by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Though their roots lie in the Crusades of the 11th century, the Equestrian Order of the Knights and ladies of the Holy Sepulcher remain passionately active a millennium later — globally as well as locally.
“Our main goal is to support the remaining Christians and holy sites in the Holy land,” said St. Joseph, Shawnee, parishioner John Muehlberger, who, with his wife Joanie, serves as area counselor for the knights and ladies in the archdiocese.
Among those sites is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the basilica in Jerusalem built over what is believed to be the tomb of Christ.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann is grand prior of the Northern lieutenancy for the order. (In the United States, the order is divided into “lieutenancies” by region; the Northern lieutenancy comprises eight states, including Kansas.)
“The decades of tension between Israel and Palestinian Muslims have resulted in a tremendous exodus of Christians from the Middle East, and especially from the Holy land,” said Archbishop Naumann. “There is little economic opportunity for Palestinian Christians.”
Michael la Civita, assistant secretary for communications with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, cited social, cultural and economic influences for the rapid decrease in Christian population, as well as frustration with the ongoing political situation.
“Christians in the Holy land are an important moderating influence,” la Civita said. “If you lose that population, what will you have left? Extremist religious states . . . [and] that can be very dangerous.”
la Civita also posed the question: “Who’s going to run all the [Christian] institutions if all the Christians have been run out of town?”
The local knights’ and ladies’ efforts include the sponsorship of priests, Sisters and seminarians in the Holy Land. Archbishop Naumann, who will lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in October, emphasized the importance of the order’s work there.
“I have been a member of the Equestrian Order of the Knights and ladies of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem for more than 12 years,” the archbishop said. “My membership in the order and my pilgrimage to the Holy land in 1997 made me more aware of the need to assist the Christian community in the Holy land. Moreover, I found visiting the Holy Land to be a transforming experience — deepening my faith and enriching my understanding of the Gospel.
“It is important that Christians have the opportunity to visit the biblical sites and particularly the places made sacred by the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I am, therefore, honored to give my time and energy to support the work of this ancient order of the church.”
la Civita said that, because of the demand for tourism dollars, U.S. Christians are not at risk of being cut off from visiting the holy sites. Palestinian Christians are not so fortunate, however, as they are viewed as security risks and are therefore banned from the sites.
“It would be a great tragedy to lose entirely the [permanent] Christian presence in the Holy land,” Archbishop Naumann said. “The Knights and ladies of the Holy Sepulcher labor heroically to assist the Christians in the Holy land and to preserve the shrines made sacred by the life and ministry of Jesus.”
Those interested in possible membership in the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher may contact John or Joanie Muehlberger at (913) 441- 5061 for more information.