What a missionary to North Korea told the Knights of Columbus convention

Maryknoll Father Gerard Hammond speaks at the 2017 Knights of Columbus Convention after receiving the organizations highest honor the Gaudium et Spes Award Courtesy of the Knights of Columbu Maryknoll Fr. Gerard Hammond speaks at the 2017 Knights of Columbus Convention after receiving the Gaudium et Spes Award. Photo courtesy of the Knights of Columbus.

Service to the poor on the peripheries of society was a theme of the 2017 Knights of Columbus States Dinner held Tuesday evening in St. Louis.

"I stand before you in deep gratitude for your love and concern for hearing the cry of the poor," Fr. Gerard Hammond, M.M. told those in attendance at the States Dinner at the annual Knights of Columbus international convention Aug. 1.

"May we always embrace those who need our mercy and compassion."

Fr. Hammond, a Maryknoll missionary to North Korea, received the Gaudium et Spes Award from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at the dinner.

The award, named after Vatican II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, is the highest honor bestowed by the Knights of Columbus and is given to persons "for their exemplary contributions to the realization of the message of faith and service in the spirit of Christ."

St. Theresa of Calcutta was the first person to receive the award in 1992. On the award medal is an image of Venerable Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, comforting a widow and an orphan.

The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide Catholic men's organization founded in 1882 by Fr. McGivney "to strengthen the faith of Catholic men" and to "protect their families," in the words of Supreme Knight and CEO Carl Anderson. Since its founding it has grown into an international organization with over 1.9 million members.

This week, around 2,000 Knights from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe meet in St. Louis for the 135th international convention. The theme of this year's convention is "Convinced of God's Love and Power."

Fr. Hammond received his award for his missionary work in North Korea. He has made 50 trips into the country since 1995 to treat patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Although he is not allowed by the North Korean government to proselytize, he still tries carry out his priestly mission through serving the sick as an "apostle of peace" and to bring "hope for the voiceless."

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, introducing Fr. Hammond at the dinner, said that in the spirit of Gaudium et Spes, Fr. Hammond "has taken upon himself the 'griefs and anxieties' of those who are 'poor and afflicted,' as he seeks to share with them, through compassionate action, the 'joys and hopes' of faith in Jesus Christ."

Fr. Hammond has "exemplified the call of Pope Francis to go to the peripheries," Archbishop Lori said.

"God's heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself 'became poor'," the archbishop said. "The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor."

Later on Tuesday evening, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow and former personal secretary to Pope St. John Paul II, praised the Knights for spreading the messages of mercy and the Gospel all over the world.

"The Knights of Columbus embraced the message of Divine Mercy proclaimed by the Pope from Kraków, and they proclaim this message in a world affected by various forms of injustice and violence," he said in his remarks at the dinner.

Pope Francis has taught us to see to see "the other," our neighbor," as a "gift," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said on Tuesday at the dinner.   

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he said that the two men who passed by the wounded man were "looking to self-interest, looking to other things." The Good Samaritan, however, "tosses aside any consideration except love of neighbor. His help and generosity is excessive."

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Furthermore, he said, Christ teaches that "there is no more boundary when it comes to 'who are you neighbor to'?" The Knights of Columbus live this teaching out, he said, helping everyone – the immigrant, the refugee, or the Christian displaced from their home.

Cardinal DiNardo also urged those in attendance to join in solidarity with Eastern Rite Catholics who are fasting before the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. He asked Latin rite Catholics to pray and fast for persecuted Christians in the days leading up to the Assumption.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Vatican sent a message to the convention assuring those in attendance of the "good wishes" and prayers of Pope Francis.

"The Holy Father has often observed that in our own day a new world war is being fought piecemeal, as an ungodly thirst for power and domination, whether economic, political, or military, is leading to untold violence, injustice and suffering in our human family," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said in his written message delivered at the opening business session of the convention.

Pope Francis, he said, "has asked Christians everywhere, truly convinced of the infinite power of God's love, to reject this mentality and to combat the growth of a global culture of indifference that discards the least of our brothers and sisters."

Cardinal Parolin asked the Knights to "respond generously to this challenge" through working for the "sanctification of the world from within" in their lay vocation.

He also noted Pope Francis' appreciation for the Knights upholding "the sanctity of marriage and the dignity and beauty of family life," as well as the organization's aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

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