Pope Francis challenges all Knights to embrace a missionary spirit of charity that reaches the peripheries
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
In his new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis has written of the need to foster within the Church a greater “missionary spirit” and for Catholics to take more seriously their calling to “missionary discipleship.” In the brief time that he has been pope, we have seen that this missionary spirit is central to Francis’ pastoral focus.
In his 1990 encyclical letter on the Church’s mission, Redemptoris Missio, Blessed John Paul II wrote about what is at the heart of this missionary spirit. He said that a true “missionary is a person of charity…. He is a sign of God’s love in the world” (89).
In this way, too, we see an extraordinary witness by Pope Francis of his love for the sick, the suffering and the poor. It is a witness that has captured the imagination of the world.
As an organization, the Knights of Columbus stands shoulder to shoulder with our Holy Father in making this witness. In thousands of different ways, our councils offer the opportunity for nearly 2 million Catholic men to be persons of charity and missionaries after the example of Pope Francis. And in doing this, we answer the call of Blessed John Paul II for a “charity that evangelizes.”
Many of our brother Knights would hardly think of themselves as missionaries or evangelists. Instead, most would say with humility, “We just see where a need exists in our parish or community and we act to meet that need.”
But when we “act to meet that need,” we are personifying a “charity that evangelizes.” In this way, we are realizing a form of “missionary discipleship” a discipleship that is central to the vocation of the laity to transform society according to the Gospel.
At this moment in the history of our Church, the Knights of Columbus has an extraordinary opportunity to serve on the frontline with Pope Francis in his witness of charity. St. Ignatius of Loyola once told a group of Jesuits that “no commonplace achievement will satisfy the great obligations you have of excelling.” The same can be said of today’s Knights of Columbus.
For this to become a reality, we must not be content with the status quo. We must embrace a missionary spirit one that extends the limits of what we do in service to our neighbors. We must be willing to go to the frontiers and reach out to those on the margins.
In an address to pilgrims last June, Pope Francis asked, “Are we really a Church united to Christ in order to go out and proclaim him to everyone, also and above all in what I call the ‘existential peripheries’? Or are we closed in on ourselves, in our own groups, in our own little churches? Or do we love the great Church, Mother Church, the Church that sends us out on mission and brings us out of ourselves?”
Pope Francis has also said that an aspect of Jesuit life that attracted him as a young man was St. Ignatius’ “fourth vow” of obedience: Jesuits should always be ready to be sent on a mission by the pope. But why should this be a challenge only for Jesuits? Should not every Catholic listen attentively to the words of our Holy Father? And if we listen carefully to Pope Francis, will we not hear that we are all being sent on a mission?
This is especially true of the Knights of Columbus. In a private audience with the supreme officers and directors Oct. 20, the Holy Father praised the “quiet strength, integrity and fidelity” of our Order. He thanked us for our commitment to charity, and he challenged us to continue this great work.
As a new year begins, let us adopt a new missionary spirit and reaffirm with quiet strength, integrity and fidelity our commitment to a charity that evangelizes. Let us proceed in this great work in the tradition of the Knights of Columbus: as a Catholic brotherhood building greater communities of charity, unity and fraternity.