Catholic order devoted to supporting Christians in Middle East to meet in Tulsa
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, October 13, 2012
10/13/12 at 5:29 AM
Eight hundred knights and ladies of a 1,000-year-old Catholic order devoted to supporting Christianity in Israel and the Palestinian territories, traditionally called the Holy Land, are meeting this weekend in Tulsa.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem grew out of the Crusades of 1099 AD, when Sir Godfrey de Bouillon's European Christian forces wrested control of Jerusalem from Muslims, said Steven Pinion, chancellor of the order's four-state Southwestern Lieutenancy.
The order was founded to defend the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional burial site of Christ, Pinion said, a mission that has not changed for 10 centuries.
While it once defended the site by sword, on horseback, the organization now devotes "time, talent and treasure" to the cause, he said.
It builds and supports schools, nurseries, parks, churches, hospitals and universities in the Holy Land.
Pinion said Christians in the Holy Land, most of whom are Arab Palestinians, are facing severe difficulties, and many of them are leaving.
"They're being squeezed from both Muslim and Jewish communities," he said.
"We're working to help them."
The constitution of the order states that it exists to "relive in a modern manner the spirit and ideal of the Crusades," fostering in its members the practice of the Christian life, spreading the faith in Palestine, supporting charitable work and defending "the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the cradle of the order."
Worldwide, the Rome-based order has 30,000 members in 61 lieutenancies.
Tulsa is hosting the Southwest Lieutenancy meeting this weekend for the first time in about a decade.
It is the largest lieutenancy in the order, with 2,500 members from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas. It has donated more than $1 million a year to the work in the Holy Land.
A highlight of the weekend will be the investiture of 144 new members in an ancient European-style knighting ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday at Holy Family Cathedral downtown.
New members are approved through a long process that includes a recommendation from their parish priest, vetting by the order, an invitation to join from their bishop and approval by the Vatican.
The four-day conference also includes times of prayer, business meetings, social events and several Masses.
Members of the order are expected to make at least one pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
"You celebrate Mass at the holy sites, Nazareth, Cana, Jerusalem," said Pinion, who went in 2009.
"At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we were able to go into the tomb and say prayers," he said.
"It still puts chills down your spine, being where he (Jesus) was laid."
Middle East unrest threatening Christianity in region, expert says
Don Betz, president of the University of Central Oklahoma, said Christianity is losing ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories, a region traditionally called the Holy Land.
Betz, who worked for years with the United Nations on Middle East peace issues, said the situation is the same in the rest of the Middle East.
Many Christians are emigrating to escape violence, strife, and economic and political disorder, he said, despite a "powerful generational attachment to land and place."
Most of the Christians in that region are of Arab descent, he said. Some trace their Christian lineage to the time of Christ. Many are Orthodox. Others are Roman Catholic, Eastern Rite Catholic or Protestant.
He said Westerners fail to grasp the complexity of the situation in the Middle East.
"This entire region is filled with a multiplicity of religious sects, both Islamic and Christian," he said. Loyalty to ethnic and religious identities supersedes national boundaries.
As the political climate shifts, members of various sects are wondering whether they will be able to practice their faith under new regimes.
"This notion of identity among sects is important. One of the reasons that the civil war in Syria is so perplexing and dangerous is that it could result in a conflict that transcends state borders," he said.
"There's fear that another Lebanon could develop in Syria," he said.
"An extended sectarian strife would be among the worst of outcomes."
Original Print Headline: Tulsa hosting meeting of Catholic order
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398