Ancient Order pilgrimages to Rome

Traffic stopped this weekend on the busy Roman streets as police escorts guided 31 coach buses of pilgrims through the narrow city roads.

Close to 3,000 members of one of the oldest charitable organizations in the Church and their families were on pilgrimage to Rome for the Year of Faith.

The Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem came from around the world to Rome as a witness to "their commitment to the New Evangelization."

Their pilgrimage itinerary included a private audience with Pope Francis on Sept. 14, and a private mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sept. 15, celebrated by the order's head, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore.

Pope Francis welcomed the international pilgrims, thanking them for their work dedicated to helping Christians in the Holy Land and urging them to continue.

As pilgrims, "your journey is in history," said the Pope. "You journey in order to build up community, above all, with love."

"And in fact your pilgrimage has also a charitable goal on behalf of brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, especially those who are most needy, those people who are living in great times of suffering, tension, and fear."  

The Pope's words rang especially true for Dame Margaret Waddingham of Bedford, England. She said "it was amazing" see Pope Francis, and shared his feelings for Christians in the Holy Land.

"We regard our friends there as family, not [just] as friends," she said. "Their faith is astounding."

Waddingham has been part of the order for 12 years, and currently works on education projects for young people in the Holy Land. This year she worked to send 16 university students to work in parishes and summer camps in Palestine.  

The students "maintain contact with the young people so that young people realize they've not been forgotten," said Waddingham. It is crucial, because the youth there lead "extraordinarily difficult lives."

Pope Francis wanted to send a similar message of remembrance to the people of the Holy Land. "I address them with great affection and an embrace, ensuring them of my daily prayers," he said.

Pope Francis exhorted the pilgrims to live their commitments more profoundly.

"Let Jesus Christ crucified be really the center of your existence and of every one of your personal projects and associations," he said.

"Believe in the redemptive power of the Cross and Resurrection, in order to offer hope and peace.  In a particular way, the Land of Jesus has much need of it!  Faith does not turn away from the responsibility that we are all called to assume, but on the contrary elicits and propels towards a concrete commitment in view of a better society."

The Order, which dates back over 1000 years, has three main purposes: prayer, pilgrimage, and financial help for Christians in the Holy Land.

According to the order's website, joining entails a "commitment to be a Witness to the Faith, to lead an exemplary Christian life of continuing charity in support of the Christian communities in the Holy Land, [and] to practice the true charitable commitment of a Christian."

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