Being a Knight and Dame of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre these days
JERUSALEM – The big white mantles of the Knights, bearing the red grand cross of Jerusalem, are very impressive. Far from the myth of the secret military order of the Middle Age, being a Knight or Dame of the Holy Sepulcher means much more than beautiful gowns or sumptuous rituals. An encounter with six of them, each talking about his investment for the Holy Land and the Christians of the East.
The Order was founded in 34 countries and includes 29 000 members. Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher live their commitment in different ways but in the same spirit of solidarity and self-giving.
Carola and Henrique Abreu are Knight and Dame since respectively four and two years and live presently in the Holy Land. In a previous article (link) they told us about the call they had received to put themselves at the service of Christians of the East. “My involvement today is beyond we ever imagined it would be. As Knights, the greatest pride and honor you can have, is to be able to return to Jerusalem many years after our ancestors in the Order were here, and enter the Church of The Holy Sepulcher to pray and honor our Lord and those who worked hard in the past to maintain our religion and christian values.”
During their voluntary work in Taybeh, they met another Knight Dominique Neckebroeck, invested in 1997, who came for one month staying with the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, as “a hard laboring man”. For him and for Carola and Henrique, being a knight means joining an Order that embodies the true values and meanings of the christian faith. “a Knight for me meant someone who was a warrior of peace, a gentleman, a person with great courage to protect the Christians of the Holy Land, and to carry great respect, knowledge and responsibility towards the values and codes of our Church”, said Henrique. As for Dominique, it is a life “combining a strong spiritual demand (including formation) with a charitable temporal role well organized and targeted projects on the Holy Land. I noticed that it was possible to make a research and develop these days these ancestral qualities, avoiding pump and romanticism.” Dominique who took up various responsibilities within the Lieutenancy of France, and who goes back to France after ending his mission in the Holy land, points out: “Regardless of the level of service locally, each knight is useful and expected. To national projects, we may add individual actions, humble and invisible, compatible with our own means”.
Carola and Henrique who left their activities to come and live in the Holy Land experience a big change in their life through a total commitment, day after day. “I have learned to detach from material things and to have a more austere and simple. l feel fortunate to have the opportunity to help the Christians in the Holy Land and I am very proud to accompany my husband on this unique mission.”, says Carola. Her husband adds “ I moved to Jerusalem to live fully what is to be a knight in this land, and in times of conflict and difficulties as we are living now, it is when the Christians most need our support and care. Prayer and faith are the most important thing, together with “on site” actions and supports that are also crucial in nowadays as well”. Since their arrival, Carola and Henrique contributed to the successful implementation of five different projects.
Another example quite different: Ghada and Tewfiq Habesch, Arab Christians, Knight and Dame of the Holy Sepulcher since 2010. Being Knight and Dame “that it’s the will of God for us to be members of this historic and ancient order and to serve the Mother Church and be in the service of others.” Invested by His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Tewfiq and Ghada share the same values as other Knights and Dames worldwide, through prayers, compassion, moral support and execution of projects. “We live here, we are from here, and our role in the upkeep of Christian presence in the Holy Land is different, since we live it on a daily basis. Our commitment to be witnesses to Faith goes through this daily presence”. In order to share this experience with other Knights and Dames of the world, or simple pilgrims, they set up a travel agency to urge Catholics to come to the Holy Land. “A pilgrimage is a very spiritual experience that rekindles and strengthens one’s Faith while in the meantime supporting a continued Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Frederic Fagot, becoming Abbott in 2012, explores the Holy Land in 2006. A thunderstorm becomes thus a love story: “I had joined the Order before my decision to become a priest. In love with history and with the Middle East since my tender years, I discovered chivalry through historical figures such as Godfroy de Bouillon, Baudouin IV of Jerusalem, reading books by Jacques Heers, Jean Richard and Regine Pernoud …” And the Abbot getting more excited as he speaks about Christian East: “Every Christian is born in Jerusalem. Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher defend the Church and more particularly Christians of the East through prayer and different actions” One of his many tasks runs through the Association of Peace Watchers, set up in 2012 on a twofold axis: first to increase the school exchanges between Breton establishments (the abbot is diocesan delegate of Catholic Schooling in Morbihan in France) and the institutions of the Holy Land; another aspect is scheduled in summer, by sending young adults on pilgrimage and benevolent work with Christian communities of the Holy land. “A Knight for me is the Lord’s arm; his duty in the past consisted to protect, defend and support the Holy Church. Today it runs through prayer, handling projects in conjunction with Christians of the East, more especially the youngsters” One of the last initiatives was for example the Night of the Holy Land in Bretagne at Ste-Anne d’Auray which gathered 1500 persons last 15 November: “It is of basic importance that a maximum number of persons feel concerned by this land, by the fate of men and women who live on it. That also applies to our survival”
Therefore, being Knight of Dame today represents an important investment and reflects essential love for the Holy land and living stones of Mother Church of Jerusalem. In wearing the mantle in which he will be buried, as in a shroud, a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher confirms his belonging to God and his commitment to serve the Church and its bodies through a support to the works and different institutions – cultural, charitable, social – of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, more particularly those which belong to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Eva Maurer Morio