AS I WRITE THESE WORDS, a popular investment magazine has released the results of a survey of finance executives responding to the question: “How long will it take for the finance sector to return to strength?” More than 50 percent of those surveyed responded that it will take three to five years, and an additional 20 percent said it would take six or more years. Already, many people have lost their savings and pensions; others have lost jobs and homes; and still others have seen health care and educational opportunities disappear. If the financial experts are correct, these painful circumstances will linger for a long time as we work to find a way out of this deepening global recession.
As if these problems were not enough, we see almost every day new signs of uncertainty, pessimism and even fear. At a time when charities are hoping to do more, many are reporting a dramatic downturn in contributions.
What about the Knights of Columbus?
First, let me report that while we have not been unaffected by this financial crisis, we remain extraordinarily strong. Our financial strength relative to the industry as a whole has greatly improved — it is even better today than it was one year ago. Brother Knights and their families should continue to have every confidence in our financial stability.
Equally important, though, is that every brother Knight should have confidence in the strength of our Order as a force helping the world find a way out of its present crisis. We all take justifiable pride in our record work for charity — including $145 million in contributions and 69 million hours of volunteer service during the last fraternal year alone, as well as our tremendous service in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The remarkable strength of the Knights of Columbus lies not only in our ability to give money, but also in our ability to do things for people in need. Our effective grassroots structure consists of thousands of active councils, all of which are motivated by the Christian principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
This is the real “secret” of the Order’s charitable work. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them. ... I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift” (34).
But if the pope has highlighted the path for us to take, he has also emphasized the challenge before us: “The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life” (25). Of course, this family cannot stand idly by while its neighbors are suffering.
Although this may not be a time in which many of us can make dramatic increases in cash contributions to charity, we can all afford to give something extra of our time — which is to say, give something extra of ourselves. If every member of the Knights of Columbus were to contribute just one additional hour of volunteer service each week — less than 10 minutes a day — the dollar value of that effort alone would surpass $1.7 billion this year.
During the Great Depression, people would often hear passersby ask, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” Today, my question is: “Brother, can you spare 10 minutes?” If enough of us do, we can change the world — if not for everyone, then at least for many who depend on the Knights of Columbus for help.
Throughout our long history we have faced many unexpected challenges and we have always responded with determination and creativity. I have every confidence that we will do so this time as well.