(SAN ANTONIO) — The Knights of Columbus has created a new award to recognize extraordinary works of charity and service. The first to receive the Caritas Award were the pastor of the Catholic parish in Newtown, Conn., and its Knights of Columbus council.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson conferred the awards Tuesday night, Aug. 6, with the first going to Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, and the second to St. Virgilius Knights of Columbus Council 185. The council, located at St. Rose of Lima in Newtown was represented by Grand Knight Timothy Haas. The awards were announced at a dinner gathering in San Antonio that included approximately 90 members of the Catholic hierarchy, including Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM, Cap., who delivered a keynote address.
Newtown was the scene of last December’s elementary school shooting that gripped the nation and the world as the small community mourned the loss of 26 residents, most of whom were young children. The Knights have also announced financial support of $100,000 for ongoing parish programs of help and healing in the community that will be conferred at a later date.
The Caritas Award was presented to Msgr. Weiss and the Newtown Knights “for exemplary works of charity” as part of the Knights of Columbus’s 131st international convention.
“Those we honor, like the Good Samaritan, treated their injured and suffering neighbors, classmates and friends with mercy and love,” said Anderson before a dinner audience of some 2,000 that included Knights from an assortment of countries and their guests.
“They did so at a time as so many around them faced suffering the likes of which we can hardly imagine,” said Anderson. “In the midst of tragedy, as so often happens, heroes rise to the occasion; Msgr. Weiss was heroic.”
Anderson said Msgr. Weiss is among those who, in the recent words of Pope Francis, can “step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings ... able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.”
In the heartbreaking work that began on Dec. 14, the day of the shootings, Anderson said, Msgr. Weiss was supported by his brother Knights of Newtown’s St. Virgilius Council.
The first priority was spiritual as the council established a program that asked people to pray a minimum of three Hail Marys for the victims and their families; the first responders and teachers; and the Newtown community. With the help of the Knights’ websites, the efforts spread and more than 105,000 people signed up, offering a total of more than 3.25 million prayers.
The Knights also served as ushers at eight funerals, most of which were for children, and helped in the parish when it was overwhelmed with messages of condolence and other logistical challenges.
Caroline Previdi, one of the children killed, had been saving money to help in the council’s annual Christmas toy drive for children in need. In her honor, council members raised more than $70,000 for toys in her memory.
“There was no playbook, no planning for such a situation,” said Anderson. “Despite the enormity of what lay before them, the warm hearts of Msgr. Weiss and his brother Knights powerfully demonstrated to all the spirit of the Good Samaritan.”
The new award was established earlier this year by a vote of the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors and will be conferred on future recipients when merited. The Caritas Award becomes the second international award given by the organization. Previously, the Knights of Columbus has, on occasion, given its Gaudium et Spes Award, which has been conferred in recent years on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, and Jean Vanier, the internationally renowned founder of l'Arche, a network of faith-based communities that care for people with developmental disabilities.