RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 31, 2009 (Zenit.org).- As this week’s installment of Civilization of Love, we offer an excerpt of the address Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, gave last week at the Meeting of Friendship Among Peoples held in Rimini, Italy.
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I believe that Catholics — and Catholic organizations and movements — have an excellent opportunity to reach out both to other Catholics, and to the world at large, through charity. As Christians, Christ has called us to be known by the “way we love one another,” and the leadership we can exert can be a great force for good. At the Knights of Columbus we have built great and lasting relationships and have been able to exponentially multiply the good that we do by working together with other groups — at our summit — and long before that with Special Olympics, the American Wheelchair Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, and many others. We have also worked closely, since our founding, with the Catholic Church at every level: within our parishes, our dioceses and with the Holy Father. By putting ourselves at the service of Church and community — and by working in and with both, we are better able to answer Christ’s call to love our neighbor, and by our example to teach all nations.
Such cooperation — communion if you will — with the Church and with other organizations striving to do good, is, I believe, an excellent model for Catholic movements as they seek to transform the world by encouraging people to say “yes” to Jesus Christ. And nowhere is the face of our Church more attractive than in our open embrace of our neighbor. Each encounter with those in need is actually an opportunity to create a civilization of love, one person, one act at a time.
But sometimes statistics and the sheer volume of good works can make the practical effect hard to visualize. What makes an organization like ours work — and keep on working for more than 127 years — is the effect of each event, each encounter between a member and his neighbor. Both are changed, but the change for the one giving help is often the more profound.
In my role as Supreme Knight, I must admit that what moves me most are those moments when I can see first-hand the effect of our work.
It’s not the millions of dollars and hours donated. It’s not the number of projects. As Pope Benedict reminds us often, it’s not about numbers at all. It’s about saying “yes” to Jesus Christ in service to our neighbor — It’s seeing the face of Christ in the face of each person who needs our help.
Every so often this point is driven home for me very clearly. A couple of years ago, I was in Mexico City to help with a distribution of wheelchairs to the handicapped of that city, who were too poor to buy their own.
The experience of giving mobility to a person who previously had to drag him or herself across concrete and dirt is indescribable. And the contribution to the dignity of the person that you have helped support is inescapable.
One of the people I gave a wheelchair to was a young girl named Funy. She wrote a letter in which she called the Knights her “precious treasures,” and her “Angels.” As my wife Dorian and I lifted her into her chair, our gift in support of her dignity was clear. She was from Mexico City, we were from Connecticut, but we were neighbors.
This is the sort of experience that our members have millions of times each year as they serve their neighbor in councils, drawn into communion with their brother knights, and also with their own community, in prayerful service to God and neighbor. Our members — through their faith and work together for their neighbor — actively underscore Pope Benedict’s words that “Communion always and inseparably has both a vertical and a horizontal sense: it is communion with God and communion with our brothers and sisters” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 76).
For this reason, the Knights root charity in devotion to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Christ’s summation of the commandments was that we love God first, then our neighbor as ourselves.
Take two of our principles. Unity — that communion we have with each other, the parish, the community and the Church — and in these ways with God himself, and charity — where we encounter Christ and by giving of ourselves together with our brother Knights.
Not only do we encounter Christ in those we help, we also further strengthen our unity, and in this way provide our members with a strong “formation” through works of charity.
The experience of our charitable work makes clear to us what Pope Benedict wrote when he said: “There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.”
Our members — seeing Christ in their neighbor, and seeking communion with him — are thus active in what the Pope has emphasized in his most recent encyclical as charity in truth — “an authentic gift of self” that goes beyond the mere social work that can be done by a state.
Fortified by the Eucharist, and in communion with the Church and our fellow Knights, our charity brings us into communion with Christ in his various distressing disguises. It is faith in action — concretely, not abstractly — and through this action we encounter Christ himself in the form of those seen as the “least” of our neighbors by society. Our understanding of the Christian event is thus contextualized through charity.
Charity is as indispensible for those of us giving, as it is for those who receive, for each charitable act speaks the very language of faith and hope, and each time that language is spoken, it builds up a civilization of love.
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