Thank you Sir Edward, Your Eminence, Excellencies all, Fellow Knights and Ladies of
the Holy Sepulchre, and friends.
This evening, after the celebrations of this weekend, let us pause for a few moments to
reflect on the land which we, as Christians, call Holy, the place on this earth where Jesus
Christ, Our Redeemer, was born, where He labored, where He taught and preached,
where He suffered, died and rose from the dead.
Canaan, land of Israel, the Holy Land, the land of the Bible--Palestine. So many names
for such a tiny speck of earth no bigger than Wales, or in the states, no bigger than the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This land has endured most of the world's conquerors;
its original Canaanite inhabitants confronted in battle the invading Israelites. At various
epochs in history, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,
Arabs, Crusaders from the west, Egyptians, Mongols, and in our own century, Turks,
British, Israelis and Palestinians have claimed all of this land to be theirs or a segment of it
to be part of their empires.
For countless millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims, it, in spite of its turmoils, has been a place
of holiness--the aura of sanctity being renewed and revitalized by a long line of holy men, the
prophets, beginning with Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Isaiah, Moses, David, just to
mention a few, culminating in the redemption of the human race with the mission of the Messiah
fulfilled by the second person of the Holy Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The events of this weekend have indicated to us, as Knights and Ladies of the Holy
Sepulchre of Jerusalem, that this oft troubled speck of earth is very special for us. In his
preamble for the Constitution of our order, Pope Paul VI defines our obligations as
self-discipline, generosity and courage.
Whoever does not have the firm willingness
to develop and deepen these traits in his or her life
will never be able to become a knight or lady.
The zeal for self-renunciation, in the midst of this
society of abundance, generous aid to the weak and
for those without protection, courageous struggle for
justice and peace these are the characteristics of the
Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Exemplary moral conduct and true Christian feeling
are prime requisites for admission to the order.
The practice of Christian faith must be shown in one's
own family, at work, and in obedience to the Holy
Father and in involvement in Christian activities both
in one's own parish and in one's diocese…
[and] finally, diligence. Diligence of the ecumenical spirit, and
above all, by means of an active interest in the well-recognized
problems of Palestine.
For a few moments this evening, I will reflect on some of the "well- recognized problems in
Palestine". To focus on these matters I will use as a framework the address entitled "The
Church's Approach to the Middle East". It was presented by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the
Holy See's assistant Secretary of State in charge of relations with other states, if you would, the
Holy See's Foreign Minister. He presented this address at Catholic University of America in
Washington, DC, on the 9th of March of this year when he received the medal of the University.
His Excellency notes early on in his presentation that the Church has "deep concern for Catholics,
who have little by little become thrice a minority, as Arabs among Jews, as Arab Christians among
Arab Muslims and as a minority within the Christian society."
In Israel, with a population of 5.9 Million people, 4.7Million are Jews and 1.2 Million are Arabs--Muslims and Druze make up 1.1 Million of the 1.2 Million, leaving roughly 125,000 Christians or 3.2% of the population of
Israel. In the Occupied Territories, the population is 2.3 Million with 2 Million Arabs and 250,000 Jews. Of the 2 Million Arabs, 1.95 Million are Muslims and only 50,000 are Christians. Some of the occupied territories are, due to the Oslo Accords, now called Palestinian Autonomous Territories; these are: Gaza, Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and parts of Hebron. In all of Israel/Palestine of the
8.3M people, roughly 175,000 or 2.1% are Christians. With the 250,000 Jews that I noted above,
who are in the occupied territories as settlers, these settlers number 75,000 more than there are
Christians in all of Israel and the occupied territories. Stop and think for a moment, in the
occupied territories there are 250,000 Jewish settlers, which is 75,000 more than we have in Israel
These Christians number, as I say,175,000 :
30% are Roman Catholic
30%, roughly, are Greek Melkite Catholic
30% are Greek Orthodox
The balance of 10% is made up of other Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. You might be
surprised to hear me say "other Catholics". Well, there are Maronite Catholics, Syrian Catholics,
Armenian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, all in the Holy Land, as well as Syrian Orthodox,
Armenian Apostolic, Assyrian Oriental, Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic Oriental--Anglicans,
Lutherans and Presbyterians and other small groups of Protestants make up about 6000 to 9000
of the Protestants who live in Israel and Palestine combined.
For Christians, these numbers are devastating -- Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem (which is now Palestinian Autonomous Territory), He grew up and labored for thirty years in Nazareth (which is
now in Israel), He preached, suffered, died and rose from the dead in Jerusalem (which is now
contested as the capital of the State of Israel and the desired capital of the Palestinian
My fellow Knights and Ladies, Jerusalem is our hometown! That is where Jesus Christ rose from
Archbishop Tauran noted very clearly in his speech at Catholic University that the scenario
I have cited above demonstrates why the Holy See has shown a particular interest in this
part of the world -- he notes, and I quote--
"1 --The Holy See must be there in order
to protect and if necessary defend
the existence of Catholics and of Christians
2 -- To help very differing peoples, constrained to
coexistence by geography and history, to respect
fundamental human rights and international law.
3 -- To defend the right of every people to choose
freely its own destiny in accordance with the
principle of self-determination.
4.--To defend the right of all states to live within
clearly defined borders, without having to be in
a constant state of alert.
5.--To foster mutual understanding, dialogue
between individuals and communities of believers
in countries where religion and the structure
of society go hand in hand. And finally,
6. --To make everyone understand that war, which
too often has bathed that region in blood, can
never be a worthy means for people, especially
if they are believers, to resolve their inevitable
differences." (End of Quote).
Clearly, the vocabulary here is quite strong. "To defend", "to protect", "to make everyone".
Why so strong? Essentially, the peace process from Madrid, to Oslo, to Wye, has ground to a
halt. Unilateral actions taken by the Israeli settlers have continued, in spite of the Wye
Memorandum to take Palestinian lands, as caravans and mobile homes create demographic facts
on the ground without the benefit of proper negotiations. Consider the headline in the Jerusalem
Post, 23 April 1999, page 3, "US: Israel misleading us on settlement activity." Now remember,
this is in the Jewish paper in the State of Israel. It says " The U.S. State Department notes there
has been an accelerated pattern of new settlements and expansion of old settlements." Yet, the
Netanyahu Government denied these allegations. However, the same day in The Christian
Science Monitor, page 7, the headline read "Acting Amid Stalled Peace, Israelis Sink Their Roots
In" - A subheading "Almost 20 Settlements May Have Sprouted Since Wye Accord."
Such activity makes a literal Swiss cheese of the land to be negotiated as "secure highways" are
built on lands-- condemned Arab lands--often farms and olive groves needed in order to make a
living so that the settlers might have security, safe and easy travel.
From the BBC on the 6th April 1999, comes the following report--
The Correspondent was Hilary Andersson--and I quote:
"Jerusalem, the heart of the ancient world and the focal point of three of the world's major
religions, is home to some of the most precious archaeological sites in the world, but like most
everything else in the Holy Land, archaeology is tainted by politics.
"Over recent years crucial archaeological sites, mostly Christian, have been destroyed, buried or
abandoned because of pressures from developers, politicians and Orthodox Jews.
Under a bus stop in the centre of Jerusalem lie the ruins of a Byzantine Church said to have once
been the largest in the Middle East. Across the highway under the paving lie the precious ruins of
an ancient Armenian burial crypt. Politicians said "the road had to be built there".
"The carpark built above a seventh century Christian tomb"
In the winding streets of Jerusalem's Old City the entrance to the remains of one of the biggest Christian churches in the world, the Nea, has been locked and inaccessible to the public for over a year, because vandals had entered it. Nearby a seventh century Christian tomb, believed by anthropologists to be the one of the most important tombs ever discovered lies beneath a car park.
Ronnie Reich speaking on behalf o the Israeli Antiquities Authority says,
Not every site can be preserved for the public to see, so there is certain policy -what to keep and
what to rebury".
I'm only one-third of the way through the report but, of necessity, time tonight does not permit
me to read the rest. Tune in to the BBC and they will tell you how Christian archaeological sites
are being bulldozed and reburied.
Now we come to the question of the residency permits in the Old City of Jerusalem. Arab
families who have lived for centuries in the Old City must surrender their Israeli residency permits
for the Old City at check points if an individual is going to a job in a Palestinian Autonomous
Region. These check points, my dear friends, are really border crossings. Thus, under the current
law of the Israeli Government, the person may keep their job but lose their residency permit and
their home, or they have the choice of keeping their home and not being able to go to their jobs.
Nearly 1000 permits have been rescinded by the Israeli Government since the beginning of the
Oslo Accords. Hence, you have a choice, you can live in Jerusalem and not work in Bethlehem, 8
km away, or you can work in Bethlehem but you can't live in Jerusalem even if your family had
lived there for 600 years and you have documentation of having paid taxes to the Ottoman Empire.
Consider the recent riots between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth in the plaza behind the
Basilica of the Annunciation. The Mosque tent was built on the burial spot of a gentleman called
Shehab-a-Din, nephew of Sala-a-Din and is actually on land--get this--which is owned by the
Israeli Government. That land was not owned by Arabs, it was not owned by Christians, it
actually belongs to the Israeli Government. Therefore, the Government could have used the
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to remove the tent immediately before it became a problem, but the
Minister of the Interior would not permit the military to be used. Why? Because the Shas Party
of the ultra-orthodox who are supporters of the Netanyahu Government did not want the troops
to be used to remove the tents. They wanted a confrontation to show how those crazy Christians
and Muslims fight one another because this would help to improve the re-election chances of their
choice for Prime Minister, Netanyahu. Because, you see, he would show that these crazy people
can't do anything without being under the strong control of the government.
Netanyahu for his part sought to demonstrate his strength against the Palestinians by trying to
close down Orient House and the 3 PLO offices therein. Located in East Jerusalem, Orient
House is a Palestinian outpost favored by members of the European Union. When President
Chirac went there and greeted Faisal Husseini there was big uproar in Israel because he did not go
see President Weizman of Israel. But again this is a statement on part of the European
community that the Palestinians have some right to existence within the ancient city of Jerusalem.
Happily the Israeli Supreme Court barred the Netanyahu Government from closing Orient House.
In an effort not to give a political issue to the incumbent Israeli Government, Yasir Arafat and the
Palestinian Authority did not proclaim a Palestinian State on 4 May having coaxed significant
concessions both from the European Union and the United States.
So rigid are the controls of movement of Palestinians by means of closure and check points that
human rights are being denied, even freedom of worship is denied. Consider the following
scenario- Bethlehem is 8 km south of Jerusalem; it is a Palestinian Autonomous Region-
therefore administered by the government of Yasir Arafat. Hence, Jesus Christ, if He were born
today, would be a Palestinian. If He wished to travel 8 km to Jerusalem to worship or preach in
the temple, He would need a special permit issued by the Israeli Defense Forces, hard to obtain,
and easily revoked by the lowest private at the check point. Such a permit could be used to
prevent him from going to the temple even as it is used today to prevent Catholic Bethlehemites
from worshipping in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They cannot move from Bethlehem 8 km
to Jerusalem because they don't have the right paper and they must go across a border crossing.
And their movement can be stopped instantaneously by a private for military reasons. Even in the
Roman Empire no such limitations were placed on Jesus' travel, but today, that's how He would
Speaking of Jerusalem, I quote Archbishop Tauran's speech on this matter -- The Archbishop
says as follows:
"Still today two peoples claim sovereignty over Jerusalem,
and the faithful of three religions, both on the spot and
throughout the world, look to it as their spiritual home.
A political solution has certainly to be found within the
framework of bilateral negotiations, but without forgetting,
for all that, the sacred reality that the city enshrines. So it
is that the Holy See, which has no direct technical competence
or ambition whatsoever to intervene in the territorial
dispute dividing the two peoples, certainly it cannot fail to
concern itself with the safeguarding of the sacred and cultural
dimension of the holy places of the three religions. In its view,
this is a universal cause which therefore requires that the
entire international community should act as guarantor. The
Holy See therefore strictly favors "a special internationally
guaranteed statute" for the most sacred places in the holy city,
in order in the future to preserve and protect the identity
of the holy city in its entirety and in its every aspect."
He continues by noting some of those aspects:
--The historical, material, religious
and cultural characteristics.
--The equality of rights and treatment
for those belonging to the three
religious communities, in the context
of the freedom of their spiritual,
cultural, civic and economic activities.
--The rights of freedom of religion
and worship for all, and of access to the
shrines for residents and pilgrims alike,
whether from the Holy Land itself or from
other parts of the world.
All this supposes also that these shrines might
always be the center of a living and
active religious communities
with their individual members
have the possibility of fully enjoying their
basic human rights and maintaining their
Over the years the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre have supported many of those very
items. At Notre Dame De Douleurs in Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb, since 1956 they have supported the care of the elderly. In Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, they have helped establish in 1927 and continue to this day the support of the Bethany Boy's Orphanage. On the Mount of Olives in 1967, the Knights and Ladies helped start the Home of Peace for Christian and Muslim Girls
coming from families broken by divorce, drug addiction and crime. In Bethlehem the place where
Jesus was born, the Knights and Ladies have helped the Creche Orphanage as well as Bethlehem
University which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and in that time it has conferred 5683 Baccalaureate degrees on Palestinian Arabs.
In the village of Ein Arik stands a church founded in 1912 and recently expanded through the
generous support of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. Last evening Sir Gerald
reported on the work being done by the Knights and Ladies in the parish at Kerak. Many similar
programs of assistance could be cited, but time does not permit us to deal with all of them.
However, it is time to conclude this very brief analysis of just a few of the problems which face
our fellow Christians in the Holy Land. The land where the message of Christ was preached for
the first time.
I have pointed out several of the injustices existing in the region which must be redressed. Almost
contemporaneously with the closing of our banquet this evening, the polls in Israel, some 8 time
zones east, will open and the polity of Israel, with its 32 electoral parties, will vote for a Prime
Minister and members of its legislative body, the Knessett. Please God, they will vote in such a
manner as to empower a government which will negotiate to bring peace to all of the peoples of
As Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, your presence here this evening
speaks of your interest and desire to bring peace to the peoples of Israel and Palestine. Your
generous support of the works of the church in the Holy Land bears eminent testimony of your
willingness to engage in good works which benefit the diverse peoples of that little speck of earth
called Palestine. When on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you meet your fellow Catholics who will
tell you directly of their trials and difficulties as a triple minority in Christianity's birthplace.
Finally, as Knights and Ladies you must pray without stopping for the survival of the vital
Christian presence in its birthplace. Some might say, prayer? Well that's too easy, everybody can
pray. And besides that, what does prayer really do?
May I make a suggestion to you? For many years after each mass as a little boy I remember we
prayed 3 "Hail Mary's" and the "Hail Holy Queen" for the conversion of Russia, which was the
"politically correct" invocation for the collapse of Soviet communism. When, in 1989, the Berlin
Wall came crashing down and the Iron Curtain vaporized, strangely enough, our prayers were
answered. Of course, we didn't know what to do with it then and seemingly we still don't. But,
the legions of the Holy Father that were referred to by Stalin, did not bear arms; they were people
of prayer. Can a concerted effort of prayer bring peace to the people of the Holy Land? It
certainly seems that prayer was competent in its dealing with Soviet communism. Why would it be
any less competent in dealing with peace in the Holy Land?
Hence, I suggest that each day you as Knights and Ladies, Protectors of the Tomb of Jesus from
whence He rose from the dead, that each day you say a little prayer for peace for all the peoples
of the Holy Land. It is only fitting and proper that each day we pray to the Resurrected Lord for
the peace of Jerusalem, peace to the Holy City.