Against the backdrop of the scenic St. Lawrence River, the leadership of the Knights of Columbus gathered in Québec City Nov. 6-10, 2013, for their midyear meeting. The supreme officers, board of directors and 70 state deputies, together with more than 50 state chaplains, including four bishops, came together to discuss the Order’s goals and priorities for the remainder of the 2013-14 fraternal year.
Several speakers during the meeting made reference to Pope Francis’ recurring call to avoid becoming a “self-referential” Church and to reach out to the “existential peripheries” of human experience and suffering. The Order shares in the Church’s mission of charity and evangelization, they said, and it is for this reason that the growth and spiritual formation of the membership is crucial.
“The Knights of Columbus cannot become a self-referential organization, closed in on itself,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in his keynote address Nov. 7. “We must be moving outward … and that must be the challenge for every one of our councils.”
CELEBRATING OUR ROOTS
The midyear meeting began with a pilgrimage of K of C leaders to the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. The Archdiocese of Québec is the oldest see in the New World north of Mexico, and Notre-Dame de Québec one of the oldest parishes in North America celebrates its 350th anniversary jubilee in 2014. Meeting in Québec City during the anniversary year “expresses in a very concrete way the unity of the Knights of Columbus,” the supreme knight said.
Above the main altar of the cathedral-basilica hangs a painting of the Immaculate Conception, which is the centerpiece of the Order’s latest international Marian Prayer Program. Reproductions of the image, blessed by Pope Francis, were entrusted to state deputies during the 131st Supreme Convention in August 2013.
Archbishop Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec, primate of Canada, welcomed the Knights to the cathedral-basilica on Nov. 7 for a solemn Mass, which was concelebrated by Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and the gathered state chaplains.
In his homily, Archbishop Lacroix exhorted the Knights to rescue people from a “selfish life that leads only to sadness and emptiness” and to reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church.
“Brother Knights of Columbus, the Lord Jesus counts on us today to be the ones who will go out to search and find those who are lost,” said the archbishop, who is a member of Charlesbourg Council 6289. “There is an urgency for us to go out to reach the growing number of people who are without Christ, without the Church, and often without hope, without direction for their life.”
Following Mass at the cathedral-basilica, Archbishop Lacroix, Supreme Knight Anderson and Archbishop Lori paused at the tomb of Blessed François de Laval to pray for the Church in Québec and across Canada. In his keynote address, Anderson later called Blessed François “a man of courage, a man of vision, a man of evangelization.”
As the first bishop of “New France,” Blessed François set the foundation for the Knights’ founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, to begin his seminary studies at the Seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe in Montreal nearly 200 years later.
“Father McGivney is a spiritual son of Blessed Bishop de Laval and the French Catholicism of his day,” the supreme knight said.
THE MISSION OF THE LAITY
The unique role of the laity, which was recognized by Father McGivney in the late 19th century, was a central theme of the meeting in Québec. Both the supreme knight and Archbishop Lori emphasized that the laity is essential to the Church’s evangelizing mission, citing Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America: “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, the laity, the lay faithful is largely responsible for the future of the Church” (44).
Supreme Knight Anderson noted that Father McGivney demonstrated the “practical and spiritual genius of giving laymen leadership roles and [founding] an organization that in a thousand different ways every year has created means … to express the Christian values of charity, unity and fraternity for all to see.”
In order to fulfill this mission, the supreme knight said, it is essential for the Order to increase its membership. “The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to find one,” he said. “How can we have councils that are happy with the one and refuse to go after the 99?”
Speaking on behalf of the chaplains gathered at the meeting, Archbishop Lori highlighted how Knights of Columbus are particularly equipped to take part in the new evangelization. He observed that the Order is “the premier organization in which laymen, together with their wives and families, can become equipped spiritually, morally and intellectually to bear witness to the Gospel and to bring the Gospel out of the four walls of the Church and into the world.”
The supreme chaplain also discussed the Knights’ emphasis on building strong marriages and families: “The Order helps us all see how the vocation to authentic marriage and family life is essential to the Church’s mission of evangelization for it is in the heart of the family where the Gospel is to be received and lived, and it is authentically Catholic families, joyful and united, that bear witness to the Gospel and serve the common good.”
In light of cultural challenges facing the Church and declining religious practice, Archbishop Lori further underscored the need for Knights to make a conscious decision to embrace their faith.
“We find ourselves in a situation not unlike the early Church in which every Christian had to intend to be a Christian, [knowing] it would be a life-changing decision,” he said. An “intentional disciple,” he added, is “someone in whom the Gospel has hit home, and who is willing to bear witness to the truth and joy of his faith before others."
Supreme Knight Anderson and Archbishop Lacroix were among the speakers who referenced Pope Francis’ appeal that the Church go out to the “peripheries” and avoid becoming self-enclosed.
Referring to the pope’s challenge, Anderson emphasized the importance of ministering to the needs of the underprivileged and suffering through charity, the first principle of the Order. Quoting Pope Benedict, he stated, “The Church is a great family in which no one should be hungry or lack the basic necessities of life” (Deus Caritas Est, 25).
Among the Knights’ many charitable initiatives, the supreme knight pointed to the Food for Families program, which included 500 million pounds of food donations last year, and the Supreme Council’s pledge of $250,000 to aid the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
The supreme knight also emphasized how important it is for the Knights to resist stagnation and complacency. “We cannot be accepting of councils that are happy with a status quo, that are closed in on themselves, that are not interested in expanding and opening their doors and bringing in new members,” he said.
As part of Notre-Dame de Québec’s jubilee anniversary celebration, the Supreme Council, the Québec State Council and the Canadian Association of the 10 Canadian provincial councils teamed up to donate $500,000 to underwrite the creation of a Holy Door for a side chapel of the cathedral-basilica. The massive bronze door is the first Vatican-sanctioned Holy Door in North America and the seventh such door in the world. It bears the emblem of the Order in recognition of the Knights’ support for its creation and will remain open throughout the jubilee year, until Dec. 28, 2014.
“Entering through the Holy Door will most certainly be a profound spiritual experience, a public expression of coming to Christ, drawing closer to him,” Archbishop Lacroix said. “But it should also produce in us a profound desire to go out, as Jesus invites us, to meet our brothers and sisters in need.”
The archbishop likewise urged the Knights to embrace their call to share the Gospel with those who are lost and suffering around them. “It would be wonderful if people around you and me, around your councils and assemblies, would say: ‘These Knights of Columbus, they welcome sinners and eat with them,’” he said. “That would mean that we resemble more and more our Savior Jesus Christ.”