April 08, 2020

A loving big brother during coronavirus

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
Members of the Knights of Columbus help to deliver supplies in Ciudad Juarez. Credit: Knights of Columbus.
Members of the Knights of Columbus help to deliver supplies in Ciudad Juarez. Credit: Knights of Columbus.

My youngest son Patrick turns four this week. He is a delight to watch at this age, particularly when one of his older brothers carries him around the house. Facing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve longed for the joy and confidence that Patrick exudes when he’s in their strong arms. The other day, I was reminded of a group that Saint John Paul II once called the “Strong Right Arm” of the Catholic Church – The Knights of Columbus.

The two-million-member Catholic fraternal organization is flexing that “strong right arm” in the response to the COVID-19. The order’s new “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative is helping local members address the pandemic’s unique challenges in tangible and intangible ways. “[O]ur duty is to lead our families, protect our parishes, and serve our communities, remembering always that where there’s a need, there’s a Knight.”

In addition to encouraging members to donate to, and volunteer at, local food banks, the Knights of Columbus are also encouraging members to donate blood. The latter is a longstanding tradition of the order. In fact, the Knights of Columbus pioneered nationwide blood drives in the United States in the 1930s. But the “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative doesn’t end there, because the Knights understand that the challenges will remain long after the medical crisis abates.

Whether it’s a matter of weeks or months, the stay-at-home orders will eventually be lifted and school, work, social and worship routines will resume. But the economic toll of the public closure of parishes will likely be felt long after parish churches reopen for Sunday mass. Fortunately, the Knights are offering financial support to struggling Catholic dioceses across the United States. The order just announced it has available $100 million in low-interest financing to help dioceses weather the economic impact of COVID-19 crisis. The Knight’s financial assistance program isn’t new; the order has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century through its ChurchLoan program. The magnitude of the available assistance is. This financial safety net will allow Catholic parishes to continue to serve bodies and souls during and in the aftermath of this epidemic.

In fact, none of this is new for the Knights of Columbus. They’ve been responding to crises, individual and societal, since their founding in the late 1800s. Started by an Irish-American Catholic priest (Father Michael J. McGivney) and named in honor of the great Italian explorer (Christopher Columbus), the Knights began as an organization to care for widows and orphans from St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, Connecticut. Today the Order is organized into more than 15,000 local councils based in cities and towns across the country and abroad. Dedicated to the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, the Knights participate in educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.

The Knights have a long history of community outreach through innovative charitable programs. “During times of need from the 19th century to the present, the Knights of Columbus has been there in communities around the country to support one another, the Church and the evolving needs of their communities,” says Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “From world wars, to influenza pandemics more than a century ago, to hurricanes and earthquakes, the Knights of Columbus has helped make the difference for many individuals and communities, and we will do so again during the present situation.”

Today’s Knights of Columbus constitute a vast volunteer network of members ready and willing to ensure that essential needs are met in communities from coast to coast. Members are assisting one another, especially the elderly and those living alone. At a time when many churches are closed, the Knights are reaching out to their fellow parishioners and pastors to identify and meet local needs as they arise.

Finally, the Knights of Columbus as an organization has kept its focus on the importance of placing our trust in God. It is providing spiritual resources to its members and urging them to offer prayers composed by Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during this time.

Once again, in a time of crisis, the Knights of Columbus has risen to the occasion to serve both neighbor and Church with the strong arms of a loving big brother.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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