Each year at the beginning of August, the Knights of Columbus have their convention, and I always go with the delegation from Massachusetts. This year, there were about 80 knights and their wives from the Commonwealth attending. Bishop Daniel P. Reilly-- who is the Knights’ chaplain and retired bishop of Worcester-- went with us as well as Fall River Bishop George Coleman and the two Melkite bishops, Archbishop Cyril Bustros and retired Bishop John Elya.
The meeting was the 125th anniversary of the Knights of Columbus and was held in Nashville, Tenn. I never thought I would live long enough to see Nashville, but it was a very interesting place and it is, of course, famous for its country-western music.
This year for the first time, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone came to the convention. He is the Vatican’s secretary of state, the position which is sort of the second-in-charge in the Church. One can think of it as being something like being the vice president in the United States.
Cardinal Bertone was the main celebrant at the opening Mass. However, he does not speak English so he celebrated the Mass in Latin and Italian. He preached in Italian, but they had simultaneous translation for the people. He gave a beautiful homily, very much focused on the life and legacy of Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus.
The convention was opened by Carl Anderson, who is the supreme knight. The meeting began with a letter from the Holy Father. Then, there was a video greeting from President George Bush.
I was very impressed by what the president had to say, particularly about the work of the Knights of Columbus in making this a better country. He reiterated his support for the Gospel of Life, and it was to me a reminder of why there were so many Catholics who had voted for this man in the last election. Although everyone is focused on the terrible tragedy of the war and how unpopular this president is now, his message to the Knights of Columbus and the good things he had to say impressed me.
Following that, they read a letter from Prime Minister of Canada Steven Harper, also praising the work of the Knights of Columbus. That was followed by a letter from Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines. There was another letter from Mexican president Felipe Calderon and a video message from President Lech Kaczynski of Poland.
The fact that the Holy Father himself and five heads of state would address the assembly, shows the great influence and the force for good that the Knights of Columbus are -- not just in our own country but in other parts of the world as well.
Carl Anderson presented some of the achievements of the Knights in recent years at the banquet. Anderson is an outstanding layman, a man of great intellectual and spiritual resources who is a wonderful leader of the Knights. He said that last year the Knights contributed $143 million in donations, $109 million of which came from state and local councils. The largest donors, the knights who gave the most per capita, were the knights from the providence of Quebec, Canada, which I thought was very interesting.
Not only have the Knights made great financial contributions to many Catholic causes and to many social causes, to help the poor and the handicapped, but they have also given almost 70 million volunteer hours. If one were to put a price tag on that, it would be worth over $1 billion a year. They have also in the last year organized almost 400,000 blood donations and 6 million visits to the sick.
The Knights are now at their highest membership ever with 1.7 million knights. In the last year alone 250 new councils have formed. The latest country they have gone to is Poland. They now have eight active councils in that country. There was a nice Polish representation at the convention. The Knights have also reached out to college campuses, and there are 128 college campuses that have councils. They are, of course, working with the squires and young men. In addition, they have 49 military councils and have provided almost a half million prayer books for the soldiers. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien says that it is one of the best tools of evangelization that he has experienced in his time as a chaplain of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
The Knights have certainly been so supportive of the Church, priests, vocations, family life, the Gospel of Life and the handicapped. They really have a remarkable record, and I am sure that listening to Carl Anderson’s report made everyone there feel very proud to be Catholic and to be associated with the Knights of Columbus.
Also in this week’s blog:
> Attending St. John’s family day