November 9, 2012

Archdiocesan Catholics give support for Church in Holy Land

Knights of the Holy Sepulchre wearing their distinctive white cape with a red Jerusalem cross stand during a Mass celebrated on Sept. 30 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Knights of the Holy Sepulchre wearing their distinctive white cape with a red Jerusalem cross stand during a Mass celebrated on Sept. 30 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

“The place where Christ came into the world. The place where prophets and kings and saints and the Messiah himself walked.

“The preservation of this land and the people [who live there] should be so precious to each and every one of us, especially to Catholics. And yet, it is often forgotten. And I think it is because people take it all for granted.”

These words were spoken by best-selling Catholic author and commentator Raymond Arroyo during a Sept. 29 fundraising dinner for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) in Indianapolis.

Arroyo, however, was not “preaching to the choir.” The people at the dinner, most of whom were Catholics from across central and southern Indiana, don’t take the Church in the Holy Land for granted.

Through the FFHL ( and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sephulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ), many archdiocesan Catholics funnel a significant amount of spiritual and material support for the faithful there from year to year—a support that often far exceeds the relatively low Catholic population of the area.

Although many states in the U.S. have a larger and more affluent Catholic population than Indiana, only Catholics in New York and Texas are ahead of Indiana in support given to the FFHL.

That support by Catholics in Indiana for the Church in the Holy Land was highlighted by another event held the same weekend as the FFHL fundraising dinner.

It was a regional meeting of the EOHSJ that featured the attendance of Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who gave a keynote address and was principal celebrant of a Mass at which new members were invested into the organization.

The EOHSJ ( is a nearly 1,000-year-old Catholic association that supports the Church in the Middle East.

Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, FFHL president, said that the relatively low number of Catholics in Indiana may contribute to Hoosier Catholics’ strong support for the foundation.

“Sometimes a minority become much stronger than a majority who just take things for granted,” said Father Peter, a native of Catholic-strong Brooklyn, N.Y. “ … People [in Indiana] don’t take things for granted. They’re very close to their Church. Their life is within the Church. They express their faith through these activities.”

That assessment is shared by George Maley, an EOHSJ member since 1986.

“We live in an area of strong Protestantism,” said Maley, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “So we’ve fought over the years to maintain our religion. And in that, we honor the institutions, such as the Church in the Holy Land.”

Father Peter also said that the many pilgrimages that archdiocesan Catholics have made to the Holy Land lead them to support the Church there.

“Once you see what’s going on and you hear the stories, you become fully committed,” Father Peter said. “So pilgrimage is the pivotal reason why things are growing. And there have been a lot of people from Indianapolis who have been on pilgrimages.”

Deborah Roberts, FFHL marketing and projects coordinator and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, agrees with Father Peter regarding the power of a Holy Land pilgrimage.

She said that her 2008 journey there “changed my life.”

Not only did she walk along the same roads that Christ walked, especially on the path to his suffering and death on Calvary, she also met the Christians in the Holy Land who endure their own passion today.

“Because I went to the Holy Land with the FFHL, I was exposed to the Palestinian Christians, especially in Bethlehem,” Roberts said. “I witnessed firsthand the difficult situations that they find themselves in on a daily basis. But … I was not struck so much by their struggles as I was by their joy and thankfulness, especially in the children.”

Mark Ford, an EOHSJ member, sees his support for the Church in the Holy Land as not simply an add-on to his life of faith, but as integral to it.

“As a member of the EOHSJ, I am consecrated to the protection and support of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land,” said Ford, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. “So now it is not an option for me, but a promise I must keep to God and the Church. My support for the Church in this region cannot wax and wane with my economic fortune, but must be consistent and sacrificial … ”

Will Riley sees his membership in the EOHSJ as not simply a way for him to give of himself to support the Church in the Holy Land. He said his own life of faith has been enhanced by his fellow knights and ladies.

“I think we’re always moved by the witness of other people who are faithful to the Church, and leading Christian lives of prayer and service,” Riley said. “And I have found that amongst not only the members here, but when I gather together with the other knights and ladies [from other states]. The spirit of Christian fraternity is very present. It’s very edifying.”

At one such gathering, Riley said that Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago challenged EOHSJ members to take up the defense of the faith not just for the Church in the Holy Land, but here in the United States as well.

“We face our own issues here in the United States,” said Riley, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “There is a real requirement for Christian leadership amongst the laity. And, as a knight, I feel a particular call to do my part to advance the cause of the Church and Christianity within our own nation.”

(Richard Sontag will give a presentation on the challenges facing the Church in the Holy Land and ways that Catholics in central and southern Indiana can help preserve the Church there from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, 7575 Holliday Drive E., in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-259-4373.)

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