By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis joined leaders of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in praying for peace in Israel and Palestine, “sharing the great sorrow of the mother church of Jerusalem.”

“We are sadly witnessing a tragedy unfolding in the very places where the Lord lived, where he taught us through his humanity to love, to forgive and to do good to all,” the pope said Nov. 9. “And, instead, we see them torn apart by tremendous suffering that is striking the innocent most of all, so many innocent people dead.”

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem was established by the pope in the late 1800s to support the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem with prayers, financial assistance and regular pilgrimages.

The central leadership of the order, the heads of its regional lieutenancies and the bishops who assist as grand priors of the lieutenancies were in Rome Nov. 6-10 for their “consulta” or general assembly. The focus of the meeting was to be on the education and formation of members, but it included regular updates and discussions about the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas and its impact on the local Catholic community.

Pope Francis asked the order to educate members for “a universal and inclusive charity” based on prayer and listening to the needs of the people in the Holy Land and those closer to home.

“Apply yourself to acquiring the skills to respond to the needs of your neighbor: this is a great service you can do today for the church and the world,” he said.

The knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre make promises in front of the altar, the pope noted, so their charity is not simply philanthropy — it has a spiritual component, which must be nurtured.

At the same time, he said, leaders of the order must be educated in organizing charitable activities and allocating resources so that the needs of Christians in the Holy Land can be met now and in the future.

Pope Francis noted the Jerusalem cross members wear on their ceremonial mantles — capes they did not wear to their Vatican audience. He said the horizontal arm should remind them that their commitment to the crucified and risen Christ should embrace their entire lives “and, in charity, make you close to every brother and sister.”

The vertical arm of the cross, planted in the ground and stretching toward heaven, is a reminder, he said, that the Christian life consists of an unbreakable bond between prayer and service.