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Meet the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre

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by John Stegeman

If you have ever seen men and women dressed in white and black cloaks with a red Jerusalem cross at Mass, you’ve encountered the knights and dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ).

EOHSJ is an ancient lay institution under the protection of the Holy See. Just how far back it goes is unclear. Some note a historical mention in 1336, while others trace the origin of the order all the way back to 1099 during the Crusades. Once responsible for the defense of the Holy Land, the order was reconstituted under Pope Pius IX who tasked it with providing material and spiritual support to the Latin Patriarchate (similar to a diocese) of Jerusalem.

The order has around 30,000 members in nearly 40 countries. The amount of aid rendered to the Latin Patriarchate each year by the order is nearly $12 million. While the lieutenancies (regional groupings) and sections (local chapters) do gather a few times a year, the order is not a social club. Local events by the Cincinnati/Dayton section include an annual dinner for the archbishop, a retreat and the celebration of one of the four feast days of the order. In addition to vesting for major events like ordinations, if desired, the knights and dames attend funerals of fellow members in regalia.

“We don’t come together as often [as some other organizations],” said Dan Andriacco who, along with wife Ann, serves as co-president for the Cincinnati/Dayton section. “When we do come together, it is in solidarity with the Holy Land, and to support each other, support our archbishop and grow in holiness.”

According to a lieutenancy website, members are distinguished by their practice of Christian faith, living by high standards of moral conduct, their involvement in the Church at the parish and diocesan levels, their willingness to engage in the apostolate of the order, their ecumenical spirit and their active interest in the needs and problems of the Holy Land.”

Membership is often by invitation. It includes a period of formation, and each member must be approved by the Grand Magisterium in Rome. There are recurring financial obligations which include the cost of attending the annual meeting and investiture, and an annual charitable contribution. Members are also expected to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and pray for those who live there.

“There is a financial commitment and every person who is interested has to assess his or her financial situation,” Andriacco said. “Most Catholics make charitable contributions every year in addition to their own parish. For me, it was an issue of prioritizing and saying this is where I want my contributions to go.”

“All that money goes [to the Latin Patriarchate],” he added. “All the money goes directly to help the cause of Christians in the Holy Land. We have heard again and again from the Latin patriarch, and from our contacts in the schools, that our support has been absolutely essential.”

This September, between 350 and 400 knights and dames from the Northcentral Lieutenancy will gather in Cincinnati for the annual meeting and investiture. The Cincinnati/Dayton and Covington/Lexington sections are co-hosting. The meeting will take place at the Netherland Hotel in Cincinnati, a promotions ceremony will be at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, KY., and the investiture will take place at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in Downtown Cincinnati.

During all the gathering, members will keep the people of the Holy Land in their prayers.

“The biggest thing that Christians in the Holy Land will say is, ‘Don’t forget us,’” Andriacco said. “They’re always in our prayers and in our hearts, as well as being a cause we contribute to financially.”

This article appeared in the September edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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