Only an encounter with Jesus can inspire authentic Christian witness in a spirit of charity and unity
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
Last December, the Knights of Columbus was privileged to join the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in sponsoring a historic meeting at the Vatican. Held to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops for America, the meeting brought together participants from throughout North and South America to address questions concerning the future of the Catholic Church in our hemisphere.
Blessed Pope John Paul II had called for the 1997 synod to address “the problems of the new evangelization” under the theme “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America.” Two years later, the pope issued his apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, in order to integrate the work of the synod more fully into his pastoral ministry and magisterial teaching. The document provided a blueprint for the new evangelization as the Church approached the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
In my address on the opening day of the meeting in December, I stated that to carry out the work of the new evangelization we must acknowledge that we confront a new situation in our hemisphere: Although great majorities of people still consider themselves Christian, many who profess a familiarity with Christ are at the same time ignorant of him. This often results in a mischaracterization of Christ and of the Church’s mission.
In his address to the meeting Dec. 9, Pope Benedict XVI took up this very issue by stressing the continued importance of the synod’s theme the encounter with the living Jesus Christ to the variety of problems confronting us today.
“All these important questions require careful study,” he said. “Yet in addition to their technical evaluation, the Catholic Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from the encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth. This is the decisive force which will transform the American continent.”
In Christifideles Laici, the 1988 apostolic exhortation on the mission of the laity, Blessed John Paul II wrote that the laity has an “essential and irreplaceable role” (7) in the work of the new evangelization.
As members of the Knights of Columbus a Catholic fraternal organization whose first two principles are charity and unity we must ask what this means for us.
In Ecclesia in America, Blessed John Paul II recalled the words of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, at the close of the Second Vatican Council: “On the face of every human being, especially when marked by tears and sufferings, we can and we must see the face of Christ” (12, cf. Mt 25:40). We should add that every human being, especially when marked by suffering, must be able to see the caring face of Christ in his followers. This Gospel mandate of charity is the inescapable prerequisite of the new evangelization. It is our challenge today as Knights of Columbus.
In his recent document On the Service of Charity, Pope Benedict reminded us that charity is “a constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being.” All believers, he said, have a duty to devote themselves to charity. And as the pope has so often said, the method that speaks strongest of Christ is love. As Knights, we should be prepared to let charity be our measure of the new evangelization. In this way we can truly promote “a charity that evangelizes.”
As Catholics we are well positioned, because of the leadership of our popes and our bishops, to offer concrete solutions to the problems of our hemisphere. No other institution has proposed a single vision that can transcend cultures and languages. This vision is not a political vision, but a vision of humanity encountering Christ.
Achieving this unity, though, can only be done by a hopeful, loving Christian witness. Such an authentic Catholic identity must be formed and strengthened by the sacraments and lived in total faithfulness to the Church and in commitment to Jesus Christ.
If we are able to do all this in the work of the new evangelization, then as Knights of Columbus we may truly say,