During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year, Marsha Stocker met a young Muslim woman who was studying at Bethlehem University in the West Bank.
"I've never seen the ocean," the young woman told Stocker, a St. Louisan who was visiting the area with the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. "I can't cross over the border (of the West Bank). I'm not allowed to leave."
Stocker, an area councillor with the order, noticed the mixture of Palestinians, Christians and Muslims at Bethlehem University, the first university to be founded in the West Bank in 1973. The young Muslim woman told her, "Here we are all Palestinians. We are not divided."
Stocker's pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a fulfillment of the expectation that members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Founded in 1099 to safeguard the tomb of Christ and provide assistance to pilgrims, the sacred Catholic order today helps preserve and promote the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Last weekend, more than 700 members of the order's Northern Lieutenancy gathered in Downtown St. Louis for its annual meeting. The Northern Lieutenancy has members from eight states: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.
An investiture Mass Sept. 17 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis highlighted the weekend, with 102 new members — 14 from St. Louis — being invested. There are approximately 280 members in St. Louis. Other activities at the meeting included talks, time for prayer and eucharistic adoration, and general business meetings.
The order of knighthood is considered the highest papal award to be conferred on laity and clergy who have provided exemplary service to the Church. Members are approved for nomination by their bishops and must demonstrate fidelity to the Church as well as a readiness to serve the needs of the Church in the Holy Land.
The Northern Lieutenancy in recent years has contributed more than $1 million annually to support projects in the Holy Land. Contributions support the general needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which covers Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Cyprus and includes the education of more than 20,000 students. Two years ago, the Northern Lieutenancy's contributions topped all 63 lieutenancies worldwide.
"We are analogous in our support to what the Annual Catholic Appeal is for St. Louis," area councillor Randy Weber said. "We serve others because we are Catholic, not because they are."
According to Stocker, seeing firsthand the needs of people in the Holy Land is paramount. "If you don't see it for yourself, you really don't get it," Stocker said. During her pilgrimage last year, she also visited a school, which is supported by the order, in Amman, Jordan. The school's needs are very similar to the needs of schools in St. Louis. "The priest showed us around and they knew we were supporting them. They were so glad we visited."
"But the most valuable thing you can give by your pilgrimage is your time," Weber said. "It's a personal commitment that shows you care enough to come and support them."
Support the Holy Land
A collection is taken up in Catholic Churches every year on Good Friday to support the work of the Franciscans working in the Holy Land. The Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land have responsibility for caring for the holy places and assisting Christians living in the Holy Land.
For more information on the collection and the Holy Land Friars, visit www.myfranciscan.org.
To learn more about the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Northern Lieutenancy, visit www.eohsjnorthern.com.