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Convention Summons Knights of Columbus to Discipleship, Transformation of World

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks from the dais at the annual States Dinner Aug. 1, 2023, during the 141st Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Orlando, Fla. (Photo: OSV News/Tamino Petelinšek, Knights of Columbus)

By Peter Jesserer Smith

ORLANDO, Fla. (OSV News) — Nearly 2,300 members of the Knights of Columbus, spouses and family members gathered together from all parts of the globe Aug. 1-3 in Orlando under the theme “First in faith and charity.”

But the unmistakable, uplifting message of the 141st Supreme Convention from start to finish was the power of each Knight — all 2 million in the order — to transform the church and the world around them by deepening their faith as disciples of Jesus Christ and living out a charity that evangelizes.

“We too can do great things, if we allow the Lord into our lives,” Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando preached in his homily at the opening Mass he celebrated for the Knights’ convention held at the Orlando World Center Marriott. Among the Knights in attendance were Roman and Eastern Catholics from seven countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea and the U.S. territory of Guam — 50 archbishops and bishops, three cardinals, the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, and several hundred priests and deacons.

Calling on Knights to let Christ renew them through the Eucharist, and availing themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, Bishop Noonan said, “Be above all Christ-filled, so that we too can bring Christ to others.”

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, addressing the Knights Aug. 1, shared the scope of the Knights’ work that year — $185 million given to charity, 49 million volunteer hours and $121 billion of life insurance in force — pointing to their pro-life advocacy and aid to mothers and children, support for those with disabilities, solidarity with North America’s Indigenous Catholics, strengthening the Middle East’s Christians, providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, fighting human trafficking and caring for widows and orphans to name a few.

But the theme Kelly and the convention’s programming would return to again and again was how everything the Knights’ do — and the change they can accomplish — starts when Catholic men take the call to discipleship seriously, putting it into action where they are, and letting Jesus Christ grow small endeavors.

Kelly reminded Knights that Blessed Michael McGivney started their international order with a handful of Catholic men meeting in a parish basement.

“He gave us one mission — to follow Christ. And he called us to fulfill it through faith and charity,” he said, adding, “Father McGivney and the first Knights proved that faith and charity grow together.”

Underscoring that conviction was the Knights’ honoring of Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, the founding superior of the Sisters of Life, with its Gaudium et Spes award for outstanding contributions to the church and society at the Aug. 1 States Dinner.

Knights of Columbus from Mexico wave their national flags at the States Dinner Aug. 1, 2023, during the fraternal order’s 141st Supreme Convention in Orlando, Fla. (OSV News photo/Tamino Petelinšek, Knights of Columbus)

Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore pointed out during the award presentation that the Sisters of Life — today one of the defining Catholic features of the pro-life movement — began with eight people in 1991: Mother Agnes and seven other women responding to the call from Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York for a religious explicitly dedicated to the pro-life apostolate.

Archbishop Lori also pointed out that Mother Agnes’ life of discipleship also began in a devout Catholic family “with parents who made the reality of God apparent in their daily lives.”

The supreme convention emphasized the new resources the Knights of Columbus had developed, piloted, and were now rolling out to help form Catholic men and their families: the “Cor” (“Heart” in Latin) small-group formation program, a new Bible study called “Men of the Word,” and a new “Into the Breach” video series on marriage and family life.

Kelly told OSV News that he wants to encourage Knights to recognize their identity as disciples of Jesus at the heart of what it means to be a Knight.

“As Knights, our charity is grounded in our faith,” he said. “It’s grounded in the vision of Blessed Michael McGivney to serve the widow and the orphan and to serve those who are vulnerable. And so that relationship with Jesus Christ is the thing that will change everything.”

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski told OSV News that the supreme convention was “a shot in the arm” for him — particularly in seeing “a lot of younger members,” including whole families, in attendance as well.

Archbishop Wenski praised the Knights’ emphasis on faith formation, so their enthusiasm and work for the church has “a solid basis in the faith.”

“This is an important thing, because even as Pope Francis says, the church is not an NGO,” he said. “And so we have to understand that what we do has its beginning in faith.”

During his Aug. 1 annual report, Kelly acknowledged the “many and serious” challenges the Knights and the church face today — particularly in the ongoing political and cultural battles in the public square over the dignity of human life, marriage and family — but he also portrayed confidence and hope.

Kelly showed a church on the advance, transforming society, when Knights live out their faith: from Knights providing food and blankets to their homeless neighbors in Puebla, Mexico, to Knights of Columbus insurance agent Bob Gordon, who helped a widow figure out not only how to process her late husband’s life insurance policy with the Knights — but four other policies held with other providers.

He also singled out the Knights from Poland and Ukraine for being a “sterling example of ‘first in faith and charity'” for literally saving lives — even at the risk of their own — by providing humanitarian aid with “mercy centers” and “charity convoys” in Ukraine’s warzone.

Kelly also thanked the film “Sound of Freedom” for raising awareness about the scourge of human trafficking, and shared how the Knights were doing what they were founded to do — protecting vulnerable women and children — in this case by working alongside partners serving those in the Philippines and those displaced by Russia’s war on Ukraine to end “a pervasive evil that lurks just beneath the surface.”

Father Roger Landry, a Knight of Columbus and chaplain at Columbia University told OSV News, that after hearing Kelly’s report, with its connection between faith formation and charitable action, “I’ve never been prouder as a Knight.”

“Especially his emphasis on how Knights protect women and children in need,” said Father Landry, who used to work for the Vatican’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations and was personally grateful for Kelly committing the Knights to that fight.

Among the items on the Knights’ agenda for the convention was the importance of extending their outreach to Latino Catholic men. Among the key messages was that simply translating materials into Spanish was not enough — not for the Knights and not for the church. They needed to personally invite Latino men into the order, which — just as in Blessed McGivney’s day — can help them grow in faith, provide security for their families and become better husbands and fathers in fellowship with other Catholic men.

During the convention, the Knights received a note of support from Pope Francis through the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, praising the Knights for their “apostolic mission of bearing witness to the Gospel of God’s closeness, mercy, and tender love for his people.”

Referencing the church’s own “synodal journey,” Cardinal Parolin’s letter stated, “In this regard, His Holiness is pleased that your Order has emphasized the shared responsibility that exists between clergy and laity in advancing the mission of the Church.” The pope encouraged the Knights to be a “leaven within society” that renews the social fabric and helps people “encounter the love of Christ that has the power to transform hearts and lives.”

The Knights’ three-day convention encouraged Knights in practical ways to become that leaven through the Eucharist — or what Kelly called “Knights of the Eucharist.” Each day had Mass, opportunities for confession, and dedicated space and time for the convention’s attendees to spend quiet time before Jesus in Eucharistic adoration.

As the Knights concluded their convention Aug. 3 — the day of commissioning and sending forth the Knights back to their parishes and dioceses — they concluded their memorial Mass with a Eucharistic procession with Archbishop Lori holding the Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance and blessing the assembly. The actions recognized what Pope Francis emphasized during World Youth Day at Jerónimos Monastery Aug. 2: “Only in adoration, only before the Lord can the taste and passion for evangelization be recovered.”

Antonia Aristizabal, who traveled from Ontario, Canada, to the supreme convention with her husband, Daniel Torchia, told OSV News that the themes of unity and faith made a big impression on her.

“We have to always start with really understanding our faith and knowing our faith,” she said.

“Really understanding the Gospel, our Lord’s Word, that’s where it starts,” she said. “And then bringing that to our families, right? Because we have to teach our families, and if we don’t understand it, we can’t teach others.”

Torchia agreed and told OSV News he is leaving the conference energized.

“I want to go back as a better spouse, a better husband,” he said. “But then after that, volunteering and spending more time in our parish, in our neighborhoods, sharing the good news and sharing the joy that is in us with others.”

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