By Dave Jolivet
EAST FALMOUTH, Mass. — Since Jesus instructed His Apostles to deliver His message of love and reconciliation, beginning where it all started in the Holy Land, then to all corners of the earth, the task has been one filled with trials, tribulations, conversions and Salvation.
While Jesus’ Holy Land seems to be light years in the past, the Sacred ground on which He trod is still home to thousands of Christians who face the same discriminations and dangers of their ancestors more than 2,000 years ago.
Simply put, these courageous followers of Christ cannot do it alone. They constantly need the prayers and support from their brothers and sisters who, through the grace of God, don’t face such perils.
The Fall River Diocese, nearly 6,000 miles west of where the Son of God first ministered, is home to a loyal group of faithful Catholics, whose mission in life is to grow in their own faith, and ensure Christians in the Holy Land are able to do the same.
The Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, whose mission it is to provide for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, currently has more than 60 members in the Fall River Diocese, joining more than 850 fellow members in five New England states and 35,000 brothers and sisters in 45 countries across the world.
Included in the diocese’s membership are 15 priests and deacons, along with Bishop Emeritus George W. Coleman, and most recently, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. Former Fall River bishop, Cardinal Sean P. O’ Malley, OFM Cap., of the Boston Archdiocese is the order’s Grand Prior for the Northeastern Lieutenancy.
Bishop da Cunha became an order member at the latest investiture service. “I celebrated Mass for a gathering of members in the Fall River Diocese and they asked me to become a member,” the bishop told The Anchor. “I am very glad to be a part of such faithful people who do so much good work for the Holy Land. They are wonderful people who offer many prayers and much financial support.”
The Diocese of Fall River’s representative, Thomas A. Murray, Knight Grand Cross Holy Sepulchre, a member of St. Anthony’s Parish in East Falmouth, told The Anchor, “While there are a good number of clergy and ordained individuals in the order, it is made up of mostly lay people, with an 80 to 85 percent lay membership worldwide.”
Murray continued, “We hope to increase lay enrollment in the Fall River Diocese because Christians in the Holy Land are in dire straits. Their needs are even greater than ever before. Our goal is to help them provide for themselves. Christians are a living part of the footsteps of Christ — Christ’s presence still there.”
“It is so critical that the order helps those in the Holy Land,” added Bishop da Cunha. “In this time in history it is so important to maintain the presence of the Church in the Holy Land.”
The order’s origin tracks all the way back to 1099, when Christians reclaimed their rightful presence in Jerusalem after hundreds of years of exile.
According to its website the order is charged, in its constitution:
“To strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, in absolute fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and according to the teachings of the Church, observing as its foundation the principles of charity which make the order a fundamental means of assistance to the Holy Land.
“To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, particularly those of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with which the order maintains its traditional ties.
“To support the preservation and propagation of the faith in those lands, and promote interest in this work not only among Catholics scattered throughout the world, who are united in charity by the symbol of the order, but also among all other Christians.
“To uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.”
Murray told The Anchor that membership in the order is multi-faceted. “Membership is meritorious in the sense that we are involved in our Church, diocese, and parish work. It is not enough to be nominated due to weekly attendance at Mass only.”
Membership generally occurs when an individual is nominated by a member, or as is often the case, by a parish pastor.
Murray said that the commitment to become a member of the order is a very serious one, yet it is also a great opportunity for one to grow in their own faith and relationship with Christ.
“There is a financial commitment each year and a Spiritual program of prayer and an effort to enhance one’s Spirituality.
“A daily continuum of prayer individually is a crucial way to assist our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. We also have several occasions during the year when the local order meets and when we gather with the New England Lieutenancy. Usually at the beginning of Lent we go to the cathedral in Boston to prepare for the Holy Week Triduum. We also travel to the Pastoral Center at the chancery in Boston for a day of recollection or a retreat.”
The Fall River members gather for Mass and invite members from the New England Lieutenancy, as well as all pastors in the diocese.
“Praying with each other for those in the Holy Land truly makes us feel a part of the people there. While the need for financial support is great and critical, the Spiritual aspect is as important and more,” added Murray.
Members are also encouraged to make a 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “It is a very Spiritual and emotional journey,” Murray said of the pilgrimage. “We visit where Jesus walked, the very bedrock of where we are committed to assist, financially, Spiritually and prayerfully.”
Each year the Fall River members attend an investiture weekend, when new members are invested into the order, and other members may receive promotions.
“It’s a wonderful weekend,” said Murray. “On Friday, we have a prayer service and also present promotions to some members.
“On Saturday is the actually investiture ceremony where we welcome new members and hold our annual business meeting as well. And there is usually a guest speaker from the Holy Land.”
At the latest investiture weekend, held at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, five people from the Fall River Diocese were invested: Bishop da Cunha, Father Christopher M. Peschel, Lady Karen Boucher of Yarmouthport, Lady Elizabeth Quinn of West Barnstable, and Robert Boucher of Yarmouthport.
Murray explained that the financial support generated by order members is used largely on education. “The focus is on education and providing support for students and faculty in the Holy Land. Locally, we have adopted a school in Amman, Jordan, which has a student population ranging from kindergarten to high school. We provide assistance to pay the teachers and to provide scholarships for students in need.
“While we are a Catholic group, we welcome all Christians and Muslims. Part of the beauty and the strength of the Holy Land is the peaceful mingling of peoples of all races and religions. We feel that if the students see that acceptance is welcomed and encouraged, they will grow into adults who will hold the same values and principals, thereby ensuring peace in the Holy Land.”
While the large majority of members are lay people and provide the most financial support, the presence of cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons is welcome and necessary to provide Spiritual guidance and direction. “Cardinal O’ Malley has always been very supportive of the order, as well as Bishop Emeritus Coleman,” said Murray. “And now Bishop da Cunha has expressed the same enthusiasm. He is very appreciative of the mission to which he is called through being a member of the order.”
Murray told The Anchor that hopes are high for an increase in membership in the Fall River Diocese. “We encourage all our wonderful pastors to consider nominating women and men whom they feel will be a strong asset to assisting Christians through the turmoil in the Holy Land.”
Murray expressed a strong desire to visit interested parishes, through an invitation from the pastor, to speak about the order and the great work it performs and the even greater Spiritual benefits it provides members.
For more information on the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; or for pastors to invite a member to speak at their parish, contact Tom Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.