In solidarity with Pope Francis and those in need, Knights are called to practice faith-inspired charity
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
Three days after the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, my wife, Dorian, and I made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi to pray for our new Holy Father. In the Basilica of St. Francis, surrounded by the beautiful 700-year-old frescoes of Giotto depicting the life of the great saint, we meditated on St. Francis’ commitment to a life of poverty and solidarity with the poor.
Those of us who live in the United States sometimes fail to realize that most Catholics throughout the world are actually very poor. We need to be ever mindful of the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his great encyclical on charity, Deus Caritas Est: “The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life” (25).
As Dorian and I walked in Assisi, it occurred to me that the cardinals of the conclave must have been reading this encyclical when they elected Pope Francis. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Bergoglio provided an extraordinary witness of solidarity with the poor. And soon after his election, Pope Francis told media representatives, “I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
But building a Church “for the poor” can only happen if we strive for a deeper communion and solidarity among all Catholics especially those on the American continent.
For the first time in history, we have a pope from the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 500 million Catholics live in Latin America and approximately 50 million Hispanics most of whom are Catholic live in the United States. Pope Francis can open up the possibility of a great renewal among Catholics in our hemisphere in a way similar to the experience of Catholics living behind the Iron Curtain when Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978.
Last December, the Knights of Columbus joined with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in sponsoring a historic meeting at the Vatican to observe the 25th anniversary of Ecclesia in America, John Paul II’s watershed document following the Synod for America. That document, like the synod itself, called Catholics in our hemisphere to a greater “encounter with the living Jesus Christ” as “the way to conversion, communion and solidarity in America.” While much has been accomplished in this regard, much more still needs to be done.
The Knights of Columbus has been promoting greater solidarity throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines for more than a century, and we can be authentically proud of the tremendous charitable work that is accomplished every day by our Order. Last year alone, we provided 70 million hours of personal service and $168 million to charity.
But there is much more to be done and all of us can do more.
As I stated during last year’s Supreme Convention in Anaheim, Calif., if 30 million Catholics in the United States and Canada would join us in providing one hour of charitable service each month just two minutes every day the value of that commitment would be worth nearly $8 billion.
As Catholics, though, we are called not just to volunteer service. In the words of Pope John Paul II, we are also called to practice “a charity that evangelizes” by revealing to others in our concern for them the love of Christ. This, too, is the deeper meaning of our Order’s founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
During his inaugural Mass homily, Pope Francis spoke of the example of St. Joseph and challenged all of us to “be protectors of God’s gifts!” How are we to do this as Catholics and as Knights of Columbus? The pope’s answer was clear: “Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others.”
From the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the night he was elected, Pope Francis told us that as Catholics we are all on a journey together. As Knights of Columbus, the signposts for our journey have always been clear: charity, unity and fraternity. Let us continue on our path now under the inspiration of our new guide and pope.