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Heroic Missionary Priest Honored

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The highest honor of the Knights of Columbus was bestowed on Father Gerard E. Hammond, a Maryknoll priest who has engaged in a heroic mission over the past two decades by ministering to the people of North Korea. Father Hammond received the 13th Gaudium et Spes Award from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at the annual States Dinner of the 135th Supreme Convention held Tuesday, August 1, in America’s Center in St. Louis.

Father Hammond, who is 83 years old and a priest for 57 years, serves regional superior of Korea for Maryknoll. Stationed in South Korea, he has crossed the border to the North more than 50 times since 1995 to deliver humanitarian assistance, including food and medicine to adults and children who suffer from multidrug-resistance tuberculosis. He also brings blessings, words of comfort and the Christian witness of presence. He joined the Knights of Columbus in 1960, the year of his priestly ordination, and has been a strong supporter of the recent establishment of the Order in South Korea, serving as chaplain of Bishop John J. Kaising Council 14223 and Faithful Friar of Bishop Joseph W. Estabrook Assembly, both located on the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul.

In his acceptance speech, Father Hammond gave a blessing in Korean and spoke of his love for the people of North Korea, who do not often get to see a Catholic priest. At the conclusion of his talk, he was joined by Knights of South Korea in offering those attending the dinner a profound bow as a sign of deep love and gratitude.

Named for the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the modern world, the Gaudium et Spes Award was first bestowed in 1992 on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized last year. It is given to honor those who are exemplary Catholic witnesses to God’s love in the world.

The States Dinner is a traditional event in which convention delegates and their families wave the flags of their home states as a band plays songs dedicated to each state. Members of the hierarchy sit on the dais along with the Order’s supreme officers and directors along with their wives, and other invited guests.

After Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico City and primate of Mexico, offered the opening prayer, Supreme Knight Anderson provided a brief summary of the major achievements of the Knights of Columbus in the past year, which he had given in greater detail earlier that day in his Annual Report.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, supreme chaplain, read the Gaudium et Spes citation, which included these words: “Combining the healing love of Jesus with the charitable work of the Church, [Father Hammond’s] mission is a manifestation of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy: visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted, and feeding the hungry in body and soul.”

Also speaking at the dinner were Archbishop Robert Carlson, who welcomed convention attendees to St. Louis; Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Kraków, Poland; and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Dziwisz, who served for many years as the personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, was instrumental in helping to establish the Knights of Columbus in Poland in 2006. He also assisted the Order in its support of World Youth Day in Kraków last year, in which Pope Francis visited volunteers at the Mercy Centre that was operated by the Knights for English-speaking pilgrims.

Cardinal DiNardo said that as USCCB president, he has come to an even greater appreciation of the support the Knights of Columbus provides to the bishops of America, especially in building a culture of life and reaching out to the needy and those on the margins of society. He quoted the Lenten message of Pope Francis, titled "The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift," in which the Holy Father underscores the need to recognize Jesus in all people, especially the poor. The cardinal said the work of the Knights is in keeping with the compassionate message of Pope Francis.