An Enduring Relationship

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THE END OF WORLD WAR II didn’t mark the end of the Knights of Columbus’ presence in Rome. As an international Catholic organization of laymen, the organization has had many opportunities to aid the Vatican, both in Rome and abroad.

In 1985, the Knights funded the much-needed restoration of St. Peter’s façade, as well as the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul in front of the basilica. Later restorations included several of the grottoes beneath the basilica, the Maderno Atrium, the dome of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the tomb of Pope Sixtus IV and several other works. The Knights also sponsored a documentary film of the Scavi excavations, which uncovered what is believed to be the original grave of St. Peter beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Knights also brought major events from the city of Rome to the rest of the world through its sponsorship of Vatican communications. The Order funded the creation of the Vatican Film Archive in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as the Vatican Film Library in Rome. In an effort to broadcast the Church’s message around the world, the Knights have funded the satellite uplink of papal Masses since the 1970s. Likewise, in 1985, the Order purchased a satellite truck, further strengthening the Vatican’s ability to broadcast internationally.

The Knights of Columbus-Vatican relationship took on a special mission during the Cold War, when the Knights financed the editing of footage of Pope John Paul II’s famous 1979 visit to Poland. Around the same time, the Knights funded the publication of conference writings titled “The Common Christian Roots of Europe,” which was then brought into Poland.

Finally, continuing Count Enrico Galeazzi’s legacy of diplomatic work, the Knights played a role in facilitating meetings between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli and U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the Knights’ 100th annual convention in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1982. There, President Reagan and Cardinal Casaroli discussed normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Not long afterward, formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See became a reality.

The Playgrounds’ Legacy

On May 24, 1959, a marble tablet was dedicated on the Tiber River playground with the names of 81 young men who grew up playing on the Knights’ playgrounds and gave their lives in the Second World War. Remaining open throughout the war for food distribution and charitable work at times, sporting activities on the Knights of Columbus playgrounds resumed in the years following the war. Today, several notable Romans count themselves among the many people who used the playgrounds as children. They include former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and several soccer stars, most notably Giancarlo De Sisti.

Faith and Art

One of the most visible elements of the Knights of Columbus’ legacy in Rome is the work the organization has facilitated at the Vatican on major restoration projects. The most notable was the renovation of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1985, along with the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Square, which were badly damaged from years of exposure to the elements. But many other projects were also undertaken, including the renovations of the Basilica’s Maderno Atrium, grotto chapels and Blessed Sacrament Chapel Dome, among others. The most recent project facilitated by the Knights was the restoration of the 15th-century bronze funeral monument of Pope Sixtus IV, created by the Florentine sculptor Antonio del Pollaiolo and considered one of the most significant masterpieces of Renaissance art.

Reaching the World

As technology has changed throughout the centuries, enabling communication and transportation in new ways, Knights of Columbus, both as individuals and as an organization, have often aided the Vatican in bringing the pope’s messages - and even the pope himself - to the corners of the world. Beginning in 1929, with the Graham brothers’ gift of one of the first popemobiles, to the funding of satellite uplinks and the donation of mobile television vehicles, the Knights of Columbus have enabled millions of people to connect with papal events.

The Church in America in the 20th Century

By the time John F. Kennedy was elected 35th president of the United States in 1960, America was a very different place for Catholics. Though he still battled anti-Catholic sentiments, the tone overall had softened from what Father McGivney faced in the late 19th century, or what Al Smith encountered in the 1928 presidential campaign. During papal visits to the United States and Canada - as well as in other countries in the past several decades - the Knights of Columbus have proudly welcomed the Holy Father, even co-sponsoring a Mass by Pope John Paul II in New York. The organization also played a unique role in laying the groundwork for official diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, when Cardinal Agostio Casaroli and U.S. President Ronald Reagan met and discussed the normalization of relations while at the Knights’ 100th annual convention, in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut.