Following the death of St. John Paul II on April 2, 2005, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson wrote in Columbia that “Few popes in the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church have had so momentous an impact on the Church and the world at large as the man we can now properly call John Paul the Great. The 1.7 million members of the Knights of Columbus, who have had the privilege of supporting him in so many ways over the past 27 years, mourn his passing even as we recall the contribution of this extraordinary and holy man.”
The Knights of Columbus has developed close-working relationships with pontiffs dating back to 1920, but the relationship with St. John Paul II was different. It started when he was first installed. The Order covered the costs of the telecast of the installation of Pope John Paul II in October 1978, and would continue funding the broadcast of other pastoral events throughout his papacy.
One of significance came during the pontiff’s historical trip to Communist-controlled Poland. Communist leaders unsuccessfully tried to prevent St. John Paul II's visit to Poland, in part because of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights helped fund a documentary, that was smuggled into the country, to inspire the Polish people and prepare them for the Holy Father's visit. When St. John Paul II visited his homeland, an estimated 13 million people attended one of his public events and inspired the Polish people's love of freedom that eventually led to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
The Knights would later on support three films about St. John Paul II: John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent, Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism and John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace.
The Knights not only had a part in the Holy Father’s telecommunication efforts, but also in the physical structure of the Holy See. The Order led a restoration project of St. Peter’s Basilica and funded a Polish chapel in the Vatican Grottoes. As a gift of appreciation, John Paul II presented to the Knights a copper cross once displayed as part of the statue of Christ on the roof of St. Peter’s.
The relationship didn’t stop there. St. John Paul II canonized six Knights — Mexican martyrs killed during the Cristero War in the 1920s — and he also beatified Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, a member of the Knights of Columbus in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the Knights supported World Youth Day, an initiative of John Paul II, including the largest English-language site in Kraków in 2016.
The Knights recognized the importance of St. John Paul II’s message, and St. John Paul II recognized the vital charitable outreach of the Knights as he noted in numerous papal letters. He praised the Knights, stating that they are an “outstanding example of Christian commitment” and commended the Order for upholding and promoting “Catholic teaching, above all in the area of the family and the defense of life.”
But even after the Holy Father’s death, the Knights of Columbus are carrying on his legacy. The Order sponsors the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical School of Theology in Kraków. They also support the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. as well, which chronicles the life of the Holy Father along with housing some of his relics.
One of the items in the exhibit includes a handwritten letter from St. John Paul II to the Knights of Columbus that reads, “As long as I have breath within me I shall cry out: Peace, in the name of God.”
During his canonization in 2014, the Knights were there, lending financial support to Vatican television’s broadcast of the canonization ceremony, and hosting numerous pilgrims at K of C facilities.
As Supreme Knight Anderson said in a vigil for St. John Paul II, “The legacy of his personal life of holiness, his incredible public ministry, and his profound teaching about the faith, continue to resonate not only with the John Paul II generation – of bishops, priests, religious and laity – but also with so many others who were moved by his witness and teaching, especially in the area of human love.”
The full-extent of the relationship between the Knights of Columbus and St. John Paul II is explored in the new book The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History.
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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