At Tuesday’s opening session of the Knights of Columbus' annual convention, the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, presented his 2009 report on the organization, summarizing its service to the Church.
Anderson began by recalled that the Knights have a history of standing behind the authority of the Church. “Indeed, our very identity as the world’s largest lay Catholic organization is built upon our determination to stand with Peter and his successors, and our zeal for serving as their ‘strong right arm’.”
He explained that serving in solidarity with priests and bishops is “an integral part” of their “loyalty to Peter” and then went on to highlight the many ways the Knights have served the Church.
Anderson began with vocations. He noted that in the past year, “4,758 men and 148 women received financial support through the Knight’s RSVP vocations program.” According to the Knight’s website, seminarians or postulants are “adopted” through the Refund Support Vocations Program (RSVP), which provides “them with financial assistance and moral support.”
Since RSVP began in 1981, said Anderson, “Knights of Columbus councils have used it to provide more than $44 million to over 70,000 seminarians, postulants and novices.”
However, he was careful to emphasize, the Knights don’t just offer financial support, but they “extend moral support and personal friendship, and encourage vocations within our own homes.”
“Many priests and women religious have come from Knights’ families down through the years, and we make clear to our own children that we welcome and encourage them to consider carefully whether they might have a vocation, too.”
Anderson also spoke about the Knight’s commitment to charity. “Despite the severe recession of the past year, the dedication of the Knights of Columbus to charity shone brighter than ever,” he said.
“While total charitable giving in the United States fell by 2% last year, our total charitable contributions went up by 3.5%.”
Additionally, the Knights “donated 68,783,653 hours of volunteer service, a jump of almost 88,000 hours over last year, and a new record.” Anderson explained that these hours were completed with other charities including Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics, as well as part of the Knights sponsorship of programs such as the American Wheelchair Mission, and Coats for Kids.
The membership rolls of the Knights also grew for the 38th straight year. “A net gain of 22,211 members brought our membership to a new all-time record high of 1,785,393.”
Anderson, however, didn’t get too excited about the numbers. “While there is plenty of good news to celebrate on the membership front, we must not lose site of the huge unrealized potential in the countries where we are active. In the United States, for example, we have more than 1,287,000 members, but there are as many as 30 million eligible Catholic men who are not yet Knights.” The story is similar for Canada who has 231,000 members while 5 million Catholic men are eligible.
Anderson then turned to the Knights’ political activities. In the past year, he explained, the Order worked to pass state amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Additionally, they worked with bishops to oppose an assisted suicide measure as well as one that supported embryonic stem cell research.
The Knights have also spent time educating the faithful about the dignity and value of human life.
Pointing to recent surveys that suggest more Americans describe themselves as pro-life than pro-choice, Anderson encouraged the Knights saying, “In short, our long-term strategy of working to change hearts and minds on abortion is working.”
Hoping to increase the number of pro-lifers in North America, Anderson noted the new Culture of Life Fund “will allow us to weigh in whenever opportunities present themselves, and this will be a tremendous advantage.”
The fund has already helped the Knights provide resources to: Sisters of Life, Birthright International, Project Rachel, the National Life Center and the National Catholic Bioethics Center as well as projects closely associated with the bishops of the United States and Canada.
Anderson brought his presentation to a close saying reflecting on a meeting that the K of C Board of Directors had with Pope Benedict. The Holy Father urged them to “defend the moral truths necessary for a free and humane society, including the fundamental right to life of every human being.”
“This is why we stand for the right to life. This is why we stand for ethical business practices. This is why we stand for helping the intellectually disabled. This is why we stand for helping our neighbor in need,” he concluded.