Card Filoni: the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem gives meaning to ‘making ourselves pilgrims’

More than two years after his appointment as Grand Master, Card Filoni made his entrance to the empty tomb of Jesus. Due to the pandemic, the event had to be postponed several times. During his visit, the prelate met with the local community and travelled to Nazareth and Bethlehem. In Jordan, he inaugurated a new church. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has been active for centuries.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Cardinal Fernando Filoni made his solemn entrance last Tuesday into the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as the new Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Pope Francis had appointed the cardinal, who is a former prefect of Propaganda fide, on 8 December 2019, but his entrance had to be postponed several times in the past two years because of the COVID-19 health emergency.

In his address, Card Filoni, said: “Here, in this very place, the glory of the Risen Lord will reappear in the faith of the believer: Blessed are those who, without seeing, will believe! This is today the meaning of making ourselves pilgrims.

“Those who live in Jerusalem have the task, I would say the spiritual duty, of witnessing to and telling us about the mystery of God's glory manifested in Jesus.”

Coming to the holy city "is always a gift from God" and always has a "special" meaning. “But we, we come here, as Francis of Assisi used to say, to ‘see and touch’ the Lord: to see his footsteps, to hear his words, to touch the place where he was laid”.

Speaking to the faithful of a land battered by violence and divisions, he added: “children of this ‘Mother Church’ of Jerusalem, have the mission of the angel who encourages us to see where the Lord had been placed.”

“We come today in the silence of faith to draw from this well of living water [. . .]. We come as pilgrims to discover this mystery [. . .]. Here every Knight and Dame who loves this place knows that they draw the meaning of their dignity and will carry with them for a lifetime the memory of their faith in the risen Christ.”

On the day of his entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, Card Filoni was accompanied by the Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa. During the event, he met with the apostolic nuncio, the Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs and the custos of the Holy Land, Fr Francesco Patton. 

Before the ceremony he spoke with the region’s Catholic bishops. Yesterday he led the consecration ceremony of the new church of St Paul the Apostle in Jubeiha, near Amman, whose construction was made possible by the support of the Dames and Knights of the Order.

In his homily he said that the inauguration of a place of worship is always a "central moment" in the life of the Christian community, symbol of the temple of which the faithful are "living stones". 

At the end, the cardinal handed over the robe to the parish priest, Fr Samer Madanat, as a sign of the "bond and collaboration" between the local Church and the Order.

Card Filoni’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land included visits to Bethlehem and Nazareth; tomorrow, he is scheduled to return to Rome.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem dates back to the First Crusade, although the first official documents are from 1336. Since the 14th century, it is part of the Holy See. 

Over the centuries, popes have enhanced its privileges, giving Franciscan friars the power to confer the knighthood (investiture) on nobles or people on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In 1907, Pius X took the title of Grand Master.

The Order includes 30,000 Knights and Dames in some 40 nations, 60 lieutenancies and a dozen magistral delegations. 

It embraces both spiritual and material initiatives, financially supporting the Churches present in the Holy Land, starting with the Latin Patriarchate to which it is strongly linked (the patriarch is its Grand Prior).

Its activity is coordinated by the Grand Master, assisted by a council, the Grand Magisterium, based in Rome. This consists of a governor general, three vice governors, and a chancellor, each with specific functions, including administration and coordinating social and charitable activities. Each member serves for a period of four years, renewable once.

The activities are designed to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land, coordinating aid from around the world to the Latin Patriarchate and its 60 parishes, 40 schools and over 150,000 Catholics who live in Israel, Palestine, Cyprus and Jordan. 

The Order receives more than 10 million euros (US$ 10 million) each year, its webpage reports, but some of its resources are used in projects and activities in other “biblical lands” such as Egypt and  Lebanon.

Although halted by two years of pandemic, members are required to travel regularly to Jerusalem; as pilgrims they bring the practical and moral support of the faithful throughout the world and foster a “culture of encounter” and dialogue that is so dear to the pontiff. 

Last but not least, knights and dames work within their respective dioceses, promoting the Grand Master's directives to meet the needs of the poor, including welcoming refugees and migrants.