Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien is calling upon Catholics to give renewed support to Christians in the Holy Land.
“Our population there is ebbing – we are now only about two percent of the total population,” he told CNA in Rome, Sept. 27.
“The holy places where Christ walked and where monuments are established to recall his words, his death and resurrection, they are now less and less frequented. Therefore we must as good Christians around the world respect that patrimony.”
It has been one month since the Vatican asked 72-year-old Archbishop O’Brien to move from the Archdiocese of Baltimore to become the Grand Master of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Although the order has its headquarters in Rome, it is responsible for promoting and defending Christianity in the Holy Land.
“I never thought I’d leave Baltimore. It came as a surprise and even a shock to me when I received the call from the Secretariat of State,” said Archbishop O’Brien describing the move as “a jolt.” Until the Vatican appoints his replacement, he’ll continue as apostolic administrator of Baltimore. Despite all the upheaval he said he is confident that “God will take care of things.”
The order currently provides 75 percent of the annual income for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem which cares for the Church in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. It also funds 40 schools in the region as well as hospitals and institutes of higher education such as the University of Bethlehem.
Despite that, the new grand master admits that the order is “not very well known even by those who are very active in the Church.” If fact, he recounts “speaking to some seminarians the other day and they had never heard to it.”
He is now motivated to make the order better known in the Church and to raise the awareness of the Holy Land among ordinary Catholics.
“I think anyone who has visited the Holy Land and walked those same streets where Christ walked for the carrying of the cross can’t help but be overwhelmed by the spirit which runs through every part of that experience,” he said suggesting that more Catholics should consider making a pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel. He also stressed that it is now very safe for foreign travelers to do so.
Holy Land pilgrims, he assured, “always return home healthy and spiritually enriched.”
Archbishop O’Brien said his own favorite places to pray when in the holy city of Jerusalem are the Cenacle, the upper room where Christ presided over the Last Supper, as well as the sights marking Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
“There’s no question this is the source of our faith and this is the source of renewal we all should all be looking for in our spiritual lives,” he said.
“And I don’t think there’s any place better than that little plot of God’s land where that spiritual renewal can take place more effectively and more long lastingly.”
Archbishop O’Brien remains focused on helping Christians in the area regardless of the surrounding political climate.
“As I see it my role isn’t to get into the political side but we have to be aware of the political realities there if we’re to have any effect in our parishes, schools and other institutions,” he said.
“We will work very close with the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem and take our cue from him as to how we can best put the Church’s image forward and do so effectively.”