My brother Knights: Today marks the 20th time I have addressed the Supreme Convention as your supreme knight. Each time it has been my privilege to recount the many wonderful accomplishments of our brotherhood as we continue, year after year, to grow in charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
I will do the same this year, recounting the great deeds we have done in response to the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges of the day. But this year, I intend to do something slightly different. I will speak to you not only about our past achievements, but also about our future.
But first I must begin with something entirely different: paying tribute to my esteemed predecessor, Past Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant, who passed away in February.
Under his watch, the Order advanced on every front. He oversaw a great expansion in membership. He professionalized our insurance program and put the Knights on a superior financial footing.
Virgil embodied the very ideal of Catholic knighthood — generosity of soul, gallantry of spirit, love of God and love of neighbor.
And so, I take this occasion, on behalf of the entire Order of the Knights of Columbus, to send our warmest greeting to his wife, Ann, and the Dechant family.
As history attests, the Knights of Columbus is something very special.
Our unique character can be found in three words — charity, unity, fraternity — words that express three of the most important dimensions of our lives. And it would not be too much to say these three words put the “human” in human existence.
In 2018, we began a three-year cycle to more fully live these principles. When the Supreme Council met in Baltimore in 2018, we met under the banner Knights of Columbus: Knights of Charity. Then last year in Minneapolis our theme was Knights of Columbus: Knights of Unity. And so this year it is Knights of Columbus: Knights of Fraternity.
WE KNOW THAT the Knights of Columbus is much more than a typical service organization. Our dedication to charity and unity is exemplary. But what really sets us apart is our commitment to fraternity.
It is our fraternal approach to charity and our fraternal approach to unity that makes us so different from other charitable organizations. And it is our fraternal approach to insurance — by brother Knights for brother Knights — that sets us apart from ordinary life insurers.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “I especially ask Christians … to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another” (99).
My brother Knights, living in fraternity is what we do every day in a thousand different ways in our Knights of Columbus councils throughout the world. It is this commitment to fraternity that gives us the fraternal strength to do the great works of charity that our challenging times demand.
In the two decades that I have served as supreme knight, I have come to believe that it is our fraternal strength that is the distinctive hallmark of the Knights of Columbus.
During his 2008 visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI called Catholics to a spiritual renewal. He suggested the way forward could be found in the history of Catholicism in North America. The pope said that the commitment to faith, conversion and selfsacrifice was “the secret of the impressive growth” of our Church.
Then Pope Benedict said something extraordinary: “We need but think,” he said, “of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Blessed Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.”
So, we might ask, “What is the vision of Father McGivney which led to the impressive growth of the Knights of Columbus?”
We see the answer every day: Through the spiritual genius of Father McGivney, the Knights of Columbus became a way for Catholic men to transform friends into brothers — brothers who care for one another. Membership in the Knights of Columbus is not a casual commitment. It is a commitment to be a brother.
This is why what Pope Benedict said is so important. Faith, conversion and self-sacrifice make possible the commitment to be a brother. Father McGivney is our example — of a faith that sees our unity as Catholics, of the conversion of heart needed to treat each other as brothers, and of the self-sacrifice necessary to live a life of charity.
This is why we so often refer to the Knights of Columbus as the Order of the Knights of Columbus. We do not claim some special juridical status. But like religious orders throughout history, we seek a community based on brotherhood.
We are all familiar with the great religious orders: the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. These men enter a brotherhood. They take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
But what about men who marry and have families, men who are called to be active in their parish? Is there a brotherhood for them? We know Father McGivney’s answer. The Knights of Columbus offers men a Catholic brotherhood, based upon the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. When we invite a man to join the Knights of Columbus, we are not primarily inviting him to do something. We are inviting him to be someone. We are inviting him to be a man of charity, unity and fraternity.
But being who we are means that we must act. As Catholic men committed to charity, we are impelled to act. We are a community of brothers who see all those who suffer, all those who are in need, as our brothers.
It is this fraternal character that is at the heart of each one of the millions of dollars and millions of volunteer hours we provide each year. This fraternal character is not only the source of our past success — it is the foundation of our future.
I’VE SPOKEN ABOUT our founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity. Now I’d like to speak about our fourth great principle — patriotism.
I’m sure that like me you’ve watched what has been happening in the United States with a sickness in your heart. Many of our fellow citizens are still treated differently because of the color of their skin. Whenever and wherever this happens, it is wrong. And it must be righted.
I want to thank everyone who participated in our National Novena for Unity & An End to Racism. As I said at that time, we must redouble our efforts to overcome the suffering and injustice which result from the sin of racism.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
My brother Knights, still today we see around us the quicksands of racial injustice. But where do we find the solid rock of brotherhood?
Who can show this to us — and to our nations? Brotherhood cannot be mandated by legislation or executive order, or compelled by the platform of a national political party. Brotherhood is a commitment of the heart.
This is the time for the Knights of Columbus to step forward and be more present in our communities. Our example of brotherhood can show our nations a better way.
Where others tear down, let us build up with charity. Where others seek to divide, let us promote unity. And where racism festers, let us build fraternity.
And let us begin today. This witness is what our society desperately needs. And there is no other organization as well suited as the Knights of Columbus to bring a new sense of brotherhood to our nations.
And so, let us begin — in our councils, our parishes and our neighborhoods.
The answer for our countries is not a “cancel culture” that destroys. The answer is fraternal communities that work to build a new fraternal culture.
Today, a true patriot will work for unity and fraternity, and he will do so with charity in his heart. This is the Knights of Columbus way. And there are few others who can do what we can.
So I repeat today what I said during my closing remarks to last year’s Supreme Convention in Minneapolis: “While we so often think about our principles of charity, unity and fraternity as something to be lived within the Catholic community, they are needed just as much in civil society. In fact, today, they are probably needed more — and living those principles in our civil society today is a high expression of patriotism.”
My brother Knights, there is another task for the patriot in the days ahead.
Toward the end of his presidency, Ronald Reagan had one warning for our country. He said we needed an “informed patriotism” — a patriotism “grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.” And he said we needed to transmit it to our children.
He said many of us had “absorbed” our love of country from our families and our neighbors, but that this patriotic culture was passing away. I found his words true in my own life. I thought of my grandparents who came to America as immigrants, who loved it deeply despite the hardships and challenges they faced; of my father, who served in the Navy’s North Atlantic Fleet during the Second World War; and of our next-door neighbor who would limp home each day after work because of wounds suffered at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Tragically, in too many places today, President Reagan’s warning has become prophetic.
Our children should know that we honor the memory of Thomas Jefferson not because he owned slaves, but because what he wrote and what he did would one day make it possible to abolish slavery.
The monument honoring Martin Luther King was placed across from Jefferson’s to remind every American, as Rev. King put it, “that when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to … every American.”
My brother Knights, it is time this promissory note be fulfilled. And as I have said, we have a role in that fulfillment.
THIS ATTACK on our heritage has also taken an alarming anti-Catholic turn.
Catholic churches and statues of our saints have been desecrated, especially statues of St. Junípero Serra. This heroic and saintly missionary is falling victim to a false history.
He did not come to California at the head of an army. He walked from Mexico City up the coast of California founding missions that later became great cities. He returned to Mexico City to demand a declaration of rights to protect the native tribes. And he obtained it. At his death, the Native Americans who gathered around him referred to Junípero Serra as “el santo” — “the saint.”
Will we now change the names of cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego? And what of San Antonio, Santa Fe, St. Paul and St. Augustine? Are these names no longer appropriate because they all were given by Catholic missionaries?
It is time that Catholics in North America realize that much of the history of Catholic missionaries in New Spain and New France was written by their historic competitors.
And that today, their efforts are viewed by many through the lens of a militant, anti-Catholic atheism.
Against the violence of those who would tear down statues of our saints and desecrate our places of worship, we must be resolute and make clear that their violence will not prevail. We will not be intimidated. We will defend our right to practice our faith. And we will continue to work closely with our bishops to defend religious liberty.
We will also continue to work through our judicial system. I am pleased to report to you that during the past decade we have helped win seven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that have protected religious liberty. Through our financial support of the Becket Fund, we have helped win victories around the country, to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and to protect the Lipan Apache Tribe in the practice of their Native American faith. And, of course, to defend the Little Sisters of the Poor from government coercion.
Our defense of religious liberty is inherently linked to our identity as Catholics — and as Knights of Columbus.
Father McGivney understood this all too well. Bigotry against Catholics was an everyday reality for him and for many of his parishioners.
At a time when their Catholic identity was tested by the harsh economic, social and political realities of 19th-century America, Father McGivney offered a way forward and without compromise. His Knights of Columbus would not withdraw from society. They would engage society by living the Catholic principles of charity and unity.
And they saw in the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment a path offered to them that could be found in no other country.
As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, “An authentic faith … always involves a deep desire to change the world … to leave this earth somehow better than we found it” (183).
This spirit animated Father McGivney to provide a financial safety net for widows and orphans, and to defend the religious liberty so necessary for Catholic institutions, including the Knights of Columbus, to flourish.
In 1900, patriotism was added as our fourth principle to emphasize that faithful Catholics are committed to the common good of all and not just narrow sectarian interests.
Again, in the words of Pope Francis, “The Church must not remain on the sidelines of the fight for justice” (183).
This is why the early leaders of the Knights of Columbus established the Commission on Religious Prejudices in 1916, provided integrated facilities for American servicemen during the First World War, and resisted the bigotry and violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 1920s.
Also during this time, we established the Knights of Columbus Historical Commission to counter biased history textbooks. The most famous volume in our series was written by W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, and it was titled The Gift of Black Folk. I am proud that a decade ago, we republished The Gift of Black Folk to make it available to our nation’s Catholic schools.
THIS IS A TIME for the Knights of Columbus to step forward with a renewed sense of patriotism to help build a new unity and sense of fraternity in our communities. We are called to do this even in the face of anti-Catholic bigotry.
In this effort we have a true star to guide our path. Twenty years ago, I dedicated the Knights of Columbus to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title Our Lady of Guadalupe — in recognition of her decisive role in the history of our continent.
Just two years before the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, wrote to the emperor Charles V about the dire situation in the New World. It was so bad that he warned, “If God does not provide the remedy from His hand the land is about to be completely lost.”
My brother Knights, we know the answer our Lord provided.
The land was not lost. Instead, a new future was at hand. Millions would be converted and a new Catholic culture would emerge, not by force of arms, but by Our Lady’s message of love, hope and reconciliation.
Five centuries ago, Our Lady of Guadalupe was the answer Our Lord gave to the question of how Christianity could survive and how it would flourish in our land. And I believe she is still his answer today.
The “mestiza face” of Our Lady of Guadalupe was not imposed upon Native Americans by Europeans. Instead, as St. John Paul II told us, she is the “impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization” (Ecclesia in America, 11). And her message was not introduced to the native peoples by the Spanish. To the contrary, it was a Native American, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin — whose name means “the eagle that speaks” — who brought her message to the Spanish.
It was under her banner and with her image that missionaries such as Junípero Serra and Eusebio Kino spoke of Christianity to the Indigenous peoples and guided them to our common faith.
Today, I ask every Knights of Columbus council, and I encourage every parish community, to implore the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe to heal our people. Our nations once again need to hear her message of love, hope and reconciliation.
Under her banner, let us step forward with a renewed confidence.
In the midst of confusion, destruction and pain, we must call our neighbors and our nations to a new respect for the dignity of every person.
May the Virgin of Guadalupe again lead our Church to a new and inculturated evangelization.
THERE IS ONE MORE cultural crisis that I must address. It is the vicious vandalism of statues of Christopher Columbus.
Several years ago, when calls were made to remove the statue in New York City’s Columbus Circle, we supported the efforts of New York’s governor, and many others, to protect this historic monument.
That statue was built not only for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage of discovery. It was paid for by Italian Americans following the 1891 murder of 11 Italian Americans in the largest mass lynching in American history.
For Americans of Italian descent, who often experienced violence and bigotry, Columbus represented not only heroic achievement, but their own contribution, pride and legacy as Americans.
Only a decade before the 1892 Columbus celebrations across the United States, the men who gathered in the basement of St. Mary’s Church looked to Christopher Columbus — who was regarded as a hero by most Americans — as a way to signal that Catholics were integral to the history of America from its earliest days.
At the 1912 dedication of the Columbus monument in Washington, D.C., President William Howard Taft observed, “We are gathered here today to dedicate this beautiful memorial to the greatest mariner of history.”
He noted, however, that Columbus “was much greater as a mariner than as an administrator and governor of native peoples. His failure in this regard,” President Taft added, “was doubtless due to a lack of preparation for the difficult problems which an assumption of control over the natives involved…. He had but few resources, and he was beset by jealousies and treachery.”
My brother Knights, now a radical, one-sided narrative asserts that Columbus — the same man who severely punished those under his authority when they mistreated Indigenous peoples — represents all that is evil in the American experience.
This is a disservice to the truth. We must all strive to honestly examine and faithfully remember our history. We must all give credit to what was done well in the past, and we must be mindful of what should have been done differently.
We do not fear an honest review of the work and legacy of Columbus. Indeed, we welcome it. That is necessary. But it is not sufficient. We urge every city, state and province to undertake a public and careful review of its own treatment of the native peoples, both past and present.
That review will find no trace of Columbus. He was not there when the Puritans in Connecticut destroyed the Pequot Nation. Nor was he there along the Trail of Tears walked by the Cherokee, or at the massacres of Sand Creek or Wounded Knee, or in the hunting down of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.
Columbus never called for the “extermination” of the native people of California as did the governor of that state after gold was discovered there.
In the mid-1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in Democracy in America, recounted the condition of the Native Americans he observed. “I was the witness of sufferings which I have not the power to portray,” he wrote, adding that the evils they suffered “appear to me to be irremediable.” He concluded, “I believe that the Indian nations of North America are doomed to perish.”
These sufferings were not from the influence of Christopher Columbus, who never even set foot on the mainland of North America. Columbus did not influence the policies of President Jefferson and President Andrew Jackson, referred to by Tocqueville.
Scapegoating one man for what has happened throughout the United States is easy, but it masks the real history.
Native peoples have a right to have their story told with accuracy and integrity. They have a right to an honest recounting of their history. Only in this way can we find a path of reconciliation, healing and justice. The Knights of Columbus is prepared to walk that path with them.
Tragedy and hardship are only one aspect of the Native American story. That story also includes a centuries-long witness of many tribes to their strong Catholic faith. As brothers and sisters in the same faith, their story is also part of our story. They, too, are part of the history of our Church in North America.
As St. John Paul II rightly observed, “Not only is Christianity relevant to the Indian peoples, but Christ, in the members of his Body, is himself Indian.”
Our support of the new St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Gallup, N.M., and our support for the cause of canonization of Nicholas Black Elk testify to this reality.
FROM OUR founding, the Knights of Columbus has always understood that charity begins at home. Father McGivney himself placed a special emphasis on providing for Catholic families who lost their loved ones and found themselves in difficult financial straits. The system of mutual aid that he established has since grown into an extraordinary insurance program — one that has provided security and stability to millions of Catholics.
During the past two decades, the growth of our insurance program has been exceptional. In 2000, our insurance in force stood at $40 billion and our assets under management at $8 billion. Today, those numbers have grown to more than $113 billion of insurance in force and $26 billion in assets.
We have consistently received “Superior” ratings from both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s.
Now, such performance does not happen miraculously overnight. It is the result of a consistent and disciplined sales and investment strategy. And it is the result of the dedicated brother Knights who serve as our field agents.
While managing for such growth, we have also accelerated our efforts to make the Supreme Council stronger and to make our insurance program better positioned to withstand today’s challenges and those of the future.
We have focused on a series of initiatives to “harden the core” of our operations, to achieve higher levels of professionalism, and to bring greater efficiency and productivity to our operations.
We have also undertaken a major restructuring and enhancement of our IT department; reorganized and strengthened our insurance field force of more than 1,100 agents; and brought greater productivity to our business departments.
Our performance during the current global pandemic is dramatic proof that these initiatives are succeeding. We took early action to ensure the health and the safety of our more than 800 employees, as well as the continuity of our business operations, by adopting a remote work plan. That transition went forward in a matter of days.
During the past year, we strengthened our professional field force and made Knights of Columbus insurance more productive and, most importantly, more fraternal.
More improvements will be coming, and as we look to the future our goals remain the same — more professional and successful agents; a growing and dynamic company; and better service and quality products for our members, which will in turn strengthen the fraternal and charitable mission of the Knights of Columbus.
In April, Standard & Poor’s released its review of North American life insurance companies, ranking them from strongest to weakest based on their financial health. Out of hundreds of companies, only six received the highest rating. And the Knights of Columbus is one of them.
Again, this extraordinary level of financial strength did not magically appear. It is a result of a disciplined and consistent determination to avoid unnecessary risk while maintaining a superior capital position.
This approach is best described as “insurance by brother Knights for brother Knights.” It is our version of what Pope Francis has called an “ethics of fraternity.” And it has served us well for generations.
In addition to insurance, we continue to grow our Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors program. Now in its sixth year, Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors empowers Catholics to invest with integrity, using the same model as the Knights of Columbus. It has grown to include nearly 400 clients, including 24 dioceses and 15 religious orders. We will soon make this program available to all our brother Knights. Our goal is to become the world’s leading Catholic asset manager for Catholic institutions and individuals, putting their financial future on a solid and ethical foundation.
While the coronavirus pandemic has presented us with many challenges, our insurance program has adapted well. Our agents transitioned to a new operating model demanded by social distancing. They have performed admirably, keeping sales strong and spirits high, while continuing to meet the needs of our Catholic families.
The pandemic has caused the Order to adapt in other ways, too. The Supreme Council developed technological and procedural solutions that enabled every jurisdiction to hold a virtual state convention.
We also introduced an online version of our new ceremonial, allowing practicing Catholic men to join our ranks from the safety of their homes.
And of course, the coronavirus gave rise to many urgent needs in our parishes and communities. To meet those needs, we developed an emergency ChurchLoan program for Catholic dioceses facing financial crisis.
We implemented a multimilliondollar food assistance program. And we launched our Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative. The response has been overwhelming. Knights of all ages, from all walks of life, have risen to the occasion.
FROM THE EARLIEST DAYS of the order, brother Knights have been there for their neighbors when disaster strikes. in 1903, when the worst flooding in the history of Kansas engulfed that state, Knights raised money to restore churches.
Three years later, when the great San Francisco earthquake and fires decimated the city, Knights were there again to help the homeless.
In 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic struck, our Army huts throughout the country were quickly converted into medical facilities. And then, during the Great Depression, we organized the first national blood drive.
In the days and months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, brother Knights again offered aid as first responders, and hundreds more supported the rescue and recovery work.
The day after the attacks, we established the $1 million Heroes Fund to provide direct financial support to the families of the more than 400 first responders who were killed.
I will always remember visiting Ground Zero with supreme Chaplain Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn and New York City Police department chaplain Msgr. Robert Romano on the feast of All Saints, as so many of our heroes continued to work.
The Order’s extraordinary response to 9/11 showed the grassroots power of our local councils. That power would be seen again in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The Supreme Council’s $10 million Gulf states hurricane Relief Fund helped the region’s Catholic institutions and residents rebuild.
The Order’s second responders program would provide even more effective action following Sandy in 2012, Maria in 2017 and Harvey in 2018.
And in 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, we responded not only with immediate assistance, but also with a long-term boat-building program for local fishermen and carpenters, as well as a reforestation program for local farmers.
Perhaps one of the most heartwarming initiatives of the Knights of Columbus has been our efforts to provide mobility to the physically disabled through our partnership with the Global Wheelchair mission.
To date we have distributed more than 75,000 wheelchairs in areas as diverse as Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Middle East, Ukraine, the Philippines and Mexico.
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people, we launched the Healing Haiti’s Children initiative in partnership with the University of Miami’s Project Medishare.
Through this program, we provided prosthetic limbs and two years of physical therapy for the more than 1,000 children whose legs were amputated as a result of their injuries.
Then in 2011, with the United Nations reporting that there were 15 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of AIDS, we launched a new partnership with the Apostles of Jesus to support their residential school for AIDS orphans in Uganda. In recent years, we have also reached out to children in the United states and Canada to provide nearly 700,000 new winter coats through our Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids program.
And we have maintained our strong support in both dollars and volunteer hours for Special Olympics.
These are only a few examples of our charitable efforts and our faith in action.
Over this past year in particular, i am proud to report that, once again, our members set a record for charitable giving — together donating more than $187 million to charitable causes and volunteering more than 77 million hours.
The Knights of Columbus has never done so much for so many.
OUR CHARITABLE work spans the globe. One initiative that is particularly close to the heart of Pope Francis is our support for persecuted christians in the Middle East.
Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus has committed more than $25 million to help our brothers and sisters in the faith who have been targeted for genocide by ISIS. Working closely with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, we began the task of developing a sustainable infrastructure for Christians in the region.
We rebuilt the town of Karamles and the Syriac Cathedral in Qaraqosh. We also built McGivney House, a 140-unit apartment building in Erbil, and helped expand the Catholic university of Erbil.
And in Syria, we provided the Christians of Aleppo with emergency food, medical and tuition assistance.
When I traveled to Iraq in March 2019, I was privileged to bring a personal greeting and a gift of hundreds of rosaries from Pope Francis to Christian school children and refugees. Archbishop Warda has said that without the support of the Knights of Columbus, “Christianity would disappear in our region.”
The financial and humanitarian support we have given is only part of the story. The other part is our engagement with the U.S. government to successfully change our nation’s foreign policy.
In 2016, we urged the Obama administration to declare what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq to be genocide.
When the State Department replied that it did not have sufficient evidence, we sent researchers to Iraq and compiled a 300-page report that included the names of Christians murdered and churches destroyed. It also included an official ISIS price list for Christian women and girls to be sold as slaves.
Based on the overwhelming evidence and legal analysis we submitted, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that genocide was occurring.
Speaking on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, I testified numerous times before congress, which led to the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act that was signed into law in 2018.
The Supreme Council has also worked closely with the U.S. agency for International Development to help American foreign aid more effectively reach devastated Christian communities.
I can report to you that our efforts made a tremendous difference.
But while the threat from ISIS has been reduced, the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world has increased.
Last year, the British government reported that the persecution of Christians around the world is at “near genocide levels.”
The situation is especially extreme in Africa.
For example, reports estimate that tens of thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria alone in the past two decades.
Recently, the European Union and the Catholic bishops of Europe have condemned the violence against Christians in Nigeria. Yet much more needs to be done to bring attention to this jihadist attempt at a new genocide.
So I am pleased to announce today that the Knights of Columbus will launch a new initiative to report on the situation in Nigeria, similar to what was done in Iraq, in the hope that greater attention by American diplomacy and humanitarian aid can make a difference there.
Christians in Africa, just as in the Middle East, have a right to exist, and we stand in solidarity with them.
One of the most important expressions of our support for persecuted Christians throughout the world has been the unique prayer service we launched as part of our pilgrim icon program.
We dedicated the past two years to Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians. The program received the blessing of Pope Francis and has been one of our most effective ways to increase global awareness of this worldwide crisis. I urge Catholics everywhere to continue to pray in solidarity with our suffering Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world.
THIS YEAR, we will begin a new spiritual initiative, a pilgrim icon program devoted to St. Michael the Archangel. This new prayer program will include Sacred Scripture readings, meditations by Pope Francis and St. John Paul II, and the Litany and Chaplet of St. Michael.
We will encourage greater devotion to St. Michael throughout the Order and the universal Church. And in doing so, we hope to build upon the ecumenical aspect of our recent program in honor of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians.
In the icon we commissioned for that program, Our Lady is depicted spreading her protective mantel not only over Roman Catholic martyrs, but also over Coptic and Orthodox Christians.
In a similar way, we recognize that devotion to St. Michael has a long tradition among Orthodox Christians, as well as those in Coptic Egypt and Ethiopia.
May St. Michael the Archangel, most powerful prince of the heavenly host, defend us!
Recently, some elected officials have asked their constituents to “reimagine” the police in their communities. Now this is not the place to discuss the future of policing. But in thinking about our next pilgrim icon program, I would ask you to imagine thousands of Catholic law enforcement personnel, at the federal, state and local levels, all personally consecrated to the patron saint of police, St. Michael the Archangel; all reciting his litany each day before going on duty; and all carrying his holy medal and chaplet in their pockets.
This would require no action by any board, city council or legislature. It would not require the expenditure of a single tax dollar. Yet it would produce thousands of officers in law enforcement with a greater capacity to influence their colleagues for what is good and what is just. Their witness could have tremendous impact for good in the days ahead.
In 1959, the Knights Tower of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., was completed — a gift of the Knights of Columbus. We then followed up in 1963 by donating a 56-bell carillon that continues to be heard throughout the year. We had been there from the beginning. In 1920, 1,500 brother Knights were present for the blessing of the site of the future shrine, and later that year, an honor guard joined James Cardinal Gibbons for the laying of the foundation stone.
In more recent years, our financial support made possible the completion of the shrine according to its original plans with the mosaic decoration of the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome in 2007 and the Trinity Dome in 2017.
In 2011, following the beatification of Pope John Paul II, we took our involvement in the life of the Catholic Church in America to a new level. That year, we purchased the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and began its transformation into the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. It now includes the Redemptor Hominis Church, the Luminous Mysteries Chapel and a world-class exhibit on his life and teaching.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II, in his homily during the Mass on the National Mall, said this: “I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life — from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages — is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. nothing surpasses the greatness or the dignity of a human person.”
“All human beings,” he continued, “ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ…. And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened.”
Then he concluded, “Everything aimed at banishing discrimination — in law or in fact — is a service to life. When the rights of minorities are fostered, when the mentally or physically handicapped are assisted, when those on the margin of society are given a voice — in all these instances the dignity of life and the sacredness of human life are furthered.”
My brother Knights, when I stood on the Mall and listened to these words, I realized that the history of the Catholic Church in the United States had suddenly been lifted up to a higher level. Catholics were being called to a new encounter with our society — a new evangelization that would take up the responsibility for transformation of our culture according to a Gospel vision of human dignity and human destiny.
Throughout his 27-year pontificate, and during each of his seven trips to the United States, John Paul II would speak of building a culture of life and a civilization of love in all their dimensions.
The Saint John Paul II National Shrine endures as a place where the extraordinary vision of this truly great saint continues.
As a privileged place of prayer, worship, pilgrimage, evangelization, encounter and renewal, the Shrine has become an important center of faith in the nation’s capital, welcoming tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.
And during these troubling times, St. John Paul II’s message of Divine Mercy, forgiveness and peace are especially needed.
THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS has played a leading role in the pro-life movement for over 50 years. Brother Knights were there in 1974 to help organize the first March for Life in Washington, D.C. The next year, we provided a grant of $50,000 to the U.S. bishops to support their pastoral pro-life efforts. And we have been supporting both activities ever since.
Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, we have called for that “exercise in raw judicial power” to be overturned. And we have urged Congress and the states to enact pro-life legislation.
In 1976, Supreme Knight John McDevitt said this in his report to the Supreme Convention: “We must not be taken in by candidates who state that they are personally opposed to abortion but assert it would be wrong to impose their conviction on others…. Killing innocent human life is so monumental an injustice that … [w]e must disagree with the contention made in the platform of a major American political party that it is ‘undesirable … to overturn the Supreme Court decision’ in Roe v. Wade.”
From the earliest days of the pro-life movement, the Knights of Columbus has had a three-part strategy to defend unborn children: mobilizing nationwide support through the annual March for Life; supporting the pastoral ministry of our nation’s bishops; and working to restore legal protection to unborn children in our courts and legislatures.
Now we have added three initiatives which I believe may be decisive in our efforts to build a new culture of life.
The first began in 2004 with the sisters of Life.
Their founder, a champion of the prolife movement, John Cardinal O’Connor, shared these words with the Sisters in 1998: “I have said from the very beginning — before we ever had a community and before we came into existence as the sisters of Life — that one day we would have a big retreat center: a place of peace, a place of tranquility, a place of light and refreshment, a place of love.”
That place became reality in 2004, when the Knights of Columbus purchased a property in Stamford, Conn., that became Villa Maria Guadalupe, a pro-life retreat center operated by the Sisters of Life.
Villa Maria Guadalupe exists to spiritually sustain the faithful women and men who have sacrificed so much to build a culture of life. it is a source of healing for women experiencing the aftermath of abortion, and a safe place to help courageous women choose life despite all odds. Already, thousands and thousands of lives have been changed and many saved by the Sisters of Life at Villa Maria Guadalupe.
Second, in 2008, we began an annual national survey on abortion with the respected Marist Poll to better understand public attitudes on abortion and help shape the national discussion.
In a series of groundbreaking findings, the polling revealed that, among other things, 3 out of 4 Americans — including 6 out of 10 of those who describe themselves as “pro-choice” — want significant restrictions on abortion.
Then, in 2009, we began our Ultrasound initiative to place new ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers. Since that time, we have placed more than 1,200 ultrasound machines with a total value of more than $60 million.
Now if each ultrasound machine prevents only one abortion each week, our program will save more than 60,000 lives this year. The Knights of Columbus has already helped save hundreds of thousands of unborn children.
As I have said before, our Ultrasound initiative is the greatest humanitarian achievement in the history of the Knights of Columbus. It is building the culture of life one heart and one child at a time.
After this year’s March for Life in washington, D.C., I welcomed a new pro-life Native American organization, Life is Sacred, to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. The group’s mission statement is worth repeating. It reads, “in the past too few stood by to defend the lives of our people, and so today we are here to stand for the lives of all people, born and unborn.”
Pope Francis has written that the “defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101).
Encouraged by these words, we will continue to build a culture of life in all the nations in which we are active. Earlier this summer, we received disappointing news from the U.S. Supreme Court when it struck down a pro-life law in Louisiana, with five justices insisting they had to respect the Court’s past decisions.
Now, respecting past decisions is important. But what if the earlier decisions are based upon a falsehood or even numerous falsehoods? What then?
Why should the Supreme Court respect an earlier decision when its premise is false? This is exactly the problem with Roe v. Wade. It is based on the falsehood that we do not know if the child before birth is a human life. Now, if you doubt that, look at any one of the hundreds of thousands of ultrasound pictures taken each year in the United States. The other falsehood, of course, is that there is a right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution.
Roe v. Wade is false as to both science and law.
And so, what does one do when a court’s decision is wrong?
One works to overturn it; to mobilize national protests against it; to educate the public about it; to help women heal who have been hurt by it; and to help prevent more women from being hurt by it; and of course, to rescue unborn children from its deadly consequences.
All these things, and more, the Knights of Columbus has done. And all these things, and more, the Knights of Columbus will do until that day when our nation embraces a new culture of life.
AS WE CONTINUE all the good works that define this brotherhood, let us take heart in a milestone that we reached over the past year.
The Knights of Columbus reached more than 2 million members — 2 million men committed to leading lives of charity, unity and fraternity.
As brother Knights, we are transforming ourselves, and in so doing, transforming the world around us.
The growth of the Order has been one of the great constants of our history. We have grown because we serve the needs of the Church universal, not just a particular place or people.
Earlier, I mentioned Alexis de Tocqueville and his great work, Democracy in America. Two of his observations help us think about the future of the Knights of Columbus.
The first was his conclusion that Catholics in the 19th century were “at the same time the most faithful believers and the most zealous citizens.”
The second was his conclusion that “in no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used than in America.”
Fifty years later, the founding of the Knights of Columbus would prove the accuracy of Tocqueville’s view of Catholics as “faithful believers” and “zealous citizens” united together in successful association.
It is therefore understandable that for much of our history, the Knights of Columbus has been seen as an American institution. But this is too narrow a view.
It overlooks the early expansion of the Order into Canada and our growth throughout its provinces. It overlooks, as well, the impact upon Father McGivney of his early seminary formation in Québec.
It does not take into account the expansion of the Order into the Philippines, Mexico and Cuba at the beginning of the 20th century. It overlooks the solidarity with our Mexican brother Knights during the persecution of the Church there and the Cristero War, as well as the mutual aid and support given by Filipino and American brother Knights during the Second World War, and our dramatic expansion in the Philippines since that time.
Today, the universality of Father McGivney’s vision and the appeal of the Knights of Columbus can be seen in our recent expansion into Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, the Republic of Korea and France. Brother Knights in these countries have enriched the Knights of Columbus in countless ways by their commitment to charity, unity and fraternity.
All of this points to the universal appeal of our Founder’s vision. Increasingly, we will find the holy example of Father McGivney to be an inspiration for both laity and clergy throughout the Church.
There is no better time to look to our Founder for guidance than right now, as we prepare for the historic moment of Father McGivney’s beatification.
In May, Pope Francis approved the decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father McGivney. And now the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has announced that his beatification Mass will be celebrated Oct. 31. That means that Father McGivney will soon be declared “Blessed.”
We look forward to the beatification of Father McGivney in the beautiful Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn., on Oct. 31. At that time, I invite everyone to join us by means of a live international broadcast of the beatification Mass.
Although we expect coronavirus restrictions will still be in effect, we look forward to millions participating in this historic day through this broadcast.
There have been many steps along the way to Father McGivney’s beatification. One of the most important occurred in conjunction with the renovation of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. As part of the centennial anniversary of the Knights of Columbus in 1982, Father McGivney’s body was moved from Waterbury, Conn., to St. Mary’s to better promote devotion to him.
Now, we are completing the second major renovation of St. Mary’s Church through the financial support of the Knights of Columbus. The first stage of that work was completed just in time for the opening Mass of our Supreme Convention.
After Father McGivney’s beatification, we hope that Father McGivney’s body will be moved from the back of the church to a place of honor in the front. This will promote even greater devotion to him as we continue his cause for canonization.
IN 2001, we opened the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven. For nearly two decades, our museum has featured unique and award-winning exhibits. It has been a place of Catholic culture, art and evangelization from which hundreds of thousands of people have benefited.
Today, I am pleased to announce that in the coming months we will begin the transformation of the Knights of Columbus Museum into the new Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center.
While the museum’s mission of recounting our history will continue, it will also broaden its appeal by focusing more on the spirituality and charitable vision of our Founder and of his legacy. Along with St. Mary’s — the birthplace of the Order — the new McGivney Pilgrimage Center will enhance the formative experience of a pilgrimage to the tomb of Father McGivney.
There is another reason we should all rejoice in our Founder’s beatification. A Knights of Columbus family had a pivotal role in bringing this day about.
Six years ago, a brother Knight and his wife learned that she was pregnant. They began preparing to welcome their new child into the world. Then came the diagnoses.
First, they learned their unborn son had Down syndrome. Then they learned that he had a rare medical condition that would surely take his life. In their grief, the family turned to heaven for help.
They traveled to Fatima, Portugal, during a Knights of Columbus pilgrimage. They — and so many other Knights of Columbus families — prayed to Father McGivney for a miracle. They returned home with renewed hope.
Four days later, a doctor confirmed that their unborn son — without any medical intervention or explanation — was suddenly free from his fatal condition.
Today, Mikey Schachle is 5 years old. His father, Dan Schachle, is our General Agent in Tennessee. And the miracle they prayed for is the miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession recently confirmed by Pope Francis.
So let us rejoice for this gift to Dan and Michelle Schachle’s family.
But as we do so, let us also reflect on the mystery of this miracle:
Why did this miracle heal an unborn child in the womb? Why was that healing discovered through ultrasound technology? Why was a child with Down syndrome saved? Why was he conceived into a large Catholic family? A family whose father sees his business as a vocation of service to fellow Catholics? A father who is a dedicated brother Knight of Columbus?
The answer to all these questions must have deep meaning for the future of the Knights of Columbus.
As St. John Paul II said on his visit to Fatima, “in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.” Is it a mere coincidence that Michael McGivney was the oldest of 13 children, while Michael Schachle is the youngest of 13 children? How can we not see in the circumstances of this miracle an affirmation of the vision and legacy of our Founder?
And how can we not also see in the circumstances of this miracle the call to each of us as brother Knights of Columbus to live more fully our own vocation of charity, unity and fraternity?
Soon we will call our beloved Founder “Blessed,” and millions around the world will better understand why Father McGivney has been a blessing to generations of Catholics.
But with Father McGivney’s beatification comes special responsibility. It calls us to an ever-higher standard of charity, unity and fraternity.
So let us rejoice and be glad in this day the Lord has made. Let us renew our own faith, as we step forward together as Knights of Columbus: Knights of Fraternity to continue our great work.
And may our Founder and brother, soon-to-be Blessed Michael McGivney, pray for us.
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