Blessed Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to help Irish-immigrant Catholics who were marginalized to the peripheries of society. More than 100 years Later, the Knights still stand with Catholics in the peripheries, although it's a different group of Catholics. Today, it's Native American Catholics who are often marginalized and forgotten.
“The mission of Father McGivney to unite all Catholics is one that is ongoing; it is one that is happening now in Native American communities,” said Patrick Mason, a member of the Osage Nation who also currently serves as an assistant supreme secretary for the Knights of Columbus.
That mission resonates even more during the month of November, which is Native American Heritage Month. Celebration of the month "never really took off" nationally, said Mason, but he encourages the Knights of Columbus to promote the celebration. It's an important month for the Order, which has built a "strong coalition" with many native peoples over the years.
“We’re working there because that is what the Knights of Columbus does,” Mason said.
Last year, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced the commencement of an Orderwide Native American outreach initiative. This year, at the 138th Supreme Convention, he shared that the Knights has continued their support of a national shrine dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Gallup, N.M., as well as sponsored Coats for Kids events on Native American reservations.
The Knights of Columbus has also provided more than $320,000 worth of food to Navajo, Acoma, Zuni and native Hawaiian communities and delivered an estimated 3,000 food boxes to tribal leaders, who distribute them directly to native families in need. Mason was part of that effort, delivering Native American families enough food for about two weeks.
According to Mason, Native American Catholics are perhaps the oldest Catholic communities in North America, spanning back to more than 400 hundred years. Knights of Columbus have stood by their side for more than a century, helping tribes across the U.S. and Canada. Several Native Americans, including representatives of the Mohawk and Sioux, have helped to establish K of C councils in New York and North Dakota, with the majority of the council members having native heritage.
But the needs on the reservations are still great due to immense poverty.
“A lot of them don't have coats or enough food for their families, or even access to fresh water” Mason said. “It's hard for people to imagine the difficult conditions that some of these tribes face.”
However, the poverty doesn't eclipse the beauty of their culture or the beauty of their faith. The tangible charity we provide must be accompanied by a genuine love of the person, and an appreciation of that beauty, Mason said.
Read more about the experience Native American Catholics today with Father Maurice Henry Sands
Knights can take action and help Native American communities by collaborating with a parish on a reservation. Food for Families or Coats for Kids’ drives, Mason said, would have the greatest impact. There are also other resources to assist those on reservations through the Black and Indian Mission Office, with whom the Knights of Columbus has a formal working relationship.
“Take the time to appreciate the beauty of native cultures and the deepness of their Catholic faith. Take the time to get to know your native brothers and to work with them in bringing hope to the many native peoples that feel lost.”
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives. Or, share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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