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Pope Francis and the Knights of Columbus

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Father Jonathan D. Kalisch, O.P.
Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development
This Month’s Chaplain’s Report

The Witness of the Cross & the New Evangelization

As we approach the grace-filled season of Easter, the historic canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II stand as reminders of God’s divine protection of the Church. “Good Pope John” not only invoked the Second Vatican Council, but asked every religious order and diocese to send 10 percent of its priests and religious to the foreign missions. His prayers and personal appeals for peace brought the world back from the brink of nuclear annihilation over Cuba. “John Paul the Great” not only contributed significantly to the Second Vatican Council, but with Pope Benedict, he offered the definitive interpretation of the Council through the Catechism, Code of Canon Law, and the witness of his teaching, preaching and pilgrimages around the world. 

Significantly, the canonizations will take place on April 27, the feast of the Divine Mercy and the 54th anniversary of the testimony to the faith at the Cross of Nowa Huta.  After the ravages of World War II, the Communist authorities of Poland designed the new suburb of Nowa Huta, outside of Krakow, as a city “without God” for the working masses of the nearby steel plants. No churches were planned or allowed to be built in an area that housed over 40,000 people.  After years of protest, the Church was finally allowed to purchase property, but delays in permits and bureaucratic subterfuge meant that no buildings were erected. Instead, the people began to celebrate outdoor Masses every Sunday on the ground designated for the church. Karol Wojtyła began offering the midnight Christmas Eve Mass in 1958.

On April 27, 1960, the Communist authorities dismantled the cross that stood on the church lot of Nowa Huta and sealed off the city with riot police and armored cars. The workers of the socialist state stood in opposition, erecting and defending a new cross and singing: “We want God, we who are defeated.  He is our King, He is our Lord.” The auxiliary bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła, stood in defense of the people, calling for the residents to remain calm.  A negotiated truce ensured that the new Cross of Nowa Huta would remain in place.

On his first return visit to Poland in June 1979, Pope John Paul II spoke of this seminal moment at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in nearby Mogila. He said then, “Where the cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man's salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun.” Referring to the new Cross of Nowa Huta, he said, “With it we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun.”  This was the first time in his pontificate that he used the term “new evangelization.”

Pope John Paul II reiterated again at the end of his talk: “From the Cross of Nowa Huta began the new evangelization, the evangelization of the second Millennium. ... It arose from a living awareness and responsible faith and must continue to serve that faith. The evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It must be, as that Council taught, a work shared by bishops, priests, religious and laity, by parents and young people. The parish is not only a place where catechesis is given, it is also the living environment that must actualize it.”

From the Cross of Nowa Huta, Karol Wojtyła gave witness to the faith with countless others. From that new cross on April 27, 1960, a shared work of witness began: the living faith that would not only build a Church, but transform the lives of so many.  May we remind our brother Knights of the importance of the witness of the cross and their participation in the New Evangelization, to which John XXIII called missionaries forward and John Paul II gave witness and launched into the new millennium, and that which Pope Francis reminds us must be at the heart of every activity in the Church. 

Vivat Jesus!

Fr. Jonathan D. Kalisch, O.P.
Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development
FrJon.Kalisch@kofc.org
(203) 752-4115