New members taking an active role in supporting Christians in the Holy Land
The Diocese of Knoxville’s presence in one of the oldest holy orders in the world continues to grow with the recent installation of five new members into The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Monsignor Xavier Mankel, diocesan vicar general and pastor of Holy Ghost Church, Diocese of Knoxville Chancellor Deacon Sean Smith, and his wife, Melissa Smith, and Knoxville physician Antoin Mardini and his wife, Dina Mardini, were invested into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Oct. 27 during a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C.
They were joined by Monsignor Al Humbrecht, pastor of Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy, and Sharon Lynn Folk, a Greeneville business owner and parishioner at Notre Dame Church, who are existing members in the order and were promoted during a ceremony Oct. 26.
Archbishop William Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore celebrated the installation Mass and Bishop Richard F. Stika was a concelebrant at the Mass.
Ms. Folk attained the highest rank for women in the order, Lady Grand Cross, and Monsignor Humbrecht was promoted to the third highest rank, Knight Commander.
The order, which is more than 900 years old, still works to preserve the Christian faith in the Holy Land. To be elected a Knight or Lady, candidates must show exemplary moral conduct and true Christian feeling, and the practice of Christian faith must be shown in their families, at work, in obedience to the Holy Father, and in involvement in their parishes and dioceses. Candidates also must support Catholic works in the Holy Land.
Ms. Folk was installed in 1998 and has learned that to really benefit from the order a member must be an active participant.
“I’m very honored and humbled by it,” she said. “You are an example of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. You are living your Catholic faith and endeavoring to live that to its fullest.”
Ms. Folk considers the order a ministry that she is taking an active role in and said the order supports 60 percent of the budget of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. She added that 90 percent of the order’s financial support goes directly to the Holy Land, where the number of Christians has dropped to fewer than 2 percent of the population.
“That is where our Lord lived, breathed, worked and died,” she said. “We are sustaining and aiding social institutions in the Catholic Church and the Holy Land.”
Deacon Smith said the dramatic decline of Christians in the Holy Land from about 13 percent 25 years ago to the less than 2 percent now has had a profound effect on him.
“To meet these Christians, to hear their stories and their plight. I decided then that I wanted to do something to help these Christians,” he said.
“That’s the reason it is such an honor and privilege. Bishop Stika and I were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land two years ago and had Mass at the Catholic Church in Bethlehem. We learned that the direct descendants of early Christians may become extinct in Jesus’ homeland. Our key mission is to help them,” he added.
The Diocese of Knoxville is part of the order’s Mid-Atlantic section, or lieutenancy, and Bishop Stika serves as the section prior. Monsignor Humbrecht is the section chaplain. The lieutenancy offices are in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Stika is looking forward to the Diocese of Knoxville’s representation in the holy order expanding.
“I have been privileged since 1996 to be included in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this ancient order that does so much for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land,” Bishop Stika said. “It is my intention to grow the order within the Diocese of Knoxville.
In addition to Bishop Stika, Monsignor Humbrecht and Ms. Folk, Diocese of Knoxville parishioners already invested into the order are Katherine Andrews, George Frederick, Mary Jane Frederick, Patricia Jewett, William Jewett, Richard Kostrzewa, Heather Longo, Peter McGrath, Esther Riley, William Riley, Carol Schmidt, and Edward Warwick, who is the section representative.
Monsignor Mankel said he was “extremely personally flattered” by the suggestion of the Diocese of Knoxville’s three bishops that he join the holy order. He said Bishop Stika wanted to ensure his participation.
“I really became excited about it when I learned that Deacon Sean Smith and Dr. Mardini were being installed,” Monsignor Mankel said. “And it’s great to have Bishop Stika endorse our membership.”
The Order of the Holy Sepulchre dates to 1099, when it was established by Godfrey de Bouillon, a medieval Frankish knight who was a leader in the First Crusade in 1096. The First Crusade was a military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to regain the Holy Lands, including Jerusalem, taken during Muslim conquests from 632-661.
After the successful siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Godfrey de Bouillon became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem but refused the title of king because he believed the true King of Jerusalem was Jesus Christ.
Knights under de Bouillon stood as guards of honor around Jesus’ tomb, the Sepulchre of Our Lord. Pope Pascal II approved the knights as an order in 1113.
Since then, the pope entrusts the order to a cardinal, which ensures that it is governed as a papal order.
The objective of the order is to revive, in modern form, the spirit and ideals of the Crusades with the apostolate and Christian charity. The order’s purpose is centered in the preservation and propagation of the faith in the Holy Land, assistance to and development of Church missions there, provision for charitable, cultural and social undertakings, and the defense of the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, which is the cradle of the order.
Knights and Ladies in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, who are elected based on required qualifications, are inducted in a ceremonial investiture that combines a profession of faith with the ancient ritual used for the dubbing of Knighthood. The candidates do not take monastic vows, but promise to live an upright Christian life in accordance with the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church “in absolute fealty to the Supreme Pontiff, as true soldiers of Christ.”
Ms. Folk explained that Knights and Ladies in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre can be seen walking in procession immediately preceding clergy in Masses on Holy Thursday and Good Friday as well as in ordinations, installations of bishops and any time the bishop requests them to be present.
“For us to be present reminds people of our support of the Holy Land and the need for us to support the Holy Land,” she said.