PROSPECT HEIGHTS — In its 2022 annual report, the Knights of Columbus reinforced the importance of maintaining the “missionary zeal of our forefathers.” This can be done, in part, through their initiative to engage more Hispanic Catholics, a boots-on-the-ground effort that has been implemented throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn.
More than 60% of the national members of the Knights of Columbus are white, according to an internal survey done by the organization in 2020. Leadership is hoping that through focusing on the Hispanic Catholic population — which is over 40% of the overall Catholic population — they can increase the 13% of members who identify as Latino.
“The Knights of Columbus have been trying for many years to attract Hispanics and other groups as well,” said James Funaro, the state administrative chairman of recruiting for the Knights of Columbus. In New York, they have had “fair” success, but are looking to continue their recruitment initiatives to both diversify their current membership and to serve a different demographic.
Funaro is on Msgr. Sherman Council #5103 based in Glendale, a neighborhood where approximately 37% of the population is Hispanic, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. This number is continuing to grow, Funaro described, and the local churches have responded. St. Pancras Parish in Glendale recently began celebrating a Spanish-language Mass on Sunday, Funaro noted. His council will begin recruiting there in October.
Msgr. Sherman Council #5103 has approximately 300 members, with 40 regularly attending their meetings. Of their membership, approximately 15% are Latino.
About two years ago, Funaro was part of the process to begin a council out of St. Bartholomew in Elmhurst, and though it was well-received, it never got off the ground. He is considering revisiting the proposal, because of the large Hispanic population in the parish.
There are some councils that are Spanish-speaking only. The new multicultural coordinator for New York state, Bill Jimenez, would like to try and avoid such rifts.
“I’m a believer that inclusion is better than separation. If we can mingle and be together, it is better,” he said.
Jimenez, a native of Colombia, was a grand knight for his home parish in Babylon, New York, and also serves as the district deputy for Suffolk County’s Fifth District. He assumed the role of multicultural coordinator on July 1.
Jimenez is encouraging the different multicultural councils throughout New York state to be proactive in recruitment.
“We got to go where they are. We cannot wait for them to come to us,” he said. He suggested that the councils have a membership drive during the month of October, hopefully during Columbus Day weekend in honor of their namesake.
“We will do whatever we need to do as the Knights of Columbus to increase the membership, and to show the communities that we are here, we are here for you,” he said.
Jack Byrnes, grand knight of Council #430 Dr. Dooley/Fr. McGivney in Bayside, describes the youth recruitment involvement as an “uphill climb.” People are more excited to go to a Giants game, he said, than a novena.
In the past, recruitment came from a message during a service; now you have to “meet people where they are.”
Byrnes, who joined the Knights of Columbus at age 19, has been encouraging his current members to engage the youth population in conversations about faith whenever possible, such as at the bar or a ball game. In his mind, the Knights of Columbus is meant to encourage people to step outside their self-interests and to engage in something they otherwise would not do for a stranger.
Leadership of the Knights of Columbus are not the only people who recognize the value of the Hispanic population to the viability of the Catholic Church. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry on June 16. This plan calls for the Church to build upon the parish communities with a vibrant Hispanic community and to be more welcoming.
“We try to reinspire or reignite that relationship that we all called to build with God. If the Knights of Columbus can facilitate that, then by all means that’s what it should be,” Byrnes said.