New soldiers of Christ
‘The Holy Land does not need walls but bridges...’ said John Paul II during his visit to Israel in 2000. Today the situation in the Holy Land has not changed a lot. The constant Arab-Israeli conflict causes a decrease of the number of Christians in this territory. Both spiritual and material help is needed. Through their prayers and charitable activities the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a kind of bridge of solidarity and spiritual unity with the Church in Christ’s homeland. On 26 April 2008, at the investiture ceremony 21 new members were admitted to the Knightly Order in Poland.
The situation of Christians in the Holy Land
The investiture ceremony of the Polish Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulchre is held in a different Polish city every year. This time it was held in Czestochowa. The candidates met for the first time in the aula of the Editorial Board of the Catholic Weekly ‘Niedziela’ on 24 April 2008. The lectures given by Fr Nikodem Gdyk, a Franciscan, and Rev. Prof. Dr. Andrzej Napiorkowski, a Pauline Father, made the candidates aware of the aim of the Order’s activities. Fr Gdyk, who had graduated from the International Major Seminary in the Holy Land, spent several years in the San Salvatore monastery in Jerusalem. Based on his own observations and experiences as well as the reports of his fellow brothers who lived in the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr Gdyk presented the difficult situation of Christians and the reasons for their immigrations. Today Christians constitute only 2 % of 6.5 million of Israel’s inhabitants. One can observe a huge increase of the Jewish and Muslim communities. Why do Christians leave the Holy Land? ‘The reasons for their immigration’, Fr Gdyk says, ‘are first of all the difficult conditions of living and the constant Jewish-Palestinian conflict. There is a lack of flats, electricity, jobs; wages are very low. There is no medical care, including no health service in hospitals. Schools are closed and above all freedom is limited. Consequently, people live in fear. Priests and monks, both Catholic and Orthodox ones, experience difficulties in getting visas. Therefore, the important thing is that Christians could stay in the Holy Land as a symbol of peace and dialogue. All forms of help are needed.
Spirituality of the Knights
Being responsible for the fate of fellow Christians in the Holy Land and for the civilisational and cultural heritage of Christianity the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre face concrete tasks. In his lecture entitled ‘Culture reveals spirituality of the Knights’ Rev. Prof. Andrzej Napiorkowski reminded the candidates of the big role of the Church in the history of the world, including her cultural patronage. ‘Only through culture we live a truly human life’, he said. ‘Today, when we focus on a crisis of culture, the membership of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a motivating factor to promote and cherish Christian culture’, said Prof. Dr. Jerzy Wojtczak-Szyszkowski, the Officer of the Lieutenancy of Poland, summarising the talk of Fr. Napiorkowski. In order to be carriers of culture in their environments the Knights undergo constant formation, which is based on their spiritual presence at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, ‘the Tomb of the Resurrection and hope that gives sense of existence to whole humanity’, Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis noticed in his sermon during Mass for the candidates. On 25 April, the day before the investiture, the members and candidates participated in silence and meditation in the vigil before the relics of the Holy Cross in the Church of the Major Seminary in Czestochowa. During the vigil they took oaths of faithfulness to the ideals and commitments of the Knightly Order. The service was presided by Bishop Jan Watroba who spoke about knighthood as giving testimony to the truth. ‘If testimony is to be fruitful a knight should discern God’s will throughout his life. He should be ready to fight with evil. Fighting with evil he must have his own strategy of defence: have faith as his shield and salvation as his helmet. By praying a knight defends values and noble ideals. This fight requires patience, which is connected with the virtue of fortitude. A witness of the Resurrection is an apostle of mercy. Today Christians in the Holy Land cry for help. We must help them so that they do not die, and helping them we can become the witnesses of the Resurrection’, the bishop said.
They have become soldiers of Christ
The investiture means deep experiences for the new members of the Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulchre. On Saturday 26 April the members and candidates entered St Adalbert’s Church in Czestochowa in a procession. They carried a banner with a picture of Resurrected Christ and inscription ‘Deus lo vult’ (God wills it). Bishop Piotr Skucha of Sosnowiec presided over the liturgy. He himself is a member of the Knightly Order. After the homily ‘Veni Creator’ was sung as the beginning of the investiture. Prof. Jerzy Wojtczak-Szyszkowski read the decree of the Grand Master Cardinal John Foley concerning the admittance of the new members. Bishop Skucha told the candidates that ‘in the past, as you know, our forefathers answered the challenge of the popes and being strengthened by the cross and sword, they went to the Holy Land to regain the Tomb of Jesus Christ our Lord from the hands of the unfaithful... Today, to become a knight means to fight for the kingdom of Christ, for spreading the Church and to undertake charitable activities with the same deep spirit of faith and love. Are you ready to accept this ideal for your lives?’ Bishop Watroba asked. Then, according to the rules of the Knightly Order, priests, lay men and women were admitted to the order. The ceremony referred to the times of the knights. When men were admitted to the order they received spurs and like in the Middle Ages they were made knights and put on white capes bearing the red crosses. Women received black capes and veils or mantillas. At the end of the ceremony there were congratulations, wishes and flowers given to the new members. We are happy that there are over 180 Polish members among 120,000 Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre.
A knight of Christ receives from God a powerful sword – the sword of the Word of God. He uses it to fight with sin, with Satan and with death. A knight of Christ learns love given to God, the love is his life for another man. A knight of Christ always lives by the Resurrection.
Bishop Piotr Skucha
The new members of the Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Rev. Dr Jerzy Bielecki, Prof. Ryszard Ciesla, Teresa Czarnecka, Rev. Marian Daniluk, Witold Hanke, Prof. Dr. Irena Kiecana, Stanislaw Kogut, Dr. Bogdan Kurant, Dr. Grazyna Markiewicz-Loskot, engineer Andrzej Mielke, Janusz Noga, Rev. Edward Nowakowski, Przemyslaw Palonka, Bronislaw Palys, Dr engineer Stefan Pyrak, Dariusz Stefan Sitko, Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis, Rev. Dr. Henryk Szareyko, Prof. Krzysztof Szmyt, engineer Andrzej Sznajder, Rev. Jozef Wasniowski.