Pray for peace in the Holy Land
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have belonged to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepluchre of Jerusalem since I was 35 years old. The “Equestrian” in the title comes from the historical origins of the Order tracing back to its participation as a cavalry fighting on horseback in the First Crusade to recover the Holy Land. The first documentary evidence of an investiture of “Knights of the Holy Sepulchre” dates back to 1336. Membership in the Order was extended to the Dames of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. In February 1996, Pope John Paul II recognized the Order as a public association of the faithful.
The Order today is not involved in military operations but is still very much committed to assisting people in the Holy Land, especially in providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of all the activities and initiatives to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members are therefore the Patriarchal institutions’ main source of funding.
Since the end of the 19th century, the Order has financed the construction of 40 patriarchal schools in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan and it now has a commitment to fund their running costs. Today around 19,000 pupils and students attend these schools, from nursery classes through elementary, middle, and upper school, as well as in a number of technical schools. On average, the student breakdown is 60 percent Christian (Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) and 40 percent Muslim.
In the latter half of the 20th century, middle-class Christian families leaving the Holy Land to seek a secure future abroad became a real exodus. Today, the number of Christians in different areas of the Holy Land varies from 2 percent to 4 percent of the local population and these are very largely craft workers, small tradesmen, and those working in the tourist industry that has developed alongside pilgrimages. Such very small minorities can only survive if their skills are high enough to earn them the appreciation and esteem of the society in which they live; and this can only be achieved thanks to better standards of education and training.
The Order’s involvement with education helps to deal with a very important problem in the region: how to get people of different races and religions used to living in peace and mutual respect. If these values are encouraged from an early age they may be implanted in children’s minds, otherwise there is no hope of doing it at a later stage, for in adolescence young people are easy prey to extremist ideologies.
The running costs of the Patriarchate and its 68 parishes, the salaries of the 900 or so teachers and other staff in the educational establishments, the costs of the patriarchal seminary and the orphanages and clinics, as well as those of the Patriarchate’s new enterprises and other ongoing projects (including the construction of housing for young Christian families) are enormous and rise continually, putting a heavy burden on our Order. Such costs can only be sustained thanks to the generosity of the active members of the Order.
For the past several years, members of the Order have been asked to pray an extra decade of the rosary for the intention of peace in the Middle East. I have been doing so, adding my own specific intention of praying for an end to the hatred, fighting, and violence between Hamas and Israel, as well as between Israel and Hezbollah. About a month ago, after praying for this intention, I thought to myself that the situation in the Holy Land has been quiet recently and I hoped that this meant that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Israel were finally learning to coexist peacefully.
Unfortunately, this illusion was shattered with the violent attacks carried out by Hamas Oct. 7, when militants from Gaza fired thousands of rockets towards Israeli towns before breaking through the heavily fortified border fence with Israel and sending militants deep into Israeli territory. There, Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians, many of them children, and took more than 200 hostages, in what has been described as the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
A senior leader of Hamas has admitted that they were plotting this attack for years while pretending to project a peaceful image.
After years of prayer for peace, this is very discouraging.
Deception, discouragement, and death: these are the hallmarks of the work of the devil. We must recognize these atrocities as such and pray even more intensely for the protection of St. Michael the Archangel in this battle with evil. We pray that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, with the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, will help people to overcome their ancient hostilities and bring peace to the Holy Land and to the whole world.
May God give us this grace. Amen.