Knights of Columbus: Trying to Keep Young at 121

Interview With Carl Anderson

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NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, AUG. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Knights of Columbus, long a defender of Catholic values, has to meet the changing needs of the Church and society in order to remain relevant, says its leader.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the organization since 2000, recently shared his views with ZENIT on the 121-year-old group and its new strategy for growth. In 2002, the Knights of Columbus donated a record $128.5 million to charity and volunteered a record 60.8 million hours of service. Recipients included Catholic parishes and schools, seminaries, the Special Olympics, World Youth Day 2002, youth athletics and scholarships.

Q: What is the Knights of Columbus, and what exactly does it do?

Anderson: The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 by the Servant of God Father Michael J. McGivney in St. Mary’s Parish, in New Haven, Connecticut.

From its establishment in the basement of that church, with a handful of men as incorporators, it has grown to be the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization, with more than 1.6 million members — plus our families — and exists through more than 12,000 local councils in the United States and in Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Guam and the Caribbean.

The order encourages its members and families to be loyal to the faith and to be supportive of the mission of the Church, whether at the level of the Holy See or the local parish. We seek to motivate our members and their families also as good citizens to conduct projects for the good of society and individuals in need in the areas of Church, community, council, family and youth.

We also serve our members and families through our life insurance program, which consistently has earned the highest ratings from Standard and Poor’s and A.M. Best. Insurance was one of the purposes identified by Father McGivney for the establishment of the order, namely, the care of the widows and children of members.

Today, our insurance program, conducted by Brother Knights for Brother Knights, with a wide portfolio of life insurance, annuity and long-term care products, continues to make a difference for life.

Q: After more than a century of existence, how has the Knights’ focus changed?

Anderson: From its origins perhaps down to a few decades ago, it might be said that the order was inward looking, seeking to establish itself more firmly within the Catholic population and to emphasize its own growth and development.

In later years, while still concentrating heavily on the growth and development of the order, we also have begun to reach out to help meet the needs of society in general.

Our annual survey of fraternal activities shows that, in 2002, our local and state councils raised and distributed a record $128.6 million at all levels of the order. In addition we volunteered 60.8 million hours of our time, also a record.

The Supreme Council offers programming suggestions and ideas, and the State Council also offers programs that can be participated in by the [local] councils.

Most recently the Supreme Council continued its support for Special Olympics with a $1 million donation for the just-concluded games in Dublin, Ireland. This highlights our partnership with many of our local councils who conduct area fund-raising drives for programs benefiting persons with mental retardation.

We still strive very aggressively to promote growth in the number of councils and in total membership because we see it as our goal to build a better world, one council at a time.

Q: As Supreme Knight, how does your approach to running the organization differ from your predecessor’s?

Anderson: Every Supreme Knight is different, in large measure because the challenges and opportunities that the Church and society face during his term of office are different. This has been true over the history of the order.

Today we have entered the new millennium. We must have a truly modernized operation and reach out to a global society. We must take advantage of new ways of doing business to advance every aspect of what we do to make the greatest contribution we can to building a culture of life.

Q: How have the spiritual needs of your men changed over the years? How has the organization responded?

Anderson: The challenges we face in this regard are no different than those faced by the Church itself.

First, we continue to strive to interiorize, in our own way as individuals and as an organization, the renewal taking place within the Church today. This challenge is inseparable from the universal call to holiness articulated so clearly by the Second Vatican Council.

We also see the need for greater formation of the laity in order that they may more adequately fulfill their role to renew society. These goals can only be accomplished by following more closely the pastoral mission for the Church fashioned by Pope John Paul II.

As in the past, our spiritual approach continues to adhere closely to the programs proposed to us by the Church, especially with regard to the liturgy and the sacraments. We seek to promote individual prayer life as well as the development of one’s faith. We have established and conducted particular programs, for those seeking to learn more about the faith, through our Catholic Information Service.

We also have developed and promoted specific programs, such as our Pilgrim Virgin Program, which focuses on Mary by having councils conduct prayer services in her honor that carry on over a year’s time. Our next program is dedicated to Divine Mercy, the devotion brought to us by St. Faustina Kowalska, one of the favorite devotions of our Holy Father.

In general, however, we continue to urge our Knights and families to stay close to their parishes and to their priests, because it is only through integration more fully into the parish life of the Church that most Catholic families and the order can progress as the new millennium unfolds.

Q: With the change in family life and the breakdown of old neighborhoods and parishes, where do you see the future for a group such as the Knights?

Anderson: We recognize that society is changing constantly with new and unprecedented pressures on family, neighborhood and parish life. Our future rests with the renewal of family life being led by Pope John Paul II.

This new approach, some might say even radical approach, presented by him in “Familiaris Consortio,” the letter to families, and “Evangelium Vitae” is nothing less than God-sent. This is not only a matter of strong moral teaching, but of a spiritual and theological approach to living the Christian life.

If neighborhoods change, and parishes close, we would like to see the order serve as a rock of stability. We also want to be a catalyst for reaching out to all ethnicities and cultures, and to draw them into our fraternal circle so that we may benefit from their new energies and ideas, and they will also benefit from membership in our order.

The future of the order consists in remaining relevant to meeting the changing needs of Church and society, but also as a vehicle for preserving values of the past that made us what we are today.

While some things seem always to change, there are ideals and virtues that remain the same, particularly our ideals of charity, unity and fraternity, and how they can be expressed in families and in neighborhoods.

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