Facing a ‘Defining Moment,’ Knights of Columbus is Committed to Helping Ukraine, Supreme Knight Vows

Kelly explained the two major components of the initiative that the Knights of Columbus have launched so far to assist during this war, serving both refugees fleeing to Poland, and those Ukrainians left behind.

People shelter underground in Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine.
People shelter underground in Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine. (photo: Couresy photo / Private archive)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Much like 9/11 was a defining moment for the United States, “the brutal invasion of Ukraine will be a defining moment for the world,” and “the Knights of Columbus will have to be here for the long haul,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly told CNA in an exclusive interview.

Since Russian forces launched a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, members of the Knights of Columbus in Ukraine, Poland, and the United States have launched an unprecedented humanitarian effort to help the growing number of refugees displaced by the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.

“Many Europeans were not ready to believe that a land war could happen again in Europe, so the Russian attack has not only been shocking, but a game-changer that will have long-lasting consequences for Europe and for the world,” Kelly told CNA on March 4.  

Kelly has conferred with the Knights of Columbus’ state deputy for Ukraine, Yuriy Malecki, to assess the situation. The Knights of Columbus started in Ukraine in 2012 and now has 40 councils there totaling some 2,000 members.

“I can say that I have met those members, and that they are very solid Catholics, very enthusiastic in how they stand for charity, unity and fraternity — the true Knights’ spirit,” Kelly explained.

Kelly sent a video message to all Ukrainian Knights “telling them that I was praying for them, that I was asking God for assistance, and recalling for them that several  proud moments in the history of the Knights of Columbus have come in the midst of tremendous challenge, such as the response of the Knights during the First and Second World Wars,” he told CNA.

“And that’s what the Knights in Ukraine are doing by their incredible witness of solidarity,” he added.

Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, delivers his first Supreme Knight's Report during the organization's 139th Annual Convention, Aug. 3, 2021. Credit: Knights of Columbus/screenshot.

Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, delivers his first Supreme Knight‘s Report during the organization’s 139th Annual Convention, Aug. 3, 2021. Credit: Knights of Columbus/screenshot.

Kelly explained to CNA the two major components of the initiative that the Knights have launched so far to assist during this war, serving both refugees fleeing to Poland, and those Ukrainians left behind. 

A truck shuttle going from the eastern part of Poland into Western Ukraine, is being manned by Knight of Columbus volunteers, and provides a direct means for making sure that food, medical supplies, and adequate clothing are reaching Lviv, Ukraine’s western-most major city, and then distributed by the local Ukrainian Knights.

“It has been amazing to see these brave Polish Knights, completing one successful trip this week and planning a second one immediately,” Kelly said.said.

The second project, he explained, is that “we have started a Knights of Columbus Mercy Center on the Polish side of the border with Ukraine, where refugees can get respite, food, water, shelter, communication support, and where they can stay until Polish friends or family can meet them and bring them to a final destination.”

Kelly also expressed surprise and joy at the amount of support the Ukraine Solidarity Fund received from the Knights of Columbus in such a short time.  

“The call has had an enormous success, like something that we have never seen. We have raised $2 million from our members, and our headquarters is putting another $1.5 million, so $3.5 million dollars are going 100% directly to humanitarian assistance,” he said.

The Supreme Knight explained that the fundraising campaign will continue, “because we are going to work very closely with the Greek Catholic Archdiocese in Ukraine and His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and we are also working with the Latin Archdiocese in Lviv, with Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, to make sure that the humanitarian help goes to where it needs to go.”

Kelly explained that the Knights are going to continue with the campaign to assist refugees, given the possibility of an extended ground war, coupled with the need eventually to rebuild.  “Right now there are currently 1.2 million refugees and experts are expecting that number to quadruple,” Kelly said.

“We have gone out to all of our members encouraging them to continue to pray, fast, and give alms, so as to respond to Pope Francis’ request,”  he said.

Kelly anticipates that his team will reach out personally to each council during Lent and that most will be able to respond in a communal way to help Ukraine. “Many people feel very helpless when they see this war machine rolling into Ukraine, but praying, fasting and providing funds for the humanitarian situation is a very real, very concrete way to help,” he said.

“Blessed Father Michael McGivney founded our fraternal organization to help the vulnerable. At that time they were widows and orphans, but the vulnerable may change, and in this situation the vulnerable are the Ukrainian families, women and children, and we as Knights are responding accordingly.”

Regarding the worldwide shift that the Russian invasion will bring, the Supreme Knight explained that “we will still have to see how things develop, but some of the first lessons are that we can’t take democracy or free elections for granted; and specifically from the perspective of the Knights of Columbus, we are being confirmed in the need for solidarity and unity and the way in which that universal entity, that is the Church, can bring it to the world.”

Kelly was asked his thoughts on his first year as Supreme Knight being marked by such an unexpected crisis.

“When you are in a leadership role, you never know the situation you will be dealing with. You have to trust in God because we could never anticipate that Russia would be going into Ukraine,” he said.

“So from a spiritual perspective, it is all trusting in the Lord. For me personally, God has been so good to me in the last year in terms of assistance. I start every day on my knees and that’s what sustains me, because our faith is in Jesus Christ and all we do is work to do His will,” he said.

“We cannot plan everything, the Lord has His ways and all we can do is respond.” 

Kelly concluded the interview with CNA by recounting a recent personal experience of entrusting all to the Lord.

“I was recently at the Vatican and I had the opportunity to go to Mass in the chapel of Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, the co-patrons of Europe, in the Vatican grotto. The Knights helped to restore that chapel and we went there specifically to pray for Europe and to pray for the end of the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. But within days we saw the invasion,” he said. 

“So, in this defining moment of history, we are here for the long haul. It will take a long time for the world to digest this and see how to respond,” Kelly said. “Meanwhile, the Knights will not relent in our humanitarian response to this aggression.”