NEW HAVEN, Conn. — One thinks of the big plumed hats and the swords. Or the K of C Hall where cousin Sue had her wedding reception. Or maybe the monuments to the unborn victims of abortion.
Get ready to see a new side of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization.
The public, especially the Catholic laity, may be seeing more of the Knights in the year ahead. Under the leadership of Carl Anderson, the new Supreme Knight, the organization is undertaking an ambitious program of evangelizing, promoting respect for human life and strengthening the family.
On March 25, for example, when the Church celebrates the Annunciation — the angel's announcement that Mary was pregnant, nine months before Christmas — Knights and their families will pray, fast and work to restore respect and protection to unborn children. Anderson introduced a resolution, passed at the Knights’ 119th annual Supreme Council Meeting in Toronto in August, to designate the feast of the Annunciation as an international Knights of Columbus Day for Pro-Life.
“An important aspect of this is that it sends a clear message that life begins at conception, not some indeterminate time in the future,” Anderson told the Register. He hopes the annual observance will take on a significance equal to Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in the public consciousness.
But with Jan. 22 in view, Anderson announced an essay contest for students in Catholic schools on “The Responsibility of the Catholic Citizen in a Free Society.” He hopes the contest will encourage study of the Church's social teachings, and help educate Catholics on the crucial difference between the “freedom of choice” that is invoked to justify killing of innocent human beings and the true liberty that does not infringe on the rights of others or the common good.
A New Attitude
The supreme knight has approached his new job with the vigor of a corporate executive who is never quite content with the progress his workers are making but always trying to maximize profits.
“He has a clear direction of what he wants,” said Jean Migneault, deputy supreme knight.
“He brings a youthful enthusiasm in a very quiet way,” said Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, the organization's supreme chaplain since 1987. “He's full of ideas…of how the Knights can have more of an impact on society and the Church.”
“I'm hesitant to say he has a new vision,” said Tim Hickey, editor of Columbia, the magazine of the Knights of Columbus. “He's building on the vision of his predecessors,” including Virgil Dechant, who was supreme knight for 23 years.
Nevertheless, Anderson has set out a “pretty ambitious program of prayer” and wants to put a “public face” on the organization, Hickey said.
With Anderson at the helm, the Knights have enjoyed a high profile. The 50-year-old Torrington, Conn., native was the only layman from the United States participating in the October World Synod of Bishops. He addressed the bishops gathered at the Vatican with the Pope on the need for greater collaboration of families with the Church in the new evangelization. Just a year before, he spoke at the Third World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families at the Vatican.
The Holy See Mission to the United Nations recognized the Knights recently for being “consistently devoted to supporting the Holy Father and the Holy See on countless initiatives for spreading the Gospel of Christ throughout the world, particularly in their uncompromising defense of the sanctity of human life and the family.”
Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Vatican's permanent observer at the U.N. and director of the Path to Peace Foundation, presented the Champion of Peace Award to the Knights in a ceremony at Carnegie Hall Nov. 26.
The Knights of Columbus has financially supported the Holy See Mission and the, donating $2 million to the purchase of a Manhattan building where the mission and its Path to Peace Foundation are housed. The organization also supports the Catholic Organizations Information Center at the United Nations.
Accepting the award, Anderson told the gathering that the Knights would be praying the rosary for peace and justice throughout the world on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He added that the Knights are committed to transmit their country to the next generation “not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it has been transmitted to us.”
Appreciating Anderson's emphasis on the spiritual was Dan Marengo, grand knight of the Agnus Dei Council in Manhattan. “It's a good sign. I sense he's reaching out to us more traditional knights,” said Marengo, a 46-year-old software quality assurance expert. “His initiative for praying the rosary on Dec. 12 is refreshing.”
Indeed, although Anderson has laid a heavy emphasis on increasing membership, he sees that as a way to reach more spiritually oriented goals. Recognizing the crisis of faith in the Real Presence, Anderson said his administration would bring the Knights’ resources to promote devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
He encouraged increased prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and increased promotion of corporate Communions, where members of a local council attend Mass and receive the sacrament together to promote unity and devotion to the Eucharist.
Anderson is encouraging Knights to attend the Knights’ first International Eucharistic Congress in June. And he is also encouraging those who cannot get to the event, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to take part from a distance by sponsoring corporate Communions in their parishes.
He also wants the organization to boost its membership with younger Knights, and he wants the order to have a significant presence at World Youth Day in Toronto next August.
John Margand, a member of the Agnus Dei Council in Manhattan, said the Knights need to combat the aging of the organization.
“The focus on the social aspect is good, but some councils tend to lose some of their militancy,” he said. Margand, executive director of Project Reach, which supports crisis pregnancy centers, defined that militancy as confronting the culture of death, being outspoken in fighting abortion and defending and advancing the faith.
“Knights are in a position to do that by their example and by catechesis,” he said.
The Knights’ more than has 1.63 million members make them a significant force in the Church. Anderson has also called for more vigorous outreach to Catholics of Hispanic, Asian and African heritage in the United States. “We have nothing less than a moral obligation to realistically offer every eligible Catholic man the opportunity and the privilege of membership,” he said.
As new members come in, Anderson said, “we must continue to institute new councils at an even faster rate …[There is] much to be done to realize Father McGivney's dream of a council in every parish.”