From his election in 1978 until his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II addressed more than two dozen messages to the Knights of Columbus. From his addresses to the K of C Board of Directors to his letters to the annual Supreme Convention, the pope's words often expressed appreciation and admiration for the Order's work, and offered reflections about the Knights' mission in the Church and the world today.
John Paul II's high esteem for the Knights of Columbus was evident in the ways he spoke about the Order, just as the Knights' love for the pope was expressed in innumerable gestures of support. Addressing the Board of Directors in September 1987, he quipped, "It was a good idea for Columbus to discover America, for this enabled the foundation of the Knights of Columbus."
We include here some representative excerpts from John Paul II's words addressed to the Knights throughout his pontificate. Although years have passed since they were delivered, the relevance of these words has not diminished, and they continue to encourage and inspire us today.
May the Lord reward you, and through your efforts bring forth abundant fruits of evangelization in the Church. May your dedicated activity in turn help you to realize in yourselves those interior attitudes without which no one can truly evangelize: trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, true holiness of life, deep concern for truth, and an ever increasing love for God's children.
May the Lord's blessing be upon you, upon your families and upon all the Knights of Columbus.
– Address of John Paul II to the Knights of Columbus, Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 7, 1979
Whenever I think of the Knights of Columbus, I am reminded with joy of a rich heritage of faith, fraternity and service, and of a shining example of Catholic laity involved in the mission of the Church. And therefore … I encourage you to carry on the worthy traditions which are yours, even as St. Paul says, "to make still greater progress" (1 Thes 4:1), seeking to be ever more attentive to the word of God and completely disposed to carry out God's will.
– Message to 101st Supreme Convention, Columbus, Ohio, July 21, 1983
I urge you to persevere in doing good works and to remain steadfast in the Catholic faith which has been handed on to you by the Church. A passage from St. John expresses my sentiments well … "My reason for having written to you is not that you do not know the truth, but that you do" (1 Jn 2:21). Let what you have from the beginning remain in your hearts.
– Message to 103rd Supreme Convention, Washington, D.C., 1985
A particularly critical concern in the Church today is the well being of the family. While we can take heart that many families are vital and strong and are the channels of many graces and blessings, no one is unaware of the numerous threats to family life which arise in contemporary society. As the Church seeks to respond to the needs of married couples and families, she depends to a great extent on organizations such as the Knights of Columbus to meet the urgent problems and pressing needs, to protect and to promote family values. I am aware of the many programs which you have already undertaken in this regard. … I offer you my grateful support and encourage you never to lose heart. For the family is the basic cell of human society. Upon it depends the stability and health of our communities, and even the future of the world.
– Message to 104th Supreme Convention, Chicago, 1986
For more than a hundred years the Knights of Columbus have distinguished themselves by their love for Christ and loyalty to the Church, by their service to the poor and needy, by their defense of the handicapped and unborn, and by their strong support of family life. You stand forth as a shining example of the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. The financing of the repair and maintenance of the façade of Saint Peter's Basilica and the colossal statues above is yet one more symbol of the dedicated spirit of your esteemed organization and of your devotion and fidelity to the successor of St. Peter.
– John Paul II's speech during ceremony for the completion of renovations on the façade of St. Peter's Basilica, Feb. 23, 1987
The Knights of Columbus are an excellent example of the contribution which the laity can make by working together. The manner of good works that you perform yourselves are further multiplied by those which you inspire in others. In this way you are being faithful to a serious command … "Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father" (Mt 5:16).
– Message to 105th Supreme Convention, New Orleans, La., 1987
By reason of your Order's distinguished record of concern for the poor, the disadvantaged and the unborn in particular, I am confident that the Knights of Columbus will continue to be in the forefront of the Church's efforts to promote a "culture of life" (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39), one which fully respects the spiritual dimension of human existence and the sublime dignity of each individual, created in the image of God and destined for eternal life in Christ.
– Message to 109th Supreme Convention, St. Louis, 1991
Because the Church acknowledges her Savior as the Lord of history, from the very beginning she saw the discovery of the New World as a fresh and urgent call to carry out the mission he entrusted to his Apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). …
Today, five hundred years after the beginning of that first evangelization of the Americas, a new proclamation of the salvific message of the Gospel is needed. I know that the Knights of Columbus are deeply conscious of this challenge.
– Message to 110th Supreme Convention, New York, 1992
Today, more than ever, the Church's apostolate to families needs to be supported by each of her members and, above all, by families themselves. I am deeply grateful for the outstanding support which over the years the Knights of Columbus have given to the Church's mission of promoting Catholic family life. During this Year of the Family, I encourage you to renew your efforts to confirm Christian families in their witness of faith and love, and thus enable them to play their part in the building of a just and morally sound social order. I urge you to continue to give voice to the Gospel of Christian married love in requiring "from all, beginning with public authorities, respect for those rights which, in saving the family, will save society itself" (Christifideles Laici, 40).
– Message to 112th Supreme Convention, Pittsburgh, 1994
The wide variety of good works undertaken by the Knights of Columbus in service to Christ and his Church demonstrates your Order's spiritual vitality as it strives to carry on the vision of its founder, Father Michael McGivney. It is my hope that the Knights will always be in the forefront of the Church's efforts to prepare for the coming Third Christian Millennium by bringing the light of faith to bear upon the urgent social issues and problems of our time.
– Address of John Paul II to Board of Directors, Nov. 6, 1995
Inspired by their Catholic faith, the Knights of Columbus have been in the forefront of the movement to affirm the sanctity of all human life and to call attention to the urgent need for responsible public debate on important ethical issues which directly affect the future of society. As the reality of the threats against human life, especially the life of the unborn, becomes increasingly evident, I encourage you to continue your efforts to work for a general awakening of consciences at every level of society. These efforts, especially when they are combined with charitable initiatives on behalf of women and children in need, represent a singular affirmation of the "Gospel of Life" which the whole Church is called to proclaim and celebrate. …
As the domestic church where God is present to his children in love, the Christian family teaches its members to see, in the light of faith, the true meaning of our human vocation, the requirements of a sound and enduring social order, and the need for generous cooperation in the service of truth and the building of a society truly worthy of man. I commend your efforts to help families to understand their decisive role in the life of society and in the growth of the civilization of love.
– Message to 114th Supreme Convention, Boston, 1996
In a society marked by the spread of messages opposed to the revelation in Christ of the Father's redemptive love, the spirit of your Order calls you to bear clear and active witness to the final victory of God's kingdom over the power of sin and death. Your lives should be filled with the certainty of the hope announced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 5:5).
It is clear that if the Church is to bring about successfully the renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council, her members need more intense catechesis and formation in the fundamentals of the faith. They should be ever more conscious of their baptismal dignity, more assiduous in prayer and in the search for holiness, and more courageous in defending moral truth. For this reason, I encourage the Knights to provide old and new members alike with an appropriate catechetical formation aimed at deepening their knowledge of the faith and their commitment to the Church's life and mission. Central to this effort should be the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Only on the basis of a clear and firm understanding of Christian doctrine will you be able to meet the spiritual and moral challenges of our age. I am confident that the Knights will find practical ways to make the Catechism more widely known and used.
– Message to 115th Supreme Convention, Montreal, 1997
Joyful hope, rooted in the new life poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5), is the distinguishing mark of those who believe in Christ. To radiate this hope is surely one of the most effective means by which the Knights can actively contribute to the new evangelization. The witness of hope is in fact one of the most powerful and attractive signs of the salvation which the Gospel offers to the men and women of our time, so frequently tempted to discouragement and despair. I encourage all the Knights, most especially the young and those with young families, to strive to become ever more effective beacons of Christian joy and hope in the circumstances of their daily lives: at home, in the workplace and in society as a whole.
For generations the Knights of Columbus have helped to spread the Gospel message by showing solidarity with those in need. In this way your Order has contributed to that outstanding "history of charity" (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 87) by which Christ's followers in every age have sought to serve him in the least of his brothers and sisters.
– Message to the 116th Supreme Convention, Cincinnati, 1998
Each of you, in your families, in the workplace, and in the wide variety of social settings in which you interact with others, has a remarkable opportunity to draw others to an experience of the strong and faithful love of our heavenly Father. In a society which urgently needs to rediscover the true face of manhood, the quiet example of men whose lives are shaped by the virtues of faith, integrity, fidelity, hard work and generous concern for others, can be an immensely effective testimony to the Gospel. I encourage you to reflect seriously on the importance of this particular form of Christian witness, especially to the young who are just setting out upon life's way. …
The history of the Knights of Columbus shows how a small group of men inspired by Christian faith and charitable concern were able to inspire a movement of immense fruitfulness for the advance of God's kingdom on earth.
– Message to 117th Supreme Convention, St. Paul-Minneapolis, 1999
The challenges of the present moment and the vast horizons opened up by the new millennium now invite the Knights as individuals and as a body to ponder new and effective ways of witnessing to the Gospel and resisting the "culture of death" which threatens the lives of the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters, even as it denies the most fundamental truths about human dignity: the truth that every man and woman has been created in the image and likeness of God and is called to a transcendent destiny in Christ.
– Message to 118th Supreme Convention, Boston, 2000
Father McGivney, at the end of the 19th century, foresaw the importance of a united and informed laity for the progress of the Gospel in the new world. Almost a century before the Second Vatican Council, he sought to enable Catholic laymen to live up to their baptismal vocation "to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the divine plan" (Lumen Gentium, 31). In today's increasingly secularized culture, which at times rejects and even tries to ridicule religious belief and fundamental norms of the moral law, the Knights of Columbus can play a significant role in teaching and embodying the religious and civic ideals capable of shaping a future of hope and promise for coming generations.
– Message to the 119th Supreme Convention, Toronto, 2001
May a deep and abiding devotion to Jesus Christ, present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, mark the spiritual life of every council, inspire an ever more vigorous apostolate of service to Church and community, and bring about that transformation of society in accordance with God's will which is the essence of the lay vocation. …
As the Church in America seeks to move forward with sincere faith and confidence in the Lord's sustaining grace, I urge all the Knights and their families to intensify their prayers for the authentic renewal of ecclesial life and the preservation of "that unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force" (Eph 4:3). In this context, I express once more my gratitude for the Knights' unfailing commitment to promoting vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Experience has shown that the more the lay apostolate develops, the more strongly the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity's own sense of vocation is deepened, the more deeply is the unique role of priests appreciated.
In this spirit I pray that the Knights of Columbus, in full fidelity to the vision of Father Michael McGivney, will make every effort to draw young people to Jesus Christ and help them to understand that the true meaning and value of life is found in the generous gift of self to God and to others. In this way a new generation will discover at the heart of the Church the spiritual resources necessary for building a society marked by authentic freedom, respect for the demands of truth and selfless concern for the good of all, especially the poor and the underprivileged.
– Message to the 120th Supreme Convention, Anaheim, Calif., 2002
Commitment to building a world marked by justice and mercy, freedom and peace has been a hallmark of the Knights of Columbus since their foundation. The spiritual legacy of your founder, Father Michael McGivney, has borne abundant fruit in an impressive network of social services, forms of charitable assistance, programs of educational and religious formation, and generous contributions to the apostolic works of the Church, both local and universal. Father McGivney's vision remains as relevant as ever in the changed circumstances of today's Church and society. At a time when many people throughout the world are experiencing uncertainty and fear about the future, and Christian faith is increasingly considered to belong only to the sphere of private belief and personal life, the Knights of Columbus are challenged to reaffirm their confidence in the power of God's word to shed light on, and offer solutions to, the grave problems affecting individuals and society. …
By their example as Catholic men, husbands and fathers, their witness of love for the Church and their fidelity to her teaching, the Knights have contributed significantly to the Church's interior renewal and her mission of evangelization. I am particularly grateful for the support which the Knights have given in the public forum regarding freedom in education, the truth about marriage and family life, and the need to respect the dignity and rights of each human person, from conception to natural death.
– Message to 121st Supreme Convention, Washington, D.C., 2003
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