In mid-October 2015, I was visiting a Catholic Arab family whom my wife Penny and I have known for over 30 years, in the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Jaffa Gate.
There were three sisters living in the same house, the fourth one not too far away, while the fifth sister lived near Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, Australia. Of the five sisters, only one was unmarried, while the other four were all widows.
Since I haven’t visited them for a number of years, they were rather surprised to see me, but recognised me instantly.
Sadly, the eldest sister was suffering from high blood pressure and was on a respirator two or three times a day.
As the mouthpiece was in made shape, and they could not afford to replace it, I asked them if the Latin Patriarchate (located not far, in the Old City of Jerusalem), could help them financially.
Their reply shocked me: “They never help us!” I explained that I would be seeing them shortly, as Penny is a Dame and I am a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ), in order to obtain pilgrim shells. I also promised to raise the problem of the damaged mouthpiece.
Soon after, I did visit the Latin Patriarchate, and asked to see the Patriarch. A young married Deacon informed me that he was in Rome for Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family.
I told him that I was a knight and Penny was a dame of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a medieval military order of the Catholic Church, founded to protect Christian pilgrims from attacks by fanatical Muslims, and as he well knew, the members of the Order collect millions of dollars from members’ contributions throughout the world, money that was sent every year to the Latin Patriarchate for distribution to local Christians in the Middle East, so that they do not leave.
Currently, only 2 per cent of the population are Christians, as against about 20 per cent not that long ago.
I first asked the deacon for two things: two pilgrim shells for our knight’s and dame’s capes. He readily obliged and also gave me two sets of rosary beads, as a token of the Patriarch’s thanks.
Then I raised the matter of the mouthpiece for my friends. The Deacon replied that he would try to do something. I thanked him and left.
I then walked through the narrow alleys of the Old City to my friends’ house and told them what had happened at the Latin Patriarchate.
In less than three quarters of an hour – I checked on my watch – there was a knock on the door, and there stood the Deacon who was ushered into the living room. In his hands, he held a long white envelope, literally stuffed with Israeli shekel notes to pay for the mouthpiece. The three sisters and I were dumbfounded. It brought tears to my eyes as I certainly did not expect such prompt action!
After the Deacon left, I said to the sisters quoting Jesus’ words in St Matthew’s Gospel: “As and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you!” (Matthew 7:7)
I further added, “Well, you sought help out of dire necessity; I asked the Deacon for it, and he knocked at your door!”
In the Middle East, where Christians (and others) are currently facing great hardship, if not intolerable outright hideous persecution at the hands of such fanatics as the so-called Islamic State (among others), it is wonderful to experience first-hand the generosity by Catholics of the EOHSJ providing much-needed funds to the local Catholic hierarchy, to help those in dire necessity. For did not Jesus say, “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me!” (Matthew 25:40)
Well, there was a very pleasant postscript to all this generosity: two days later, I was invited to a sumptuous feast at the sisters’ house.
I had no doubt that this was the way that the sisters wanted to thank me for interceding on their behalf at the Latin Patriarchate. They had my favourite Arab dish, qibbeh (minced meat with pine kernels), as well as vine leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, something they could normally not afford.
In fact, when I asked the sisters as to what they normally had for lunch, they indicated that they usually had only a small sandwich. I was, of course, intensely touched by their reciprocal generosity.
May the Lord reward them, as He will indeed!
(Andrew Sholl is co-founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, which aims to end the alienation of Catholics of Jewish origin and background from their historical heritage. It conducts regular monthly meetings in cities where its numbers make this possible.)