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140 Arkansans make caring for Holy Land a major priority

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre has been part of the diocese since 1986

Published: February 3, 2022   
Bob Ocken
Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem were invited to participate in the May 2021 ordination at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem originated during the first crusade more than 900 years ago, and its mission grew into what it is today: to preserve the Christian faith in the Holy Land. 

“It’s a charitable organization, like a lot of things Catholics are involved in, but kind of unique in the fact that you are helping the people that are living in that land that was so special to Christ,” said Connie Phillips, diocesan section representative for the benevolent order, who was appointed by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor in 2018. “I don’t know anybody in the organization that doesn’t help more organizations in Arkansas. But this is kind of just bigger than that.”

The diocesan lay order, which covers all of Arkansas, has 140 active members, including Bishop Taylor, Abbot Leonard Wangler of Subiaco Abbey and 11 priests. The order is a staple at priestly ordinations and other large events when invited by the bishop, donning berets or mantillas, along with a cape, with the noticeable Cross of Jerusalem. But the average Catholic may not know much about them beyond their uniforms.  


History, good works

While the order has 24,000 members worldwide, the diocesan order is a part of the Southwestern USA Lieutenancy, encompassing Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. It became active in the Diocese of Little Rock in 1986 with Bishop Andrew J. McDonald. He chose Phillips’ father, Robert L. Brown Sr., to serve as the first diocesan section representative. 

“The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of all the activities and initiatives to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members are therefore the patriarchal institutions’ main source of funding.”

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre began in 1099 when Jerusalem was reopened, allowing pilgrims to enter, according to the order. In 1847, the current mission to preserve the Christian faith was established under Pope Pius IX as the Latin Patriarchate was reestablished in Jerusalem. The order is in fidelity to Pope Francis, who is at the top of the order’s hierarchy. The pope then appoints a cardinal grand master — Cardinal Fernando Filoni is the current one — to lead and govern. 

According to the Southwestern USA Lieutenancy website, “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of all the activities and initiatives to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members are therefore the patriarchal institutions’ main source of funding.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, is the  Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

The missions of the order are to strengthen the Christian life of its members, help “charitable, cultural and social works and institutions” of the Church and preserve the faith, all in the Holy Land, according to membership information. 

The order’s donations vary annually to the Holy Land. On a global scale, all the orders provide 81 percent of the budget of the Latin Patriarche. This includes supporting 40 schools with 19,000 students, building new churches, convents and financially assisting with parish renovations and aid to refugees, elderly and the sick.

Jim and Bonnie Badami, parishioners at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, have been members for about 25 years. 

“I started off with the belief we Catholics must be the hands and feet of our Lord. By being a member of the order, in my small way, I’m helping out our Church, our universal Church in supporting the Catholic presence in the Holy Land, support the schools and churches and hospitals in the Holy Land,” Jim Badami, 82, said. “Then, on a personal level, I really feel strongly that all of us Catholics are on this journey toward getting our whole life fulfilled and to get to heaven. When I go to our annual meetings, I feel like I’m getting spiritually fulfilled by that type of participation.” 

Phillips said the diocesan chapter also sponsors trips for seminarians to go to the Holy Land if they are able. 


What it’s all about

Members are spread throughout Central and Northwest Arkansas. Phillips, a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, said groups in Little Rock and Fort Smith areas met regularly for prayer and social gatherings before COVID.

In Little Rock, they still meet for adoration at Christ the King Church on the third Sunday of the month. Peggy Brandebura, a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, has led gatherings in the Fort Smith area with her husband John. They have been members for 20 years. 

“It’s a feeling that I’m at peace … it’s silly, I know, but when I’m wearing that cape and that mantilla, I feel I am holding myself to a higher standard,” Brandebura, 76, said. “It’s difficult to explain. It’s a papal organization, but it gives me a chance to explore my faith, to practice my faith in just a little bit of a different way. It has given me friendships of people around the state.” 

Members are suggested to make a $1,000 annual donation to the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Land. 

They also attend the annual weekend meeting of the southwestern lieutenancy, or region, in the fall, where new members are invested. 

“When you go to the annual meetings, the liturgies are over the top. I’ve heard people that have been to Rome” compare the two, Phillips said. 

Members also attend an annual Mass and dinner with the bishop and go to Mass on specific feast days, like St. Pius X Aug. 21. They also provide honor guard at funerals when requested.

A member must be a practicing Catholic; if married, married in the Catholic Church; pledge an oath of allegiance to Pope Francis; and make or intend to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They also must buy a cape and beret for men or mantilla for women, handmade by religious sisters. 

Phillips said members receive a shell medal to pin on a cape once a pilgrimage is made, a common symbol for pilgrims. If a person has already made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before joining, it will count, she added. 

The Brandeburas made their pilgrimage in 2008. While walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, where Jesus walked to his death, they were shouted at.

“I kept thinking as we were going up, (tradesmen) were shouting bitter and angry words, I thought these old, dirty wooden steps, this is where Jesus drug his cross up. We were intimidated. Scared, humbled,” she said, adding that the experience brought a greater understanding of the need in the Holy Land.

According to a 2020 article on, the Christian population is 2 percent in Israel territory. 

“It was important to me because I was able to see the Christians in their environment and got a greater understanding of who the Christians are — they are Palestinians. They need help. They badly need our prayers, but they badly need our monetary help.”

New members are welcomed if they are nominated by other members and their pastor agrees they are in good standing. If approved, the name is given to the bishop, who then invites the members. 

“We need the priests to kind of help us identify potential members in the kinds of things we do. It’s not an organization for everybody,” Phillips said. 

She hopes more people get involved. 

“You don’t see us like you see the Knights of Columbus everywhere. It’s more difficult to get the word out about what we do,” she said. 

To inquire about membership, email Phillips, or by mail: Dame Connie Brown Phillips, DC*HS, Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, P.O. Box 1266, Little Rock, AR 72203-1266.

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