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900 year tradition marches on

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If you’re attending the Marian Procession later this month you may notice a group of men wearing black berets and dressed in white robes with a red cross, and women wearing black robes and veils who are providing an ‘escort guard’ for the statue of Our Lady.

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While the attire of the group may be distinctive, not everyone in the local Catholic community will know who they represent, or that the origin of the Order they belong to dates back more than 900 years.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a lay institution of Catholic men and women, with an estimated 30,000 members from 40 different countries.

Central to the mission of the knights and dames is to ‘help preserve Christianity in the Holy Land’. Their efforts also sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the region.

The Order actively supports the Latin Patriarch (the Archbishop of Jerusalem) with prayers, donations and a presence through pilgrimages. Last year some members from Adelaide, led by Fr Alan Winter, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit important sites and witness first-hand the impact the work of the Order is having there.

This work includes providing money to support 68 parishes, 44 schools and 37 child care centres with 19,000 students, and 90,000 Christians in Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus. The Order is responsible for aid to refugees, orphanages, the elderly and sick, and is also involved in building new churches, convents and undertaking parish renovations.

Local knight and Kingswood parishioner, Martin Koo, who took part in a pilgrimage in 2010, said it was wonderful to see the Order’s work in action.

He added that at a local level, members were looking forward to participating in the upcoming Marian Procession and explained the significance of the attire worn.

“The regalia is a symbol of our unity and represents an historical link with the Holy Land in general and with the Holy Sepulchre in particular,” he said.

“The insignia (worn around the neck) is in the form of the Cross of Jerusalem and represents the five wounds of Christ. The cross constitutes a symbol of the immense value of the Passion of Christ.

“The red enamel is a pious reminder of the precious blood shed by Our Saviour. The cape also carries the Cross of Jerusalem on the left shoulder.”

Dr Koo said the Order was always welcoming new members, but admission was by invitation only.

“Membership is offered to Catholics active in practice and witness. We do not participate in any movement or demonstration of a political nature.”

Members must be at least 25 years of age, of ‘good standing’ in their parish, have a ‘spiritual and charitable disposition’ and the means to honour the pledge to be active in the parish and diocesan community.

A person who meets the criteria can be nominated by a member for consideration for candidacy.

If you would like more information about the Order contact Dr Phillip Donato OAM, KCHS lieutenant in South Australia, at phillip@kthc.com.au

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