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Local Knights of the Holy Sepulchre help support parish, school, hospital in Gaza

News of the Diocese

November 2, 2023

Local Knights of the Holy Sepulchre help support parish, school, hospital in Gaza

The violence raging between Israel and Hamas may seem distant for many in the Diocese of Cleveland, but there is a local connection.

Members of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of Holy Sepulchre have supported Christians in the Holy Land for many years. The local knights are among those offering financial and other support to places like Holy Family Parish, School and summer camps in Gaza and the Caritas Baby Hospital Foundation in Bethlehem.

Father Gabriel Romanali, the priest at Holy Family Parish of Gaza, has been providing updates – when possible – about the situation since the most recent hostilities began nearly a month ago, said Jeff Abood, one of the local knights. Click here to read a report Father Romanali provided during an Oct. 11 telephone conversation.

Abood, editor of the knights’ North Central Lieutenancy’s newsletter, said things are very difficult for Christians in Gaza since the fighting erupted last month. He said Christians and Palestinians are trapped. According to the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, there are no realistic ways in which they can evacuate in any direction because of the bombing.

Christians refused to go to the south of Gaza as they had been asked, Abood said. Instead, they sought shelter in two churches -- one Catholic and the nearby Greek Orthodox church. Many families lost their homes and there was great concern for their safety, Abood added.

Recent photos from Gaza show the remains of the hall (see top photo) adjacent to St. Porphyrios (Greek Orthodox) Church. (The church is pictured below -- before the recent hostilities began.) According to a report, a house next to the church was bombed on Oct. 19, which brought down the church hall. The church had been a refuge for 411 people while 83 others, including five members of Caritas Jerusalem’s staff and their families, sought safety in the hall. Many were buried in the rubble after the hall was destroyed.

Abood said the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed his strongest condemnation of the strike, noting “Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored.”

In another distressing development, Abood said reports from Gaza indicated 17 Christians were killed recently, including three from Holy Family School, which is supported by the local knights. “They are brothers and sisters, one teacher and one teacher lost her parents. Others are still under the rubble. They don’t have enough tools. They remove the rubble with their hands. Many are in the intensive care at the hospital. The situation is horrible there,” the report said.

Local Knights of the Holy Sepulchre help support parish, school, hospital in Gaza

Abood also reported that Save the Children International said “more children have been killed in Gaza in the last three weeks than the total killed in conflicts around the world in every year since 2019.”

Leaders of the Equestrian Knights of the Holy Sepulchre are scheduled to meet in Rome next week, but they had a press conference on Oct. 31 to discuss the situation in the Holy Land.

The Catholic News Service reported that Cardinal Fernando Filoni, grand master of the order and a former papal diplomat in Iran, Iraq and Jordan, told reporters at the press conference that Christians of the Holy Land and those who support them are called to offer themselves as bridges, trying to get both sides to see that affirming the rights of one community does not necessarily mean denying the rights of the other.

“One cannot think that Israel has no right to exist, to be, to remain,” he said, “just as one cannot think that the people of Palestine have no right to exist, to be, to live.”

As long as people claim that the rights of one community are greater than the rights of the other, there will be tension, the cardinal said.

The plenary assembly of the leaders of the knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre will be Nov. 6-10 in Rome. However, the agenda was modified after the violence erupted. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, was scheduled to address the gathering by video link but instead, he will be there in person.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem was established by the pope in the late 1800s to support the Latin patriarchate through prayer, donations and regular pilgrimages.

CNS reported that at the Oct. 31 press conference Valencia Yvonne Camp, lieutenant of the order's U.S. Middle Atlantic Lieutenancy, told reporters that the order keeps members informed about what is happening in the Holy Land and the impact it is having on the local Christian community, which is Palestinian.

“We try to put a face on the Holy Land,” she said. “It is not a ‘place’ that we talk about, but home for men and women and children. The knights and dames need to know and want to know that there are mothers and fathers and children, grandchildren -- very much like their own -- who want to live, who want to learn and grow and advance in their lives.”

The Catholics of Gaza, whose homes have been bombed or who have been forced to flee south or to seek shelter in their church or in schools and hospitals, are “people who pray the rosary, who attend Mass, who walk their children to school, who wonder if they're going to be able to get medicine or get food, or to send their child to college, to have any type of career or work or job,” she said.

Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, governor general of the order, told reporters that in addition to the regular donations the order's 30,000 members send to the Latin Patriarchate -- $13 million to $15 million annually -- additional donations are arriving each day the violence continues. The money is sent directly to Jerusalem and the patriarchate decides where it is needed most.

Reports say the city of Jerusalem is mainly deserted with schools, many offices and most businesses – except shops selling essential goods – closed.

However, despite the continuing violence, the Franciscans serving the Holy Land continue their service to the Custody of the Holy Land on a day-to-day basis, keeping the doors to the Franciscan sanctuaries open. The friars are the “guardians” of sites including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Agony on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. For about 800 years, they have been charged by papal mandate with preserving the holy places of Christianity in the Holy Land.

As the hostilities continue, Pope Francis and other Church leaders ask for prayers for all impacted by the violence.

The Diocese of Cleveland is part of the North Central USA Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The geographical area covered by the North Central Lieutenancy includes the states of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. The organization gathered recently with Bishop Edward Malesic and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost for its semiannual meeting.

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