by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
As you read this column, I am in the Holy Land leading a pilgrimage of the Equestrian Order of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
The Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher trace their origins to the Crusaders, who risked life and fortune to protect, preserve and gain access for Christians to the sites where Jesus was conceived, born, lived, preached, healed, suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead.
The order was reconstituted by Pope Pius IX in the 1850s, inviting individuals to make sacrifices to preserve the Christian shrines and help the Christian community living in the Holy Land. The mission of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher has never been more important than today, as the Christian community is caught in the crossfire of the Jewish- Muslim conflict. Christians, who are predominantly Arabs, are denied employment opportunities and access to high quality basic services, such as health care.
Why is the mission and purpose of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher still important today? The order’s mission is intimately connected to the most fundamental tenets of our Catholic faith.
Why are the Holy Land and its Christian community important?
The answer to that question is to be found in our belief in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is our belief that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Holy Land is important to us because it is intimately linked to our belief in the historical Jesus. Jesus was not some mythical figure, the hero of some inspirational piece of fiction.
Put in a rather simple way, preserving the Christian shrines in the Holy Land and keeping them ac- cessible to Christian pilgrims is important because we believe in Christmas. As Christians, we believe that the Lord of the universe — the one who designed not only this earth but thousands of galaxies — so loved us that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. We believe he was born as a helpless baby in the simplest of conditions in Bethlehem. We believe that this historical Jesus grew up in Nazareth under the care of Mary and Joseph. We believe that he performed his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. We believe that Jesus walked the roads of Galilee teaching from “pulpits” in synagogues, on fishing boats, and on mounts. We believe that he fed the multitudes and healed many who were sick in body and spirit.
We believe that Jesus came to Jerusalem, taught in the temple precincts and drove the money changers out of the temple. We believe that our Lord gathered his apostles for the Passover meal and in the context of his last supper, celebrated the first Eucharist. We believe that Jesus empowered — ordained — his apostles to do this in memory of him.
We believe that our Lord asked Peter, James and John to watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We believe that he was betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his apostles, brought to trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. We believe that Jesus carried the cross on the Via Dolorosa, was crucified on Calvary and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
We believe in this real, historical person, Jesus Christ, who was born, lived, ministered and died in actual places. We believe that these places were sanctified by the One who was born, lived, walked, taught, suffered and died there. Like those a thousand years ago who risked life and fortune, to whom the Order of the Holy Sepulcher traces its roots, we believe that it is important that these sacred places be preserved and remain available for pilgrimage for Christians to visit, to pray at and to have their faith deepened and renewed.
Please keep me and the 42 other pilgrims in your prayers. We will be in the Holy Land until Oct. 25. From the Holy Land, we will fly to Rome, spending a couple days of pilgrimage in the Eternal City before returning home on Oct. 28. Pray for the safety of all the pilgrims, but even more, pray for a deepening of our faith in Jesus, the Son of God, as we visit the actual places where he spent his 33 years on this earth.