- - Monday, August 6, 2018

“Faith and charity in action” is the best way to describe what the Knights of Columbus have been committed to since their inception more than 130 years ago. As the organization prepares for its annual conference this week, a look at their influence around the globe reveals that they are the Catholic Church’s modern-day knights in shining armor.

The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 by Father Michael Joseph McGivney, whose sainthood is being investigated by the Vatican. Originally established as a mutual benefit society for working-class and immigrant Catholics in the United States, the Knights has grown into the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members. But the impressive character of the group extends far beyond its size and longevity.

Pope John Paul II once referred to the order as the “strong right arm of the Church” for their support of the Church as well as their charitable work.

The Knights have always promoted the teaching of the Catholic Church. For 70 years, the organization’s Catholic Information Service (CIS) has produced booklets and sponsored courses about the beliefs and practices of the church.

Catholic families especially benefit from CIS’s “Building the Domestic Church” series, which relies on the writings of St. John Paul II to help families seeking to “build up and strengthen the church at home.”

A natural extension of the group’s work in support of the family is their defense of the sanctity of life. The Knights are bold and unafraid in their commitment to promoting a “Culture of Life” which, in their words, involves “opposing legislative efforts that promote abortion, contraception, sterilization, cloning, the destruction of embryos, assisted suicide, euthanasia, unjust war, and the death penalty where there is an acceptable alternative.”

Turning word into deed, the group funded an “Ultrasound Initiative” which has placed 900 ultrasound machines at pro-life pregnancy centers across the U.S. and Canada.

And this is just one thread in the immense tapestry of charitable actions the group has undertaken around the world.

The Knights’ “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program promotes local, parish-based initiatives encouraging members to direct their generosity toward their neighbors in need. Their “Food for Families” program helps ensure families have adequate access to nutritious food. The result? In 2016 alone, more than 3 million pounds of food and almost $1.6 million was donated to soup kitchens and other food programs.

Similarly, the “Coats for Kids” program, launched in 2009, has already provided almost 400,000 coats to needy children in the U.S. and Canada. Distribution events in the U.S. have occurred at military bases, in Native American communities, inner-city neighborhoods, and through partnerships with local police and fire departments.

The impact of the Knights reaches far beyond America’s borders. Consistent with their tradition of defending religious liberty and diversity, the Knights are widely regarded for their recent work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

In 2016, the Knights led a major advocacy and awareness campaign encouraging the U.S. State Department to formally declare as genocide the atrocities committed by ISIS. The Knights produced a 300-page report on the persecution against Middle Eastern Christians, which ultimately helped redirect U.S. government relief funds to communities targeted by ISIS. For their part, the Knights distributed more than $16 million in food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care to those suffering persecution.

From the beginning, the Knights of Columbus has provided strength and support to the Catholic Church in its mission to spread the Gospel and care for those in need. And their impact will only grow, as this year’s annual conference promises to inform and energize the members of this fraternity of Catholic gentlemen as they spread the faith and live charity both at home and abroad.

• Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal adviser for The Catholic Association Foundation.

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