You may have seen them at St. Joseph Cathedral with their white capes adorned with red Jerusalem crosses. They are the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, faithful men and women who wish to serve the Holy Land from their own homes.
Recently, one local priest joined the order and one veteran member received a promotion at a ceremony in New York City. Father Cole Webster, currently administrator of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Cheektowaga, joined the order as a knight chaplain. Terrence McCann, former CFO for Catholic Charities, earned a promotion to the rank of knight commander. The Installation and Promotion Mass was held in the afternoon of Oct. 5 at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City presided over by Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
The order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
The order's support for the Christians in the Holy Land does take the form of financial contributions and prayers, as well as formal pilgrimages, in the course of which members do not simply view and explore the Holy Sites, but also have the opportunity to meet the people whom they are supporting and assure them that they are not forgotten.
In the past the order has helped to fund major projects such as church and school construction projects in the Holy Land. More recently, the focus has shifted to numerous smaller projects such as helping to increase the salaries of teachers of diocesan schools of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem to ensure students continue to have a high-level education. Additionally, the work of the order consists of monthly aid for the institutional expenses of the patriarchate be it seminary formation, caring for the disabled, or Catholic scouting for young people.
Local members financially support a hospital and school. They also send seminarians to Jerusalem during their final year before ordination. "We offer them a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, so they can witness it and feel it," explained McCann, a member for six years.
Saturday morning began with the annual meeting in which the charitable activities of the order were presented, followed by Mass at St. Patrick's.
"It was gorgeous," described Father Webster. "To be able to concelebrate Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral was really outstanding. It was such a beautiful liturgy in the renovated church - shiny and gleaming and the music was gorgeous. It was certainly an uplifting experience."
Cardinal O'Brien, originally from New York City and now serving in Rome, joined three other cardinals in the procession, along with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States. Another 15-20 bishops and archbishops were also in the procession. The patriarch and lieutenant governor from Jerusalem were present as well.
"It's very impressive when you are marching in, in your cape and everything, and then you get to witness the hierarchy of the Church," said McCann.
"It was wonderful to have Cardinal O'Brien there and be able to speak with him," said Father Webster. "I saw the Church on a more universal level. It's nice to travel; get out of the Buffalo diocese and meet other people." The ceremony welcomed people from the Eastern Lieutenancy, which included New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
To become a member, candidates must be recommended by an existing member, then be approved by their pastor and bishop.
"It's a great group of people in support of the Holy Land." Webster explained, adding the Holy Land is on his pilgrimage bucket list.
McCann also hopes for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the near future, and he will need it to earn his next promotion.
McCann, 77, a lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, joined to help maintain and protect the homeland of Jesus Christ.
"I believe in it. I believe in my faith. I have a strong faith in catholicity and trying to preserve those places where Christ roamed the earth." He sees serving in one of only four papal knighthoods as a reward for his long service to the Church, which includes over 13 years at Catholic Charities and serving on several financial boards.
His role in the order is the same as all knights.
"I am trying to get candidates to be involved in the knighthood process," he explained. "What we do for the Holy Sepluchre, we support Jerusalem."