The Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are entrusted with an important mission from the Holy Father – to serve as witnesses to the Christian faith, and as supporters and protectors of the Church and the living Christian communities in the Holy Land.
While always important, this mission has a renewed urgency as violence in the Holy Land has increased since terrorists attacked Israel in early October, putting the entire region, including Christians and sacred sites, in peril.
Given the war in the Holy Land, the timing of the annual gathering of the Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order within the Diocese of Venice for the Order’s Patroness Feast Day, Our Lady of Palestine, was particularly poignant.
The Mass took place Oct. 28, 2023, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, with Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, standing in for Bishop Frank J. Dewane who was unable to participate.
Bishop Dewane did send his regrets for being unable to attend and shared a message of fraternity and support to the Knights and Dames and their continued mission through Father Belmonte.
Father Belmonte opened the Mass with a Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land, following the example of Pope Francis, who called the entire world to pray for peace in the Holy Land. In his message, Pope Francis called upon Catholics to take the side of peace in the conflict, not with words, but with “prayer and total dedication.”
“War solves no problems,” said Pope Francis. “It only sows death and destruction, increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future.”
During this time of shocking atrocities, Father Belmonte said the solitary voice of Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, made an incredible gesture of sacrifice. Cardinal Pizzaballa, who is Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order, in an act of “moral courage, in a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offered himself as a living ransom for the children who are being held captive in Gaza by terrorists.”
“It is at a time like this when we turn to Our Lady for peace and comfort, as our devotion to Our Lady is truly limitless,” Father Belmonte said.
The Mass concluded with Father Belmonte leading the Knights and Dames in an additional Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land, written by fellow Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for Migrants and Hebrew-speaking Catholics.
Following the Mass, the Knights and Dames attended a luncheon which included an informal meeting.
Sir John J. DeStefano, KGCHS, the President of the Diocese of Venice Section of the Equestrian Order, who helped organize the gathering, expressed his gratitude to Father Belmonte for celebrating the Mass, and to Bishop Dewane for his continued support of the Knights and Dames of the Order.
DeStefano also updated the Knights and Dames about the ongoing mission to support those in need in the Holy Land. This is a shift from the direct support of building schools and maintaining churches in the region, as the humanitarian crisis is something that requires immediate attention.
The Order’s mandate originates from the time of the crusader knights who were responsible for protecting the Christian pilgrims traveling to the sacred sites. Today the Order’s members continue to aid the Church in the Holy Land and to strengthen the practice of Christian life amongst its members.
The Equestrian Order exists within the local Dioceses and works closely with the Universal Church in unity of prayer and communion of purpose. Members are chosen from “among persons of a deep and practical Catholic Faith and of unblemished moral conduct, who are particularly worthy of merit in respect to the Order and Catholic good works in the Holy Land.” The Order is present in nearly 40 countries worldwide and there are about 30,000 Knights and Dames of the Order.
The religious character of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is obvious not only in its objectives and requirements for membership but also in the ceremonial investiture of its newly elected Knights. This ceremony combines a profession of faith with the ancient ritual used for the conferral of knighthood. The candidates do not take monastic vows but promise to live an upright Christian life in accordance with the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, in absolute loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff, as true soldiers of Christ.
Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land
Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, extend your hand over the Holy Land and over all who live there: Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians, Palestinians, Israelis, migrant workers and refugees.
Our Lady, intercede for us all and especially for the Church, the Body of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. We have been sent to preach Good News to all in the land that is yours and His, the land of the patriarchs, kings, prophets, apostles and of the first community formed to walk in the way of your Son, the Mother Church of Jerusalem. This mission needs the courage and the perseverance, the wisdom and the faith that were yours, pray for us.
On your knees He, who was your Lord and Master, learnt to speak and to pray, to act and to obey. We ask you to teach us to speak and to pray, to act and to obey today in the land called to be holy.
In the midst of war and hatred, walls, occupation and discrimination, fear and rejection, instruct us how to be instruments of justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation.
We affirm with you that he is our peace. Show us the way to incarnate in our life as Church both fidelity to your Son and an embracing love for all in this land, especially for those who are the poorest and the most excluded, the homeless, the refugees, the prisoners, those who are maltreated, oppressed and are victims of injustice.
Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, you are our mother, given to us by your Son on the Cross. With you, we are called to be witnesses to the Resurrection that already heralds His Kingdom. Modeling ourselves on you, we ask Him to anoint us as Spirit filled proclaimers of the Good News that He has vanquished death by His death on the Cross and has given life to those in the tombs. May we, members of His Body the Church, be living signs that point to the Kingdom that is already among us.
Mother Mary, Queen of Palestine, pray for us.
Father David Neuhaus, SJ, Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for Migrants and Hebrew-speaking Catholics.