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Knights of Columbus- Remarks of the Supreme Chaplain to the 134th Supreme Convention

Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention

I. Thanks to Fellow Chaplains and to Fr. Kalisch

A. Once again it my honor to address this Supreme Convention and to thank you for the privilege of serving as your Supreme Chaplain. During these days we have expressed our thanks to our State Chaplains and Associate State Chaplains who have joined us. Many are still with us because the chaplains’ meeting will take place this afternoon, so, if you don’t mind, please join me once again in thanking our chaplains for their generous service to our Order!

B. At the same time, I would be grateful if you’d express the gratitude we all share for the wonderful work of the Director of Chaplains’ Services, Dominican Father Jonathan Kalisch! I was very fortunate to take part in World Youth Day last week and to see firsthand the excellent work of Father Kalisch and Syzmon Czyask in preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of young people to the Mercy Center located in a large and beautiful Tauron arena in Krakow. They and their team, which consisted of many brother Knights in Poland, our college knights, the Sisters of Life, Sisters of Mercy, seminarians, and many other wonderful volunteers – I tell you they “baptized” that huge arena and transformed it into a huge parish. They filled it with young people, over 100 K, and with the joy of the Gospel.

C. Many young people stopped me on the street to say thanks for the Mercy Centre. Many bishops, priests, and youth leaders told me how much it meant to have a spiritual “home away from home” for their young people. Countless confessions were heard, at all hours of the day young people were in the adoration chapel in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and the lines were long to venerate the relics of the Polish saints – Pope St. John Paul II; St. Brother Albert; Bl. Jerzy Popielosko; St. Faustina; and St. Maximillian Kolbe. Seeing all this, I saw the apostolic roots of our Order on display! Talk about being a light to the nations! That’s what the Order was at WYD! Surely this is what Fr. McGivney intended his beloved Knights to do – so to Father Kalisch and his team, our warmest congratulations and thanks!

II. Religious Freedom

A. During World Youth Day I was asked to be a part of three events all of which had to do with the defense of religious freedom – because, as the Geico commercial says, “That’s what I do!”

B. The first was offering Mass at Nowa Huta, a town built for workers by the communist regime in Poland after WW II. That regime intentionally built it without a church – for years it was the only town in Poland without a church. Apartments were built in such a way as to limit the contact of neighbors and work schedules were staggered in such a way as to disrupt family life. As a young auxiliary bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, became involved in the struggle against this project that amounted to an assault on religious freedom and on the family, and he continued this struggle throughout his time as Archbishop of Krakow. Card. Wojtyla would offer mid-night Mass at Christmas in a nearby open field, a Mass that was attended by thousands of people. Finally after years of struggle and even bloodshed, permission was given for a church to be built in Nowa Huta – and Cardinal Wojtyla dedicated it only a year before he became our Pope. Offering Mass in that Church, I could sense his sheer courage and determination even as my mind and heart reflected on his profound teaching on human dignity, human life, the family, and freedom. After Mass I had dinner with the College Knights who attended the Mass; many of them discussed with me the challenges to religious freedom we face and expressed their dedication to the cause of freedom in our times.

C. The next evening I was asked to join Kathryn Jean Lopez in doing a theology on tap in a bar on market square in the heart of Krakow. We didn’t know if anyone would show up but we figured if no one came we’d enjoy a few adult beverages. It turned out that the place was packed with young people – many college knights but a lot of other young people as well. We spoke informally about religious freedom – about the genocide in the Middle East & the erosion of religious freedom in the West. The young people present for that session not only paid attention, they were engaged and asked many thoughtful questions after Kathryn and I finished our remarks.

D. The next day, at the arena, I was privileged to be on a panel at the Mercy Centre that included Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq and several others. The Centre was full of young people, nearly 20,000 of them. Archbishop Warda spoke to us firsthand about the genocide which so many Christians in the Middle East are undergoing. As he described systematic efforts to eliminate from the face of the earth the oldest of all the Christian communities, the young people rose to their feet in support of Christians in the Middle East. I was proud to say that thanks in large measure to the leadership of our Worthy Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, the U.S. Department of State finally declared what is happening in Iran, Iraq, Syria and other places to be genocide. Building further on Archbishop Warda’s comments, I urged our young people to treasure the God-given gift of religious liberty – to thank God for it, to ask for help in protecting it, and to become involved in defending religious freedom in the U.S. and other countries where, as Pope Francis says, a “polite persecution” is underway. These young people gave all of us on the panel standing ovations, they cheered, and all through the week young people sought us out to thank us.

E. Why do I bring up these three World Youth Day events among the many other wonderful things that took place? For this reason: many will tell us that young people don’t care about religious freedom, that they see it as a partisan issue, that they don’t trust big institutions, either the church or the government, and that the efforts of the church and many people of good will to defend and foster religious freedom is doomed to failure. I don’t think so. I think young people are more plugged in than we think. I think they’re more concerned about the future than we may think. And I don’t think we they want to face a future without our fundamental freedoms. Maybe they are uncomfortable if they think the Church is involved in partisan politics but they are very capable of understanding that the defense of freedom is not a mere liberal or a conservation concern – it is a human concern. Yet, so often, political leaders get away with describing religious freedom as “a license to discriminate” – and why? – because we allow them to get away with it… because faithful individuals and religious organizations defend marriage as between a man and woman are on the defensive.

Good people can be timid and unwilling to face the backlash. Unwittingly they contribute to the ‘spiral of silence’.

F. We, the Knights of Columbus, need to play offense not defense! In the United States, it’s an election year and in this election the sanctity of unborn life, the protection of the frail elderly, religious freedom, and the family hang in the balance. Conscientious citizens should be challenging all candidates on matters such as the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the HHS mandate, on the mandate to do abortions that California Catholic hospitals are facing, on threats to the accreditation of Catholic colleges deemed “too Catholic” and many other religious freedom issues besides. As you have heard, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. has put together an exhibit on religious freedom that features the relics of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two great witnesses to freedom, to remind us that we, in our turn, must also be witnesses to freedom. I hope, brothers, that OUR voices of faith and reason will be heard loud and strong!

III. Domestic Church

A. I also want to join in encouraging you, again this year, to promote the Order’s “Building the Domestic Church While Strengthening Our Parishes” program. I think we are all very concerned about the state of the family in many of the countries and jurisdictions that we represent. Even if we weren’t facing the wholesale redefinition of marriage by courts and legislatures, we would have reason to be concerned about the state of family life today. Our families are being pulled apart in so many ways. So many no longer pray together, eat together, enjoy one another’s company. The substitute for a culture of healthy family life is a culture of loneliness. And that is how more and more people are living today – alone.

B. In their loneliness, people of all ages are turning to drugs. In many places in the United States, a drug epidemic is underway. It’s not just in the inner-cities but also in suburbia and in small towns and rural communities. And we might be tempted to think that drug use, especially heroine, is merely something that kids try as a passing fad. What’s really happening, in lonely homes that are all but broken, is that parents are using drugs as well as their young people. When men become serious about their faith, sooner or later the subject of on-line pornography comes up – that too has reached epidemic proportions and it’s affecting young people and its beginning to affect both men and women. Again, it’s the culture of loneliness that would make someone prefer an image on a computer screen to the real-life friendship of spouse and family. Young people are looking for something other than a culture of loneliness. They hesitate to get married, often, because their lives at home have been unhappy. And many men and women, fellow Catholics, are looking for a way out of this mess. It seems to me urgent that we get behind the Building the Domestic Church program in such a way that it becomes a permanent part of what we do, combined with a robust emphasis on men’s spirituality – based on the excellent pastoral letter of Bishop Thomas Olmstead, “Into the Breech”. In his document following the synods on the family, “The Joy of Love”, Pope Francis speaks beautifully about the vocation of marriage and family but he’s also realistic in describing the problems, the headwinds, the family is facing. I think we have to be realistic too and recognize, with gratitude to God, that we, the Knights of Columbus, are in a position to address and overcome these headwinds!

IV. Conclusion

A. As I continue serving as Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, I continue to be amazed at the breadth and depth of its charity, at the timeliness and effectiveness of its programs, at the accuracy and drive of its advocacy. So much of this is due to the faith, vision, and tenacity of our Worthy Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson – and we thank you, Worthy Supreme Knight for your leadership!

B. As we look to the conclusion of this convention and think about heading for home, my prayer is that the light of Christ will shine brightly through each one of you and through our beloved Order, the Knights of Columbus. May we indeed be a light to the nations, to the glory of God, the strength of the Church, the good of the Order, and the salvation of souls – thanks for listening – Vivat Jesus!