Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention
States Dinner Keynote Address by Marc Cardinal Ouellet
August 2, 2016
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Dear Brother Bishops and Priests, Dear Friends
When I received the invitation to the Supreme Convention in Toronto this year, I knew that I had to be here, even though faced with other commitments. Old friendships are precious and good like old wine! The Supreme Knight was a colleague and he remains, not only a friend, but also an example of a man of Vision who has brought spiritual renewal and expansion to the Knights. May he forgive me as I sing his praises this evening in this forum, which certainly does not need it, since the quality of his leadership seems so obvious to all of us.
Why then mention what I am saying?
I do it for two reasons:
First: Gratitude is a quality which is not given enough in these days of global confusion and social unrest to good Christian leaders.
And Second: I very much appreciate his clear focus, integrity of life, family values, and Catholic loyalty — all excellent qualities that are bringing onward and upward the whole fraternity of the Knights of Columbus, which is an extraordinary Christian fellowship! Thank you Carl and Dorian for whom you are to me and for us all — A gift of God!
I work daily for Pope Francis’ ‘Petrine Ministry’, and I see him weekly — a full hour — for the delicate duty of appointing bishops and sustaining them in their governance of local Churches. What a challenge for me and for those who say Yes to this call! Thus, I really appreciate how the Knights are available and of service to so many bishops. As you know, it is not an easy task for the bishops, but a very important one since they are key players for the unity of the Church. They embody the ministry of unity in each local Church, and their belonging to the Apostolic College of Bishops makes them responsible for the unity of the Church as a whole. So, as I greet wholeheartedly those present on this stage, I beg you please pray for them, pray for me and for the Holy Father, who always begs daily for our prayers.
When I see the Holy Father praying, I understand his impact on people, because his concrete charity flows from a deep familiarity with the Holy Spirit. We know in the Scriptures, as well as in the history of the Church, that the Holy Spirit can be unpredictable. And so, too, our own Pope Francis is somehow unpredictable like the Holy Spirit! I remember vividly his very first gesture after his election at the Conclave: Before we lined up to offer our congratulations and obedience, he walked the whole length of the Sistine Chapel to greet and embrace Cardinal Ivan Dias, who was unable to stand up and walk towards him. We were touched by this sensitivity towards the fragile human person — what an education in respect for each individual no matter his or her situation or background! We could see afterwards that this feature would be one of the Holy Father’s most characteristic attitudes and priorities. What a nice example of encouragement for the work of charity among the Knights of Columbus who have been founded precisely for this as “men of faith and men of action”! The Knights of Columbus have been standing up for the innate dignity of the human person and building up the family and society against the evils that seek to use, crush or disregard the fragile human person whether that person be in the womb, handicapped, poor, a refugee, elderly or terminally ill. The Knights are clear and unequivocal witnesses to the sanctity of human life at all stages, fostering a culture of life in families and in society, particularly through your promotion of good Christian manhood with the Fathers for Good Initiative. Your support of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their case for religious liberty and true freedom of conscience, and your recent efforts here in Canada in the March for Life in Ottawa this past May, all bear witness to our solidarity with the vulnerable among us.
When Saint Paul went to the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D. to verify his preaching of the Gospel message to the Gentiles, he received approval and support from Peter, James and the other Apostles and presbyters, who then stressed taking care of the poor, — something which Paul already was making every effort to do. Pope Francis brings us to the core of the Gospel: Christian love of God, charity to one’s neighbour, sharing one’s gifts and resources. I know that this aspect of charity, emphasized by the Apostles and the Holy Father, is something with which you Knights are familiar.
During Pope Francis’ first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, he visited one of the favellas, one of the slums. At one point, far from the media, he sat with a representative family, listened to them, played with their children, and left them with a greater sense of hope. Our Holy Father shows us that charity goes beyond being for people; it requires that we also be with people where we ourselves are transformed by the encounter. He sees charity not as some remote, ethereal ideal, but as something very concrete, as concrete as our Lord’s Incarnation and Cross. Charity is physically close. It looks at the poor in their eyes and speaks to their hearts, leaving their hearts warmed from the Light of Christ. It creates communion and manifests the respect of persons. In offering Christ’s charity to others, we ourselves should be transformed by that same gift of love. True charity makes the one receiving happy and respected, and allows us to understand deeper our position of being able to give. I am impressed by the many ways local Councils spend their time and efforts giving direct personal charity to others in need. In fact, I would suggest that direct, personal engagement is a hallmark of charity promoted by the Knights of Columbus because you are realists who see a need and respond, as did your founder, Father Michael McGivney.
When Pope Francis travelled to Mexico, he visited the prison in Cuidad Juárez. There I witnessed how he encountered those in jail and invited them deeper into the mercy of God and offered them hope. I was touched when he spoke to them, recalling Jesus’ words of “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone”, and how the Holy Father is aware of his own wounds, mistakes and sins. Pope Francis always asks himself on entering a prison, “Why them and not me?”. But realizing it is a mystery of Divine Mercy, where we all look ahead with hope no matter what “side” we are on, he approached those in need in jail not from on high, demanding respect, but begging forgiveness for himself. To be on the receiving end of charity can be humiliating for people. This is a reality that we cannot deny. Charity is intimately connected with and linked to humility; we cannot have true love without it. In giving, the Holy Father urges us to a Christian charity that is delicate and respectful, cognizant of our own mistakes and sinfulness. We could think of another example in today’s world: So many of us were born in countries, or able to emigrate to places, where the ability to practice our faith and to support our families through good work is generally present, although under attack more so today. But what if we happened to be born and raised in Syria or Iraq? We would have very different lives due to the present Christian genocide, and our lives would be incredibly different through no choice of our own. We would need the charity and love of our brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith and in the human family just to live and survive. The ability of the Holy Father to connect with people in amazing ways is due to this attitude of giving with extraordinary humility. Charity goes with humility and as Saint Peter reminds us in Scripture, “Love covers a multitude of sins”.
At a gathering such as this, I have to say that I am impressed by the Adoration Chapel, the space you dedicate to the reservation of Jesus’ Eucharistic presence in the Blessed Sacrament. When I started to organize the International Eucharistic Congress of 2008 in Quebec City, I remember being very concerned about raising the necessary funds in order to pull off the event. Who helped then? The Knights of Columbus did! And with a substantial contribution of $1 million dollars. In the end, we finished with no deficit, and there was even a little left over, which was given to a Convent of Contemplative Sisters.
Pope Francis steeps his day in prayer, one hour in the morning before Mass and one in the evening before dinner. It is mostly from this time with the Lord that the Holy Father makes his critical decisions. I remember once, at the beginning of his Pontificate, he had made a decision one particular day. But during his examination of conscience that evening, he was not at peace with this decision. So he changed it the day after, and peace returned to his soul. What an example of righteousness and humility.
Since he is so intimately familiar with and attentive to the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis is able to see, as a good Jesuit and follower of Saint Ignatius of Loyola would, God at work in the world and in the life of the Church. This is what it means to be a contemplative in action. A contemplative in action could also describe the call for every Knight of Columbus as good Christians. Prayer must undergird the work of charity so that it remains something that is always from God. We need the leaven of prayer so that our charitable works can bear the kind of fruit that Jesus wants that will endure to eternal life.
I know that prayer is built into the structure of the Knights of Columbus. You are encouraged to carry and to pray your Rosary. Knights assist in Processions and even Papal Masses. Your efforts to promote prayer as a family, such as your Holy Family Prayer Program, are wonderful. But I also know how tempting it can be to cut corners on prayer in your meetings, within your families and in your own personal lives to get to the so-called “important stuff”. The fact is we cannot hope to know or to accomplish the will of God if we do not pray. We cannot neglect the spiritual aspect of our charity. It is the unseen but powerfully present reality that is the soul of all we do. Pope Francis’ spirituality is an invitation to the Knights of Columbus not to abandon charity to pray more, but to allow your prayer life to imbue the good that you do in your families, in your parishes and dioceses and in the local community. Let your daily heart-to-heart conversation with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with Our Lady and the saints, help you delve more deeply into what you do, and come to know the power of God at work in your lives. The Holy Father would have us resist the temptation to forego prayer, and, instead, invest ourselves in a deep spiritual life, becoming contemplatives in action.
Before concluding, let me say a word about the Papal document, Amoris Laetitia, that was born of the 2 recent Synods on the Family. In all honesty, I think that controversies around Amoris Laetitia are understandable, but, in all confidence, I believe they might even be fruitful in the end. It is a document worth reading and rereading, slowly, one chapter after another – enjoying the marvellous chapter four on Love, and entrusting chapter eight to the careful and open minded discernment of priests and bishops towards people in need of charity and mercy. What is essential is that we try to grasp the Holy Father’s desire and intent to provide for the true and substantial reconciliation of so many families in confused and difficult situations. No change of the doctrine is proposed, but what is proposed is a new pastoral approach: more patient and respectful, more dialogical and merciful. For the most part, priests and bishops are being asked to care for and walk with them in order to help people make spiritual growth even in objective irregular situations. I am grateful to the Holy Father and am convinced that this whole process of discernment and pastoral accompaniment will bear fruit for all families.
Thank you once again Carl for your friendship and leadership of this amazing Christian fellowship. Congratulations go to the Little Sisters of the Poor for receiving the prestigious Gaudium et Spes Award this evening for who they are, all they do, and how they serve with Catholic integrity and humility.
My office oversees the organization of the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes each year. Thank you for helping to bring so many service men and woman and veterans, especially those who have suffered the trauma of war, to make a visit to a wonderful place of healing and peace. I am so grateful for all the good that the Knights of Columbus do for the Church and for those in need.
As a Jesuit superior, Pope Francis was involved in forming spiritual men for our time. Now as Vicar of Christ, he is forming the entire Church in deeper charity, humility, mercy and prayer. I pray that, faithful to his fatherly guidance, you may continue to deepen your charity and strengthen it by prayer, so that it may shine forth as the very charity of Christ that encounters people in their need, lifts them up, warms their hearts and brings them into the saving arms of Jesus.
 Cf. The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh p. 188 from Rossi quote.
 Cf. Knights of Columbus, “Our Principles”.
 Cf. Acts 15.
 Cf. Gal 2:10.
 Cf. The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh p.44.
 Cf. The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh p.183.
 Cf. “A Big Heart Open to God” interview with Fr. Spedaro, SJ September 2013 and cf. The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh p.220 (Bergoglio, LaPlata Priest Talk).
 Cf. Jn 8:7.
 cf. Address of the Holy Father Pope Francis in his Visit to the Penitentiary (Cereso N. 3) of Cuidad Juárez.
 Cf. 1 Pt 4:8.
 cf. Jn. 15:16.