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Honor Guards

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

In the Holy Land, about A.D. 1000, Seljuk Turks began to displace the Arabs, who had ruled there relatively peacefully for almost four centuries.

When the Turks captured Jerusalem in 1076, they denied Christian pilgrims access to the city’s holy places, and horrid tales of the treatment of pilgrims were gradually reported in the West.

In 1095, Pope Urban II launched an appeal to Christian Europe to liberate the tomb of Jesus. The word spread like wild fire. Those who responded sewed crosses (Latin, crux) on their right shoulders – hence their name, “crusaders.”

On 15 July 1099, the first crusader army captured Jerusalem. The rage of some of the conquerors knew no bounds. By nightfall Jerusalem’s streets ran red with the blood of its inhabitants – men, women and children – Muslims, Jews and even Eastern Christians.

The feudal barons who led the crusader army elected Godfrey de Bouillon to be their leader. He declined their offer of kingship. Tradition has it that, before he died the next year, he formed a band of knights who volunteered to spend their lives guarding the Holy Sepulchre.

This was the beginning of a new form of religious life in the Latin Church – which till then had recognized only monasticism – the military orders. They were the first orders to propose a specific task in the world as their distinctive mission.

Besides the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, several others were formed, such as the Templars and Hospitallers (Knights of Malta). Many of them played a prominent role in the history of the Holy Land and of Western Europe.

In 1847, the Holy See reestablished the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, after an alternating Anglican-Lutheran bishopric was created there.

At that same time, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre was also reestablished and given the special task of supporting the missions of the patriarchate.

The present constitution of the Order, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, well describes the modern member:

The Knighthood is defined as self-discipline, generosity and courage. Whosoever does not have the firm willingness to develop and deepen these traits in his life will never be able to become a true Knight. The zeal for self-renunciation, in the midst of this society of abundance, generous aid to the weak and those without protection, courageous struggle for justice and peace are the characteristic virtues of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre…The characteristic feature of the Order consists of its pledge to the Holy Places of Jerusalem and its obligations toward preservation of the Christian presence in Palestine.

Now the Order consists of almost 20,000 honored and honorable men and women. Their task is no longer to guard the place of the burial and resurrection of the Lord, but to ensure that his teachings and church live in their lives and in his land.

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Jerusalem Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem