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The Forest and the Trees


Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori

It is sometimes easy to overlook the scope of our Order’s charitable support throughout the world

Archbishop William E. Lori

SOMETIMES, as the saying goes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s all too easy to become so involved in our own projects, plans and points of view that we fail to see the larger picture. The Church is much bigger than our experience or knowledge of it. The same is also true of the Knights of Columbus.

Let me offer a personal example. Since 2012, I have served as archbishop of Baltimore. It is a wonderful archdiocese, the oldest in the United States, replete with projects and challenges. It would be very easy for me to focus merely on one or two areas or initiatives. In a similar way, it is tempting to become so immersed in archdiocesan work as to lose sight of the larger Church.

Truth to tell, until I began serving as supreme chaplain in 2005 I did not fully appreciate all the ways the Knights of Columbus serves both Church and society, nationally and internationally. In a phrase, I saw some trees but not the forest. I had known of the work of my local council, and it was that spirit of charity that first attracted me to the Knights. But my new role opened my eyes to the depth of the Order’s charitable outreach in many parts of the world.


When I was a young priest serving in Prince George’s County, Md., a devastating fire struck a family home. Lives were lost, and the house was destroyed. I saw how quickly the Knights responded, ready to provide comfort, shelter and assistance. Similarly, I would see local Knights conducting fund drives in support of Special Olympics and those with intellectual disabilities.

Over the last 13 years as supreme chaplain, my comprehension of the social and charitable works of the Knights of Columbus has expanded. In 2015- 16, I watched as the Order worked with members of the U.S. Congress from both sides of the aisle and the Obama administration to secure an official declaration that the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East is in fact genocide. Not content with that, the Knights of Columbus has provided millions of dollars to alleviate the sufferings of those persecuted. For example, the Order supported a project that offers mental health programs in northern Iraq for those traumatized at the hands of ISIS. It supported housing for refugees who fled to Lebanon from Syria and helped to fund a film that will explore the response of many faiths to the plight of refugees and immigrants. And it has offered assistance to Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been targeted by ISIS.

The Knights, in fact, support a host of humanitarian relief efforts throughout the world. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, the local Knights sprang into action. Knights from Cebu City traveled to a devastated area to distribute sacks of rice and canned goods, while the Supreme Council authorized substantial funds to support humanitarian efforts. The Order also launched the Livelihood Project to help fishermen, farmers and craftsmen, who had lost everything in the typhoon, get back to work and to rebuild their lives.

Similar efforts of humanitarian relief have been provided in places like Pakistan and Kenya. The Order has supported efforts to assist children with AIDS in Uganda, and it has helped to drill wells and provide clean water for residents in Guatemala and Ethiopia.


Last year, when Pope Francis visited Ciudad Juárez, just across the U.S.- Mexican border from El Paso, Texas, the Knights provided funding to dioceses on both sides of the border. This papal visit helped to highlight the plight of migrants and the determination of the Church in the United States and Mexico to work together to help these individuals and families, and to work for just immigration laws.

When unprecedented flooding struck Louisiana last year, the Knights provided disaster relief funding to the Diocese of Baton Rouge. In places like Magog, Québec, the Order has helped offer low-cost housing to pregnant women and single mothers in need. After the 2015 racial unrest in Baltimore, the Order, at my request, provided assistance to Catholic inner-city schools that offer the hope of a better life to many in our poorest neighborhoods.

In addition to its many humanitarian efforts, the Order also supports a variety of ecumenical and interreligious projects, including those that foster dialogue with Islam.

Perhaps better known are the efforts of the Knights of Columbus to protect and promote the dignity of unborn human life — such as providing more than 800 ultrasound machines that enable women to see their unborn children in the womb. I am continuously impressed by how the Order responds to the Church’s call to build a culture of life with great respect for both mother and child.

Finally, I would also note with deep gratitude the support of the Knights in helping the efforts of the Church in the United States to preserve and defend the religious liberty both of individuals and religious institutions and ministries.

All this is but a sampling of how robustly the Order is living out its Gospel principles of charity, unity and fraternity, bequeathed to us by Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. With his help and prayers, let us see both the trees and the forest!