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    Knights and Pandemics

    What we can learn from the Knights’ charitable reaction during the Spanish influenza

    By Andrew Fowler 3/19/2020

    The World Health Organization has classified the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic with the number of cases continuing to grow. Masses have been cancelled. Schools closed. Sports tournaments and seasons suspended. Cities and countries on lockdown to contain the virus’ spread. In light of the pandemic, Pope Francis has called upon Mary, the Mother of God, to protect not only the city of Rome, but the whole world.

    The Knights of Columbus has taken similar precautionary measures, advising councils to cancel meetings, planned events and travel until further notice.

    It seems unprecedented, but have we been here before.

    More than 100 years ago, the Spanish influenza ravaged the world, killing approximately 50 million people including more than 3,000 members of the Knights of Columbus. A 1919 issue of Columbiad stated that the epidemic killed “more persons than had been lost in the American forces on the firing line” during World War I.

    Then, like now, meetings and events were canceled, including several Columbus Day parades across the country.

    But the Knights carried on their mission of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.

    When the flu swept through Camp Zachary Taylor outside of Louisville, Ky., the Knights of Columbus’ USO-style recreation huts were repurposed as “emergency hospitals.” In Nome, Ark., Knights also transformed their recreational facilities to care for more than 1,000 Native Americans whose parents fell victim to the epidemic.

    One case in particular earned the Knights local attention. In fall 1918, at Fort Benjamin Harrison outside of Indianapolis, the situation was “so intense, that human effort in combatting it seemed useless,” according to Knights of Columbus in Peace and War. However, the K of C secretaries — personnel who ran the recreational facilities on site — didn’t panic, showing an “apparent lack of fear of infection or contagion,” stayed to care for the sick “even when the physicians would have encouraged them to look on the struggle as one which could only end in the loss of their own lives.”

    Their resilience and reliance on the Order’s principles and Catholic faith serve as a model for Knights today. It is the Knights’ mission to go into the breach, to display Catholic virtue in a time of crisis, because there is hope in Jesus Christ.

    In the aftermath of the Spanish influenza, the Knights were a testament to strength in both charity and in insurance by revolutionizing their business model as a step-rate plan and building up a mortuary reserve fund. And they still are. From the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, Knights are there to exhibit that charity when hope seems lost.

    The Supreme Council recently shared several ways Knights can still put their faith into action including donating blood, praying the Novena Prayer for Protection in Time of Pandemic, canceling council activities to limit the virus’ spread and checking-in on the elderly and the immunocompromised to see if they have basic necessities.

    And as in the past, the Knights will be there to show that faith in Christ’s love spurs them on.

    As Supreme Knight Carl Anderson shared in a letter to K of C leaders, “This is a moment to deepen our commitment to the very principles which define us: charity, unity and fraternity. There will likely be many opportunities in coming weeks to live out these principles in service to our brother Knights, our families and our communities.”

    Note: The number best way Knights can help right now is to help mitigate the spread of infection. Please refer to the information on the websites of the CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL and WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. Be aware that the elderly and sick are highly vulnerable to this disease.

    To learn more about the Knights, click here.

    Share your story with andrew.fowler@kofc.org.

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