THIS MONTH marks the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s extraordinary document on the role of the lay faithful, Christifideles Laici. Few documents could be more important to understanding the mission of the laity and few are as important to the mission of the Knights of Columbus.
In Christifideles Laici, John Paul II called the lay faithful to a great task: “a mending of the Christian fabric of society” which, he says, “is urgently needed.” In this way, the pope repeated the call of the Second Vatican Council for lay men and women to work for the renewal of society according to Gospel values.
Many have seen the founding of the Knights of Columbus by the Venerable Servant of God Father Michael J. McGivney as a truly inspired vision of the role of Catholic men in the renewal of society, according to the Gospel values of charity, unity and fraternity.
In October, during the papal audience for our board of directors, Pope Benedict XVI referred to his visit to the United States last April, saying, “I wished to encourage the lay faithful, above all, to recommit themselves to growth in holiness and active participation in the Church’s mission. This was the vision that inspired the foundation of the Knights of Columbus … and it continues to find privileged expression in your Order’s charitable works.”
For more than a century, our founding principles have strengthened the “Christian fabric” of our councils, families, parishes, communities and even our countries. During this time, we have responded to many challenges, including war, civil discord, racial and religious discrimination, natural disasters and economic depression — challenges not unlike the many we face today.
Catholics, and especially Knights of Columbus, have contributed in extraordinary ways to meeting these challenges. We remember with pride our relief work after the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001, and in the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina; our initiative for the first national blood drive during World War II, and our job bank and job training efforts during the Great Depression. In keeping with our 126-year history, the Knights of Columbus will continue to make a positive and lasting contribution to our societies and communities.
We will do so bearing in mind the recent words of Pope Benedict to us in October: “may the Knights of Columbus discover ever new ways to serve as a leaven of the Gospel in the world and a force for the renewal of the Church in holiness and apostolic zeal.”
“Apostolic zeal” includes the commitment to stand for the whole Gospel and its values, even when, at times, those values are less than popular.
I was particularly moved to hear our Holy Father thank the Knights of Columbus for our Order’s efforts “to defend the moral truths necessary for a free and humane society, including the fundamental right to life of every human being.” We should all be encouraged that the pope is grateful for our efforts to build a culture of life in all the countries where we are active.
In this regard we have been faithful to the words of Christifideles Laici: “Above all, the common outcry which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”
Sadly, some in our society have lost sight of this truth — one more reason for the Knights of Columbus to “discover ever new ways to serve as a leaven of the Gospel in the world.”