by Andrew Koslosky KGCHS, Contributing Writer

Have you ever asked yourself who these men and ladies are that dress in Noble Garb at many of the Catholic Processions and Special Services? These same who carry on their capes their insignia, The Jerusalem Cross? How about The Jerusalem Cross…and what does it symbolize?

Let us take some time to examine this week, this very special Papal Order, The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem is a Roman Catholic Order under the protection of the Pope.

It is recognized internationally as a legitimate Order of Knighthood, headquartered in Vatican City State under Papal sovereignty and having the protection of the Holy See.  When seen in public services, male members, “Knights,” wear a predominantly white cape, with the cross of Jerusalem in red.

Knights wear a black service beret with the raised portion showing a patch indicating their rank in the Order.  Female members, “Dames or Ladies”, wear a black cape with a red Jerusalem cross bordered with gold. When the Dame’s cape is worn, the head is always covered with a black veil or mantilla.

The Jerusalem Cross is the principal symbol of the Order. The five-fold cross, which appears on the Order’s uniform and insignia, has for centuries been a symbol of the holy city of Jerusalem, which is still its spiritual home.

It consists of a large central cross with laterally extended tips, with a similar smaller cross in each quarter of the large cross. It is traditionally said to symbolize the five most precious wounds of Christ.

Today there are only 30,000 members worldwide organized into 63 Lieutenancies, 32 in Europe, 16 in North America, 5 in South America, 6 in Australia and 4 in Africa and the Far East.

The honor of Knighthood and any subsequent promotions are conferred by the Holy See through diploma sealed and signed by the assessor for general affairs of the Secretariat of State in Rome as well as the Cardinal Grand Master, which approves each person, in the name of and by the authority of the Pope.

The candidate is knighted or promoted in a solemn ceremony with a Cardinal or major prelate presiding. Membership of the Order is by invitation only, to practicing Catholic men and women, laity and clergy, of good character, minimum 25 years of age, who have distinguished themselves in their Parish, Diocese and Communities.

Nominated members must be recommended by their local Bishop after receiving the support of several members of the
Order. The Pope is Sovereign of the Order, and the Order enjoys the protection of the Holy See and has its legal seat at Vatican City.

The Order traces its roots to Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, principal leader of the First Crusade. As with any of the surviving Orders of chivalry, the story of how it came to its present state is an intriguing one.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many stories were told of its origins. Some claim Charlemagne, Constantine, or even the Apostle, St. James the Lesser, as its founder. Documented history tells us that the order was with Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the Crusaders who liberated Jerusalem in 1099.

The Order became a visible arm of service and support to the Pope and the Holy See’s special projects throughout history from this point on. Central to the global mission of the organization, from its inception, is to defend and preserve the Holy Lands. The Order supports and furthers the charitable work of the Church locally and around the world

The Order’s mission is to strengthen its members in the practice of Christian life, to be in absolute fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and in accordance with the teachings of the Church. To observe, as its foundation, the principles of charity. To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works along with the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

To aid and support the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with which the Order maintains its original and traditional ties to the Church. In addition, the Order is to support the preservation of those lands, and to promote interest in this work, not only among Catholics scattered throughout the world, but also among all other Christians.

Lastly it is to uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem which includes all the activities and initiatives to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

The material aid of the Order in the Holy Land is particularly directed toward the financial support of the institutional activities of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, including pastoral care, maintenance of clergy, support of the seminary, construction and maintenance of parish churches and school buildings, and subsidy of school operations.

Being a member of the Order means taking on a commitment for life. The commitment is to be a Witness to the Faith, to lead an exemplary Christian life, to practice the true charitable commitment of a Christian.

Members in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are distinguished by their practice of Christian faith, by their moral conduct, by their exemplary involvement in the activities of the Church at the parish and diocesan levels, by their willingness to engage in the specific lay apostolate of the Order at the service of the Church, by their ecumenical spirit, and by their active interest in the needs and problems of the Holy Land.

Members of the Order show a willingness to subordinate their personal good to the needs of others and a notable generosity in the utilization of their material and spiritual resources, talents, influence, time and energy for others.

Members of the Order have a specific focus of Christian concern and apostolate: material, moral, and spiritual assistance
to and support of the poor, those without resources, voice, or means, and those who are oppressed and lacking the means to defend themselves and their rights.

The charity of the Order extends to all those in need, regardless of their beliefs or religious creeds.

So, there you have it…I wonder how many of you knew about this special and Historical Order that lives within your midst.

The Diocese of Biloxi will be hosting the Southeastern Lieutenancy of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre at the end of April for its annual weekend. If accepted into the Knighthood, it is truly a special way to serve.

Pray for all those in the Holy Land during this time of unrest and division. Peace until next week…