John Soya reintroduces a chivalric Order to Poland, a land where Catholic knighthood had been forgotten. BESS TWISTON DAVIES reports on the remarkable story of an enterprising man
WWf0 IS ELIGIBLE or a Papal k Newspaper rycoon, Rupert Murdoch, has one, and Cherie Blair might he awarded one, if gossip columns are to be credited.
The name of John F Soya, a former advertising executive from Orpington in Kent, may not be so familiar, but this man incontrovertibly oeserves being a Papal Knight ,f the Order of St Gregory. He singlehandedly restored the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre Knights to Poland.
The Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre are not a Papal but a Catholic charitable Order, providing spiritual and financial support for Christians in the Holy Land. The Order was founded by the first Crusaders in 1099 when Jerusalem was recaptured from the Saracens. Godfroy de Bouillon appointed certain knights as guardians of the Holy Sepulchre the tomb which held the body of Jesus after his death on Calvary.
John Soya, a member of the English lieutenancy of the Order since 1966, was asked to track down the former headquarters of the Order in Poland by Cardinal Caprio, then the Order's Grand Master in Rome. Soya was working in Poland at the time for the British Executive Service Overseas (BESO), a body originally set up to help former British Colonies adapt CO independence. After the fall of Communism in eastern Europe the BESO recruited retired professionals to help the former Soviet bloc countries convert to a free market. Soya was in charge of the Central European commission
In Poland, the Order traces its origins right back to the retui It of the original .:rusaders from the Holy Land. In the year 1163 Martin Gall, the first Polish Knight of the Holy Sepulchre to return from Jerusalem, was invited to the town of Miechow (30 km from Krakow) by Duke Jaksa, Lord of Miechow, and a former Crusader. The town and the chapel of Miechow were donated to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre who built a replica of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre in Miechow, soon to be known as the "Polish Jerusalem". Miechow remained the seat of the Governor General of the Polish lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre until occupying Russians liquidated the Order inl 819.
l'EN JOHN SOVA Wbegan to revive the Polish lieutenancy of the order 172 years after its demise, the Polish Hierarchy knew next to nothing about it. "Cardinal Glemp (Primate of Poland) assumed the Order was just one more of the many Orders of indigent monks surfacing in Poland after the fall of Communism,"explains Mr Soya "His secretary addressed a letter to me as Dear Fr Soya!"
In Miechow Soya found the original churches in a sorry state: " The church and cloisters at Miechow were in ruins because the Germans had used the church as barracks during the Second World War."
Soya stumbled on the answer to restoring the order to Poland not in deepest rural Poland, but in South London, at the mission of Christ the King in Balham: "It turned out that the priest there, Mgr Canon Wladyslaw Wyzsowadski had studied under Cardinal Glemp at Lublin University. I heard on the grape-vine that Fr Wyzsowadski had been the Cardinal's favourite student. As Mgr Wyzsowadski was going to Rome to a conference which would be attended by Cardinal Glemp, he offered to take a message about the Order."
Cardinal Caprio then wrote to Cardinal Glemp. Suddenly the following November, Mr Soya received an unexpected phone call: "The priest from Balham told me that Cardinal Glemp could receive me at 5pm on the 5 November: this was on 1 November.
Half way through my meeting with the Cardinal, Mother Teresa arrived to see him. I heard her tell him in limited English and in no uncertain terms: 'I want to have my sisters here in Poland'. And I thought, here am I trying to be so diplomatic!"
Soya jokes that the Order's distinctive uniform a white cloak adorned with the scarlet cross of Jerusalem which represents Christ's five sacred wounds was the crunch for the Cardinal.
"I showed the Cardinal my insignia and my uniform and I think that did it!"
IN APRIL 1995, Soya and the then lieutenant of the English lieutenancy, Robert Benson, with their wives were invited by Cardinal Glemp to attend the celebrations for the 1000th anniversary of St Adalbertus who converted the Polish to Christianity.
Every day during the festivities, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre paraded to crowds of 40,000. The history of the Order in Poland was explained to enthusiastic crowds at night.
Following this successful testing of the waters, the Cardinal decided to resurrect the Order in Poland and to accept the office of Grand Master of Poland. This was merely the first step: the Order had been effectively extinct in Poland for nearly 200 years so no-one in the country knew how to conduct the investiture ceremonies for new members. Cardinal Glemp's aide, Mgr Dzieba went to London to learn the correct procedure at an English investiture.
Once again John Soya proved invaluable: he was invited to lead the processsion at the first-ever Polish investiture in November 1997.
But Archbishop Bowen had arranged that Mr Soya should be promoted to the penultimate rank of Knight Commander in the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great. This Order is awarded for . personal merit and outstanding work for the Church. Soya was in the middle of leading the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre round Warsaw Cathedral when he was suddenly called up to the altar to receive the promotion.
"My name was called out and I and my wife and daughter were summoned to the altar, where I was presented with the cross of the Knight Commander."
The son of a Polish emigre to America, John Soya has led an adventurous life: world-war fighter with French and British forces, prisoner of war and escapee, detained against his will in post-war Britain, he later joined an advertising agency. Within two years he was running it and soon was involved in charitable work here and abroad, A “verray parfit gentil knight" indeed.