Knights From the East
4/1/2017by John Burger
Eastern Catholic K of C councils across North America bear witness to the universality of the Church
As a deacon moved around the sanctuary, incensing the altar and icons, the choir chanted in Arabic. The music was in a minor tone, but the joy was palpable.
“Peace be with the Church and her children,” Bishop Gregory Mansour chanted in Arabic as part of the opening rites. The word for peace — “salaam” — might have stood out to the ears of a visitor.
Bishop Mansour is the head of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., one of two jurisdictions of Maronite Catholics in the United States. On Feb. 19, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Waterbury, Conn.
To those gathered, he said, “I think God gave us the Maronite Church to serve as a bridge between East and West, and so many diverse peoples of the Middle East.”
Among the parishioners were many members of Knights of Columbus Council 42, which was reinstituted in 2014 as St. Maron Council 42. Inspired by the story of Father Michael J. McGivney, a native son of Waterbury, council members have seen the Knights as a way to make a greater difference in their community and beyond.
When founding the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney was very familiar with the lives of immigrant families. But he probably never anticipated that, 135 years later, the Order would count scores of councils representing diverse parish communities that have preserved their unique heritage as Eastern Catholics.
LEBANON IN WATERBURY
The Catholic Church is often referred to as “Roman.” Yet that term does not reflect the full breadth of the Catholic Church, which includes nearly two dozen other Churches that stem from three main liturgical “branches.” These Eastern Churches total some 18 million members, or about 1.5 percent of the Catholic Church worldwide. History, theological wrestling, geography, politics, language and culture have together yielded a variety of liturgical expressions, spiritualities and religious practices in the Catholic Church (see sidebar).
In the Americas, early explorers, settlers and missionaries brought their predominantly Western or Latin Catholicism with them. But beginning in the 19th century, Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia established parishes where the Mass took very different forms.
In recent decades, especially since the Second Vatican Council, popes and bishops have drawn attention to the importance of Eastern liturgical and spiritual traditions and have called on the Church to breathe with “both lungs,” Eastern and Western.
“We’re the same. The only difference is the rite used at the Mass,” said Camille J. Atallah, subdeacon of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church and a member of Council 42.
Notably, not everybody in the parish or council is Maronite. There are also Roman Catholics, and Melkites such as Grand Knight Charles Shaker, whose parents were born in Lebanon.
Overall, the council has strong ties to the Middle East, and members are very conscious of current events there, including the plight of Christians persecuted by Islamic State militants. Together with another Maronite parish in Connecticut, Council 42 held a coat drive in January for refugees and others in need in Lebanon.
The chance to help Christian refugees is “an inspiration for us to become part of this personally,” said Atallah, who served in the Lebanese Christian army during the country’s civil war in the 1980s.
“You have to practice what you preach,” the subdeacon continued. “Whatever you receive from the Church, as the Word of God, you have to practically do it in your daily life. So the K of C is like a little bridge to help us practice what we believe.”
In addition, members take seriously their call to be the “strong right arm” of the Church and their parish priest.
“If the priest needs something,” Atallah said, “he can reach out to the council, and the Knights are always ready to help.”
FAMILY MATTERS IN SASKATCHEWAN
As the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Saskatoon, Canada, Bishop Bryan Joseph Bayda, C.Ss.R, sees the Order’s emphasis on the formation of families as vital.
“In this focus on family, the Knights are very much supports for the bishops and the clergy and the Holy Father,” Bishop Bayda said. “To strengthen the family is a priority of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as well.”
Bishop Bayda, 55, is a member of Sheptytsky Council 4938 in Saskatoon. His eparchy was established in 1956, in the heartland of a nation that had recruited Ukrainian peasants to settle and farm in the early 20th century. The eparchy covers about 651,000 square kilometers, but the current population of Ukrainian Catholics is only about 6,200 souls. The 29 active priests cover four to six parishes each on average, so they do a lot of driving.
One example of a growing Ukrainian parish is Dormition of the Blessed Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Saskatoon. Among the approximately 100 families who attend the parish, there are more than 100 children, many under age five.
Loran Chrusch, 52, is grand knight and a founding member of St. Josaphat Kunsevich Council 13129, which is based at the parish. Founded in 2002, the council has more than 50 members.
“It’s a vibrant parish now because of our pastor, Father André Lalach,” Chrusch said. “Most parishioners are second or third-generation Ukrainians, with a couple recently arriving from Ukraine. Our liturgy is mostly in English. Father says a number of the prayers in Ukrainian to keep some of the traditions. There’s a Ukrainian bilingual school across the street, which a lot of the young people go to.”
Council 13129 regularly conducts fundraisers, and five members serve on the parish council. As the Maronite Church helps Christians in the Middle East, Ukrainians in Canada cannot ignore the situation “back home,” where Ukraine is fighting a Russia-backed insurgency in the east.
“Some of our parishioners have sent food and equipment to the troops in Eastern Ukraine,” Bishop Bayda said. “I arranged for schoolchildren in Canada to paint icons of Our Lady of Perpetual Help with writing in English and Ukrainian and on a couple of occasions took several hundred icons to Ukraine to bring to hospitals, orphans and widows.”
The eparchy has also delivered wheelchairs, walkers and canes to Ukraine through the Saskatchewan Knights of Columbus and the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation.
ANCIENT CHURCH IN THE NEW WORLD
The Syro-Malabar Church, based in Kerala, a state in southern India, proudly holds up St. Thomas the Apostle as its founder. And the K of C council at St. Alphonsa Church in Loganville, Ga., has taken his name as well.
“The faith of ‘St. Thomas Christians’ has survived trials and tribulations for 2,000 years,” explained Joseph J. Michael, past grand knight and a founding member of St. Thomas Council 14350, which was chartered in 2007. “Our council members have become bearers of that faith within the fabric of the Knights of Columbus.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, as the Church in the United States experienced a vocations crisis, many priests from India came to serve in Catholic parishes, Michael said.
“Then came a lot of migration from Kerala,” he added, noting that many immigrants were well-educated, especially in health professions.
Michael, who has a degree in economics from one of the oldest Catholic schools in Kerala, came to Atlanta in the 1990s to pursue a career in computer science. He met his wife — also an immigrant — through St. Alphonsa Parish 13 years ago.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II had erected the diocese of St. Thomas of Chicago of the Syro-Malabars, the Church’s first diocese outside India. The diocese now has 34 parishes and a number of missions.
“When our parish was formed as a mission, I was attending the local (Roman) Catholic church and was involved in the Knights of Columbus there,” Michael said.
Jos Kannukkaden, now grand knight of Council 14350, later served as the architect of a new Syro-Malabar church, which the Knights helped to finance in 2006. Since that time, the parish has continued to increase in numbers and is already outgrowing the building.
“We have a thriving council and are now implementing the Building the Domestic Church program,” Michael said.
The council’s charitable work includes assisting the Missionaries of Charity in Atlanta and running an annual Lenten fish fry that has a particular Indian flavor to it: The fish is marinated with spices from the Malabar Coast. A portion of the proceeds are earmarked for the Order’s Christian Refugee Relief Fund.
“The seeds of Christianity were sown all over the world, and it’s amazing to see how they have sprouted and survived so many different kingdoms and wars and persecutions,” Michael said. “As St. Thomas Christians in the 21st century, we are all called to evangelize by sharing the faith through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
In living out this mission, such Catholic communities throughout North America, aided by their respective Knights of Columbus councils, are a striking reminder of the catholicity — that is, the universality — of Christ’s Church.
JOHN BURGER is news editor of Aleteia.org and a member of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Council 16253 in New Haven, Conn.
K OF C COUNCILS AND THE EASTERN CHURCHES
WHILE MOST Knights of Columbus councils are associated with Roman Catholic parishes, there are some 100 councils in the United States and Canada comprised of members who belong to Eastern Catholic parishes and traditions. Below is a brief overview of some Eastern Catholic Churches, with the number of K of C councils associated with them indicated in parentheses.
• The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (37) is the largest of the Byzantine Catholic Churches and traces its history to the year 988. This Church is headed by a major archbishop, currently His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a member of St. Volodymyr Council 15800 in Kyiv. It shares the same liturgy as the Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Ruthenian Catholic Churches, among others.
• The Maronite Catholic Church (23) is headed by a patriarch, currently Cardinal Bechara Peter Rai, and traces its history to the fourth-century St. Maron. Predominantly Lebanese, the Church follows a religious tradition from Antioch and has always maintained communion with Rome.
• The Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church (20) developed in an area of Central Europe known as Transcarpathia. Agreements during the 17th and 18th centuries brought Carpatho-Rusyns into union with Rome. In the United States, it is known simply as the Byzantine Catholic Church.
• The Chaldean Catholic Church (9) is led by Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako, based in Baghdad and known as an advocate for the beleaguered Christians in Iraq. The Church’s roots are in the Assyrian Church of the East.
• The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (4) is the second-largest Eastern Catholic Church. Its head is a major archbishop, currently Cardinal George Alencherry in Kerala, India. St. Thomas the Apostle is said to have evangelized western India, and “St. Thomas Christians” of India share liturgical, theological, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the East Syrian Church.
• The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (3) traces its history back to the 17th-century missionary activity in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. It is headed by Patriarch Gregory III (Laham) in Lebanon. The Maronites and Melkites are the largest Catholic communities in the Middle East.
• The Syriac Catholic Church (1) sprang from evangelization among the Syrian Orthodox in the 17th century. Based in Beirut, Lebanon, the current patriarch is Ignatius Joseph III Younan, a member of St. Rose of Lima Council 6209 in Union City, N.J., where he once served as a priest and bishop.