The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, yesterday and today

Lidia Dudkiewicz talks to His Excellence Lieutenant Karol Boleslaw Szlenkier, the Polish superior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Karol Boleslaw Szlenkier has belonged to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem for 10 years. He was admitted at the investiture ceremony in Miechow in 1999, presided by the Grand Master himself, His Eminence Cardinal Carlo Furno of Rome, at the presence of the Governor General Lodowico Carducci Artemisio. He holds the rank Lieutenant. He was the Master of Ceremonies in the Polish Lieutenancy for five years. He lives with his family in Warsaw.

Lidia Dudkiewicz: – Your Excellence, in October 2008 you were appointed the Polish Lieutenant of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. And thus you attended in the council, which is held every fifth year in Rome. Please tell the Readers of ‘Niedziela’ about the history and mission of the Order as well as your view on the role of the Order in our times.

Karol B. Szlenkier: – I thank the Editorial Board of ‘Niedziela’ for inviting me and the possibility to tell its Readers the history and mission of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. I have been the Polish Lieutenant of the Order since 16 October 2008 by virtue of the decree of the Grand Master Cardinal John Patrick Foley who entrusted me with the function for a four-year term. I accepted the appointment, feeling great responsibility and awareness that I assumed serious duties and I must do my best to work for the good of the Order in Poland. I assumed this role after my outstanding predecessor Prof. Jerzy Wojtczak-Szyszkowski, the first superior of the Order in Poland, whose long work (three terms) set the direction and gave our Lieutenancy a high rank. On this occasion I want to stress the extraordinary work and great contribution of Prof. Wojtczak-Szyszkowski to create and manage the Polish Lieutenancy. Soon after my appointment I had the change to participate in the Council of the Order held in Rome. The Council is a meeting of the Council of the Order – the Grand Magistery, presided by the Grand Master as a special delegate of the Holy Father. The meeting was co-presided by the Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal, who is the Grand Prior. The Grand Magisterium consists of several people and the most senior layman holds the title Lieutenant General and he is followed by the Governor General of the Order. All Lieutenants (there are 54 in the world) and the superiors of the Magistral Delegations from these countries where a national Lieutenancy has not been created. Participating in the five day meeting I had the chance to form a global picture of the Order and to become convinced that the Order is present all over the world, from distant Australia, Philippines, Taiwan through Europe and Canada, the United States of North America, Latin American countries, Brazil and Argentina.
Currently, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has ca. 25,000 Knights and Ladies. The worldly dimension of the Order and the fact that it is active in various cultures and traditions has been always discussed during the Council. The other topics of discussion include the goals, mission and most of all the spirituality of our Order. And the fundamental aim is to support spiritually, prayerfully and materially the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and taking part in the works of evangelisation and charity conducted by the Patriarch. That was the reason why the Holy See founded the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 1847. Our Order refers to the extremely rich tradition of the Knights who guarded the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Its history goes back to the conquest of Jerusalem during the Crusades in the year 1099. At the same time, to defend the holy places, especially the Holy Sepulchre, there were other orders created: religious Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre and it lay branch the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, whose members-knights, coming from outstanding aristocratic families of Europe, fulfilled the functions of defenders and guardians of numerous pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. After the fall of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem the role of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre decreased to a considerable extent and within centuries the knights dispersed. Only after the situation in the Holy Land had been normalised the Holy See, which I have mentioned above, restored the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem by issuing a bull and making it an ecclesiastical association within the structures of the Catholic Church.

– What does it mean to be a knight or a lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in our times? What tasks does the Order undertake with reference to the situation of Christians in the Holy Land?

– In order to answer this question one should mention the chivalric ethos, attitude and testimony that should be the characteristics of contemporary knights and ladies. The ideals of knights, strongly formed in the past, especially in the Middle Ages, set a certain attitude in contemporary times as well. Every knight and every lady of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are expected and also required to assume clear, honest and conscious attitudes of service for the Catholic Church, and especially for the Holy Land and its Christians. Contemporary members of the Order form a community of service and prayer and their tasks are realized through continuous formation, spiritual growth and participation in the works assigned by the Grand Magisterium, i.e. the supreme authority of the Order. Recently the Lieutenancy in Poland, responding to the appeal of the Grand Master to pray for peace and to support the victims of the military actions in the Gaza Strip, has organized special days of prayer for peace in the Holy Land.

– How long has the Order existed in Poland? Please tell us about the Polish Lieutenancy.

– The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem was established in Poland on 8 December at the initiative of Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Poland’s Primate, and thanks to the efforts of his secretary Fr Andrzej Dziuba, the present Bishop of Lowicz. The Primate has assumed the function of the Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy in Poland. The first investiture ceremony, i.e. admission of new knights and ladies, was held on 24-25 March 1996 in St John the Baptist’s Archcathedral in Warsaw. The Order invites people from various social strata, characterised by deep spiritual lives, ready to be actively involved in religious life and ready to undertake various actions to promote and support the works conducted by the Order in the Holy Land. The Lieutenancy in Poland has ca. 200 people, including candidates who will be soon admitted at the investiture ceremony in Lowicz this year.

– The new Lieutenant in Poland can certainly present the most important initiatives, which he intends to undertake during his four-year term.

– For the next four years I have prepared a programme, which mainly aims at formation and undertaking initiatives in the regions, where our Knights and Ladies live, in close collaboration with parish priests and bishops. It has a special integration dimension of our environment and stresses the adherence to the Catholic Church in the local and universal dimensions, referring to the work for the Holy Land. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem must preserve its own, separate and strong spirituality that differentiates it from other orders and institutes of the Catholic Church. Membership in the Order does not mean accepting honorary distinctions but it requires a testimony of faith, involvement and assuming the duty of participating in mutual tasks, resulting from the statute. Our statutory tasks include material help, which is given to the Patriarch of Jerusalem through the Grand Magisterium in Rome and is to support the works carried out by the Latin Patriarchate in the Holy Land. Thanks to the efforts of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem the support goes to the university in Bethlehem, several dozen elementary and secondary schools, nurseries, orphanages and many centres of basic medical care in the territory of the Latin Patriarchate, which embraces the huge area: Jordan, part of Syria, part of Egypt, Israel, including the Palestinian Autonomy in the West Bank, part of Lebanon and Cyprus.

– The Holy Week and Easter are especially connected with the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Polish Knights and Ladies belonging to the Order take part in the Liturgy mainly in Miechow and Krakow as well as in their local cathedrals and other churches. They wear their religious robes…

– The time of the Holy Week, and especially the Passover Triduum with Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is a special time for the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Then we face the greatest mysteries of our faith and at the same time these are our patron feasts. The Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are visible in these days as they participate in adorations and processions wearing their solemn religious robes. The Way of the Cross on Good Friday and the adoration of the Cross in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Miechow (the Diocese of Kielce), dated 1163, the oldest foundation of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre outside of Jerusalem, are of special character. Miechow was the headquarters of the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre for centuries. It was in Miechow that the oldest replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Europe, the goal of numerous pilgrims, has been preserved. The basilica in Miechow and the replica of the Holy Sepulchre constitute a cradle of the Polish traditions connected with the cult of the holiest places of our faith. As I have already mentioned, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are our patron feasts. The feats of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, which falls on 22 August and the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross on 14 September are also our patron feasts.

– In Eastertide your investiture ceremony, admissions of new members to the Order, is held. This year it will be held in Lowicz. What will this ceremony look like?

– We will have the investiture ceremony in Lowicz on 24-25 April. The investiture ceremony consists of two parts. On the first day the candidates to the Order, after completing a one-year candidacy, during a special penance liturgy make the solemn oath at the presence of the bishop. Then they will sign the text of the oath and offer the documents on the altar. Their robes and religious insignia will be blessed. On the next day the candidates will be knighted, and the ladies and the religious will be admitted. The ceremony will be presided over by Cardinal Jozef Glemp. All members of our Lieutenancy as well as invited guests, including guests from abroad, will take part at the investiture ceremony. The convention in Lowicz will be an occasion for common prayer and meeting of all Knights and Ladies from Poland. At the end of our conversation I would like to express my best wishes for the whole Editorial Board of ‘Niedziela’ in Eastertide. I wish you deep experiences of encounter with the Resurrected Lord, unshaken faith in his merciful presence as well as many God’s graces for your further work in this outstanding weekly. God bless you!

– Heartfelt thanks.

Lowicz, 24-25 April 2009 – investiture ceremony of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

"Niedziela" 17/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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