Knights of Columbus convention aims to promote unity through solidarity

American soldiers 1 and Knights of Columbus at a military ceremony at the WWI War Memorial in Lourdes France on May 16 2015 Credit Elise Harris CNA 5 16 15 Knights of Columbus attend a ceremony at the World War I Memorial in Lourdes, France, May 16, 2015. | Elise Harris/CNA.

Echoing the theme of unity, the Knights of Columbus are launching new efforts to forge ties with the neglected and to repair frayed social bonds.

"We talk about being brothers and sisters, we talk about being Knights of unity, well let's look at our neighbors right here that have been too long neglected and forgotten," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said Aug. 7 of a new project of the Knights to work more with Native American and First Nation leaders in the U.S. and Canada.

The Knights of Columbus held its 137th Supreme Convention Aug. 6-8 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Clerics joined leaders of councils in attendance from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, South Korea, France, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Panama, the island of St. Lucia and the Bahamas.

Under a convention theme of "Knights of unity," the order announced two new projects to promote solidarity with neglected and vulnerable populations and called for Catholics to lead the way on civility.

The order also granted full membership posthumously to a Colorado high school student who died protecting his classmates in a school shooting.

Knights in attendance moved to grant Kendrick Castillo full membership in the order, honoring the 18 year-old Catholic student, and son of Knight John Castillo, who died while rushing a gunman at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, May 7; Kendrick suffered a fatal gunshot wound, but according to eyewitnesses his act enabled two fellow students successfully to disarm the gunman.

Anderson presented Castillo's parents with the Caritas Award, the organization's second-highest award, on Kendrick's behalf at Tuesday night's States Dinner.

In his remarks in the convention's opening business session, Anderson announced two new initiatives: one to provide humanitarian aid to refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border, and another to begin working more closely with Native American and First Nation leaders in the U.S. and Canada to help meet their needs.

"As many as one in four Native Americans are Catholic," Anderson said, "yet in many ways, these brothers and sisters in the faith have been forgotten."

As the Knights in the past several decades were expanding their charitable efforts in new countries, "it just occurred to us that we were overlooking an important tradition in our own country," Anderson told CNA of the decision to launch the initiative.

The history of Native Americans who were "cleansed" from the U.S. is a tragic one, but it must be told, he said. From the Puritan colonists in New England who attacked and essentially "erased" the indigenous Pequots in the 1630s, to the forced displacement of Cherokee nation on the Trail of Tears two hundred years later, to the present-day, "we need to know the history, we need to know the pain," Anderson told CNA.

"Despite many hardships, neglect, and a history of brutality toward them, still they hold fast to our Catholic faith," Anderson said on Tuesday.

Catholic leaders on reservations told the Knights that the "number one problem" is a "lack of hope," he said.

Problems of alcoholism and drug addiction are rampant in the community, along with homelessness, disappearances of women and children, and suicide.

On Aug. 11, the Knights will join the Diocese of Gallup and the Southwest Indian Foundation to break ground on the construction of a new shrine in Gallup, N.M. to St. Kateri Tekakwitha-the first Native American saint.

"It is our hope that in the years to come this St. Kateri Shrine will become a national spiritual home for Native Americans and for all Catholics in North America," Anderson said on Tuesday.

And in the coming months, the Knights will work with the Black and Indian Mission Office and will encourage councils to reach out to reservations and begin working with them to see what their greatest needs are.

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"I don't think we often appreciate what that kind of loneliness means for people, and what an idea that this is a Church that's a community of brothers and sisters that care," Anderson told CNA. "That means a lot."

As the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border shows no signs of abating, Anderson announced on Tuesday that the order is "prepared to commit at least $250,000 immediately in humanitarian aid for refugees."

"We're going to do a lot in terms of volunteering, and material support," Anderson explained to CNA, while the Knights will "try to stay out of the politics of the issue."

"Maybe our activism will encourage the politicians to get serious and try to solve it," he said of the crisis. "It's a solvable problem, but we can do a lot just to make their situation better."

Anderson capped off Tuesday with another call for unity, this time a plea for Catholics to lead the way in promoting civility.

After presenting the Caritas Medal to the family of Kendrick Castillo, Anderson ended the States Dinner by noting the decline in civility in the current discourse, with Catholics making personal attacks with words like "bigot," "heretic," and "schismatic," and "with alarming regularity."

Citing the work of the Knights to fight anti-Catholic vitriol a century ago, he asked "every Catholic commentator and every candidate for political office, and especially Catholic candidates" to sign a pledge of civility that the Knights will be circulating online.

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The Knights launched a similar effort during the 2012 elections, Anderson noted, but none of the presidential candidates signed the pledge.

"I think it's fair to say that things have only gotten worse since that time," he told CNA.

Yet "Pope Francis has spoken out on this," he said, and "we hope we're going to be with each other in heaven. So we ought to try and treat each other a little better on earth."

Regarding theological debates and accusations of heresy made online against Catholic figures, "this is what theologians and schools of theology are supposed to be about," Anderson said.

"I think it's certainly the role of scholars of the Church to try to understand things better, and when there's ambiguity to try to point that out," he said. "And when maybe somebody has misspoke, or has developed a line of argument that may lead in a new direction that's unintended, I think that's fair to point that out."

However, he said, "stop the name-calling," he said, and "let's have an honest debate on issues."

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