Bishop Nelson Perez joined members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at their annual liturgy and change of officer ceremony during the 12:15 p.m. Mass on Feb. 3 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland.
The bishop, who is a knight, was the celebrant. He was assisted by Bishop Anthony Spinosa, a chorbishop in the Maronite Catholic Church, who is rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, near Youngstown. A chorbishop is similar to an auxiliary bishop.
The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre North Central Lieutenancy selected Shaun Rankin as their new leader. He replaces David Dombrowiak, who presided with Bishop Perez, at the installation ceremony at the end of the Mass. This group of knights encompasses the Diocese of Cleveland, the Eparchy of Parma, Diocese of Toledo, Diocese of Youngstown and Eparch of St. Josaphat.
Bishop Perez briefly recapped the organization’s history, noting it traces its roots to the First Crusade in the 11th century, when Christians tried to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim rule. He said the knights protected holy sites.
The bishop also recalled his visit to the Holy Land a year ago, pointing out that this group of knights helps to support a parish, Holy Family in Gaza. A plaque recognizes their contributions.
Reflecting on the readings, the bishop said the second reading from Corinthians, talks about love – but not the trivialized type of love we may talk about.
“We say we love everything from our houses to food, cars and people. Using the word love like this is a danger because the word could lose its power,” he said. There also is romantic love.
“We crave love so much that as the song says, we ‘look for love in all the wrong places,’” the bishop said.
He recalled getting a postcard from some friends a few years ago. It was January and freezing in the East. His friends were vacationing in the Caribbean and sent a beautiful photo of a sunny, warm island. The message said they missed him and wished he was there with them.
“Not true,” he quipped. “If they really missed me, they’d have invited me and paid my way,” he said, explaining that this was a superficial expression of love.
“I invite all of you here today to sit down with this Scripture reading and ask yourselves how your love matches up.” He said real love is rooted in the nature of God. “It’s a love that at times hurts. Real love is always sacrificial. Love is a man nailed to a cross – the ultimate icon of Christianity.”
Bishop Perez said we often wear crosses as jewelry. He said many churches – including the cathedral – are built in the shape of a cross. The cross represents how much God loves us – so much that he gave his only son to redeem us.
The bishop shared another story, this one about a woman he hired as a secretary for an institute he was tasked with establishing in Philadelphia.
“I was hiring my first secretary. I did several interviews but none of the candidates was ‘the one,’” he said. “Then Linda came in. She was ‘the one.’ I wanted to hire her on the spot and I did.”
However, she explained to him that she had battled breast cancer and was unable to return to teaching because of health concerns. She wasn’t sure if the cancer would return, but he wanted her to take the job anyway, so he hired her. She did a great job, he said, but a few months later, the cancer returned.
She fought the disease and continued working as long as she could, but he said she knew her time was running short. Eventually, she was hospitalized and as her death neared, she slipped into a coma for more than a week. Then suddenly she awoke and asked to see her family and friends.
“After a full day of receiving people, I was the last one,” he said. She received the sacraments and they talked. “She promised to mention me when she got to heaven,” he said. “I asked her where she got her strength from and she didn’t say a word, but she lifted her blanket and she was holding a crucifix. That is a powerful love,” the bishop said.
“All relationships revolve around love. We need to ask ourselves what does our love actually look like?” he said.
After Mass, the knights and their guests attended a lunch with Bishop Perez, Bishop Spinosa and others.