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A Historic Initiative


by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson

The Knights of Columbus began a new page in our history Oct. 1 by acquiring the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., as authorized by a unanimous resolution during the 129th Supreme Convention this past summer.

The official purchaser is the Knights of Columbus Family Life Bureau, the same tax-exempt entity that has for more than two decades successfully administered the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, which is now located in Father McGivney Hall at The Catholic University of America.

Our action comes 33 years to the month after Cardinal Karol Wojtyła became the first non-Italian pope in nearly five centuries. Those of us who witnessed this event understood that a great change had come to the Catholic Church. But we did not realize how dramatically his papacy would change the world.

Pope John Paul II inaugurated his ministry as universal pastor of the Church by confidently announcing a new evangelization. In his first homily, he said, “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Be not afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”

“We begin one of the great and historic initiatives of the Knights of Columbus.”

The Knights of Columbus was one of the first lay organizations to stand squarely with the new pontiff. Then-Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant, who had been serving as the head of the Knights for less than two years, quickly took up the new pope’s Marian theme — “Totus Tuus” — by expanding the Order’s devotion to the rosary and by developing a successful pilgrim icon program dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

The Order later supported a wide variety of papal initiatives, including the restoration of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica and the renovation of the Vatican’s television broadcast and transmission capabilities. And we were never closer to this great pope than during his seven visits to the United States, and his visits to Mexico, Canada, the Philippines and Cuba.

Now with the purchase of the Washington center, we begin one of the great and historic initiatives of the Knights of Columbus. Following the resolution of the Supreme Convention, we will build a Shrine of Blessed John Paul II that will continue his extraordinary legacy as pope and will be a place where his saintly spirituality can be explored and transmitted to his beloved “John Paul II Generation” and to many generations to come.

Already, we are grateful that Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, the artist responsible for creating the beautiful mosaics in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican and the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, has agreed to create the mosaics for our shrine’s chapel.

We are also grateful to Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków, for his recent gift to the shrine of a precious relic of Blessed John Paul’s blood. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with him and with the new John Paul II Center being built in Kraków next to the Shrine of Divine Mercy.

As work continues on the Shrine of Blessed John Paul II, we will remember these words from John Paul II’s Spiritual Testament, published after his death:

“I want to follow Him and I want all that is part of my earthly life to prepare me for this moment. I do not know when [my death] will come but I place this moment, like all other things, in the hands of the Mother of my Master: Totus Tuus. In these same motherly hands I leave everything and everyone with whom my life and my vocation have brought me into contact. In these hands I above all leave the Church….

“I thank everyone. I ask forgiveness of everyone. I also ask for prayers, so that God’s Mercy may prove greater than my own weakness.”

Because of the Knights of Columbus, the Shrine of Blessed John Paul II will soon be a place where people from around the world will answer this great pope’s request for prayers. Many will come to know, through his example, that God’s mercy is greater than our own weakness.

Vivat Jesus!