians are persecuted, mostly economically, on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian wall. The order provides over 75 percent of the financial resources to support the parishes and apostolates of the Latin Patriarchate, or the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land.”
Knights and ladies support the church in the Holy Land through daily prayer, pilgrimage, increasing awareness through conversation and other opportunities, and by financial commitment: a $600 annual donation is required of members. Membership is a lifetime commitment, according to the order’s constitution. Members are also expected to pray for and support the Christians in the Holy Land for the rest of their lives, unless an unforeseen hardship prevents them from doing so. McGovern confirmed members “have a sense of solidarity with the suffering Christians in the Holy Land and want to support them in visible, practical and prayerful ways.” The initial cost of membership, in addition to the annual donation, is a $1,000 investiture fee plus about $500 for liturgical robes.
Locally members process at liturgical events at the invitation of the bishop. They might be invited to special Masses, such as when the diocese was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the feast of the Assumption several years ago, opening and closing Masses of holy years, ordinations, Palm Sunday, Chrism Masses and Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s funeral.
In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, members meet at other times of the year for different events. They gather for Mass and dinner on Sept. 14, the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, which recalls the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and St. Helena finding the cross of the Crucifixion. They attend an Advent day of reflection; participate in a Palm Sunday procession and brunch with the bishop; and attend the annual Lieutenancy Investiture. This year the Lieutenancy Investiture will be held in Indianapolis.
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