Representatives of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre from Northern Ohio gathered for their annual Mass with the bishop on Feb. 4 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland.
The knights, dressed in their distinctive white capes with a large red Jerusalem cross on the shoulder and black velvet berets, filed into their pews before the entrance procession. Bishop Nelson Perez, himself a knight, was the principal celebrant at the Mass. He was assisted by Bishop Anthony Spinosa, a chorbishop (similar to an auxiliary bishop) in the Maronite Catholic Church, who is rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in North Jackson, near Youngstown.
At the beginning of Mass, Bishop Perez said the liturgy would be dedicated to the Palestinian people, noting that he had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land with nine other bishops. The theme of the trip was to build bridges, not walls, he said.
During his trip to the Holy Land, which Bishop Perez said was his second visit, he recalled celebrating Mass at a parish supported by the knights.
“This trip, it was like I visited a different Holy Land,” he said, describing the current situation. “I saw the suffering of people who are walled in.”
He said the knights’ mission is to keep Christ alive in the Holy Land and to protect the sacred places where Jesus walked and lived. The Christian population in the Holy Land has decreased dramatically to about 1 percent of the population, he said. “Many people had to flee with their families for a better life. In many ways, Christians there are imprisoned,” he said, describing how 2.3 million people are walled off and it is difficult for them to get in or out. In the late 1960s, the population of Bethlehem was 80 percent Christian, compared to 10-15 percent now, he added.
The knights of this area support Holy Family Parish in Gaza and there is a plaque recognizing their work, he said. The Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, also works in the area. “The work of the knights, Catholic Relief Services and the missionary sisters is incredible,” Bishop Perez said. He also shared insights about Bethlehem University, a Catholic college run by the De La Salle brothers, that was founded in 1973 with 121 students and now has a student population of 3,300. It provides a higher education to the people of Palestine.
Bishop Perez said we have an obligation to share the gifts we have received. “Thank God the early Christians weren’t shy about sharing their gift. The message has travelled from the early Christians through the years to us today,” he said. “The faith of the risen Lord travelled to you and was given to you as a gift. It guides your decision-making. This morning, you made plans to be here to celebrate the risen Christ. Fifty years from now, others will be in these pews because the gift was passed on to them,” he added.
After Mass, the knights and their guests enjoyed a lunch with Bishop Perez, Bishop Spinosa and Bishop emeritus Richard Lennon, who also is a knight.