The words of Pope Francis to the Knights reinforce Blessed John Paul II’s challenge to Catholic laity
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
On Oct. 10, our supreme directors were privileged to be received by Pope Francis in a private audience. On this occasion, he expressed his gratitude to our Order for our “unfailing support” of the Holy See, and he especially thanked us for “the daily prayers, sacrifices and apostolic works of so many Knights in their local councils, their parishes and their communities.”
Then, the Holy Father made an extraordinary statement. He praised us for the “virtues of quiet strength, integrity and fidelity which the Knights of Columbus are committed to preserving, cultivating and passing on to future generations of Catholic men.”
The full text of Pope Francis’ address is reprinted on page 16 of this issue of Columbia, and I urge every brother Knight to read and reflect upon it. Meditate especially on the pope’s observation that “quiet strength, integrity and fidelity” are hallmarks of the Knights of Columbus.
Each of us should ask how well our councils and our own lives reflect these virtues of a manly Catholic life. Strength, integrity, fidelity: new watchwords for the Order given to us by our pope.
Pope Francis also commended our Order to the intercession of St. Joseph, who is an exemplar without equal of “quiet strength, integrity and fidelity.”
The attention that Pope Francis has shown us in the first year of his pontificate expresses in a remarkable way what Blessed John Paul II observed in his 1999 apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Western Hemisphere, Ecclesia in America, when he wrote: “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church” (44).
This statement should give all of us great pause. Are we doing enough as individuals, as councils and as an Order in regard to this great responsibility?
John Paul II went on to describe the witness needed from lay Catholics today: “On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart, and patience in difficult situations” (Ecclesia in America, 44). This great pope had traveled tirelessly throughout the Western Hemisphere and knew as few others did the sacrifice and courage required for a new evangelization of America.
Our new pope is from this hemisphere. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has lived the challenge of the Church in America and has seen others live it as well. He has demonstrated in numerous ways that he knows the people of God are called to a witness of mercy, forgiveness and what John Paul II called “transparency of heart.” These are the evangelical values that thousands of brother Knights live out every day through so many works of charity.
Ecclesia in America further challenged the laity in two other ways that have special importance for the Knights of Columbus. First, the document stated, “What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort in activities and works demonstrating a life in harmony with the Gospel.” And second, “America needs lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society.”
Here we see the special genius of Venerable Michael McGivney, who anticipated the vision of Ecclesia in America by nearly a century when he founded the Knights of Columbus.
Each year, thousands of our local councils exemplify “a great creative effort” in responding to the needs of their communities. In doing so, they provide countless opportunities for brother Knights “to assume roles of leadership.”
The recent words of Pope Francis need to become embedded in the life of the Knights of Columbus. We must see in them a new call to work to realize the message of Ecclesia in America. And we must do so with that “transparency of heart” which we see so brightly in the life of our first pope from America and which will truly make of our good works “a charity that evangelizes.”