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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CNS) -- Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus, told his fellow Knights that their "highest calling" -- charity -- "demands our renewed focus."
"Where there's pain, let us heal. Where there's grief, let us comfort. Where there's need, let us meet it, in new and creative ways," he said Aug. 3.
The end of the pandemic "is an invitation to action" on "almost every front," Kelly said, calling on Knights to find creative solutions to adapt to the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the cultural challenges facing Catholics and the societal pressures on their values.
He made the remarks in his first annual report to the Knight of Columbus, delivered during the Knights' 139th annual convention Aug. 3-4. It was held virtually, with key events being broadcast from the Supreme Council's headquarters in New Haven and members from around the world participating online.
Kelly was elected to the Knights' top post by the organization's board of directors Feb. 5. He succeeded Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who held the post for over two decades and retired Feb. 28 upon reaching the organization's mandatory retirement age of 70.
On June 11, Kelly was formally installed in his position during a Mass celebrated at St. Mary's Church in New Haven by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the Knights' supreme chaplain.
In his annual report, Kelly committed his tenure to strengthening the faith of men and their families and serving others in the face of what he described as daunting health, economic and social challenges.
"Our growth depends on empowering men to be the husbands and fathers that God wants us to be," he said. "It is harder than ever, and for that reason, we must push forward as never before. It will require creative courage."
To put their faith into action effectively, Kelly said, the Knights must be "bold in faith," following the example of St. Joseph.
The day Kelly was installed as the supreme Knight, his first act was to consecrate his administration to St. Joseph, whom he called "guardian of the family" and "guardian of the truth" in his annual report.
Like Joseph, the Knights must be guardians of the family in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to the family, he said.
A documentary about the life of St. Joseph has been produced by the Knights of Columbus and it is scheduled to air on ABC affiliates starting Oct. 10.
The other man whose example Kelly said each Knight should follow is Blessed Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. Blessed McGivney also lived in a time of families in crisis facing a hostile culture and a church under attack, Kelly note, but he did not shrink from those challenges.
"In the mold of St. Joseph, (Blessed McGivney) stepped into the breach, with creative courage," Kelly said, adding the priest "listened to the Lord, fought for the family and the faith, and devoted himself to our Blessed Mother."
Blessed McGivney successfully rallied the men of his parish to lead lives of charity, unity and fraternity, which are the founding principles of the organization and, Kelly argued, are still the solutions to today's most serious problems of our time.
"By elevating our founder, the Lord has called us to greater depths of courage and faith, and greater heights of charity, unity and fraternity," he said. "In the (2020) beatification of Blessed Michael McGivney, the Lord has not only confirmed where the Knights have been in the past. He is showing us where we must go, in the future."
Kelly said the Knights are called to defend the truth incarnate of Jesus Christ in a time of bigotry and intolerance, in which "key truths -- about life, marriage, the nature of the family and the meaning of freedom -- are increasingly denied and even vilified."
In an overview of the Knights' legacy of defending life and working to build a culture of life over the years, Kelly said these efforts include playing a leading role in national and state marches for life since those events began and continuing support for legislation that protects the right to life of unborn children.
He also pointed to a growing ultrasound initiative that has placed over 1,400 of the machines in pregnancy resource centers, including one in South Korea that was dedicated in April.
"The fight for life has many fronts," Kelly said. "They all require our creative courage, and the coming year will be pivotal. I look forward to the day when together we march to victory!"
Kelly also noted the Knights' support for the National Eucharistic Revival initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which aims to "renew the church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist."
The three-year effort will promote added emphasis on the Eucharist at all levels of the church beginning next summer and will culminate in a large-scale national event in 2024.
"Working with our bishops and priests, we will strive to renew belief in the Eucharist and build up the church," Kelly said. "We are a force for unity, and we will prove it by pointing to the source of unity. As 'Knights of the Eucharist,' we proudly proclaim this truth."
Kelly thanked Anderson for his 20 years of faithful leadership, and said the retired leader was a prime example that “faith and courage compel us to be men of charity."
During Anderson's tenure, he said, the fraternal order grew dramatically "in every measurable way."
"Our charitable donations soared by more than 60%. Insurance in force nearly tripled. Membership rose by nearly 400,000 and surpassed 2 million," Kelly said, "And the order expanded internationally for the first time in a century, to Europe and mainland Asia."
Under the banner of the Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative in response to the pandemic, Knights' members donated nearly $7.7 million to community and parish projects, as well as 1.2 million pounds of food and almost a quarter million pints of blood. They supported nearly 300,000 struggling parishioners and brother Knights, with a special focus on Indigenous families across the continent.
In 2020, Kelly reported, the Knights donated more than $150 million and volunteered more than 47 million hours of service using "creative courage" to serve communities despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Other 2020 highlights of the Knights ongoing charitable activities include:
-- $3.2 million and nearly half a million volunteer hours donated for the Special Olympics.
-- $1.5 million for disaster relief programs.
-- Over 100,000 coats given to needy children throughout the U.S. and Canada; over the past 12 years, "Coats for Kids" now number 800,000-plus.
-- With the donations of wheelchairs in past year, the Knights' Global Wheelchair Mission has donated over 100,000 around the world over the past 18 years.
-- $4.4 million for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, with total Middle East relief efforts standing at more than $30 million, and new efforts focused on Nigeria.
"Let us summon the creative courage to fulfill the calling that our Lord has placed on our hearts. And let us take comfort in the knowledge that the work of our order is far from over," Kelly said in concluding his remarks. "The work of the Knights of Columbus is only beginning -- and we are the ones who will carry it forward."