ORLANDO, Fla. — At the Knights of Columbus annual convention in Orlando, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly had a message for the 2,300 Knights and family members gathered Aug. 1 to hear his report on the state of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal order.
“As Knights, what we do reflects who we are. We are faithful Catholics — and disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
In his address for the 141st Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, Kelly illustrated how the Knights’ goal of being “first in faith, first in charity” drew its source from a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. For 2 million Knights of Columbus, the $185 million dollars given to charity, 49 million hours of volunteer service, and record $121 billion dollars of life insurance in force over the past year sprang from the “one mission” their founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, gave them: “to follow Christ.”
“And he called us to fulfill it through faith and charity,” Kelly said.
Since he became the fraternal order’s 14th Supreme Knight, Kelly has emphasized the importance of cultivating discipleship as the heart of a Knight’s Catholic identity. And in his Aug. 1 address, giving the annual report titled “First in Faith and Charity,” Kelly emphasized that for Knights, their faith in Jesus Christ is personal — and therefore so is their charity.
“In these difficult times, so much depends on our commitment to our mission. Will we be credible witnesses to a living faith? Will ours be a charity that evangelizes? Will we stand for the truth without apology — without counting the cost?”
Kelly said the Knights’ answer will be the same as Father McGivney’s: yes.
“We will point the world to Jesus Christ,” Kelly said. “He is the light that shines in the darkness. And he will shine through the Knights of Columbus.”
Kelly started with laying out the formation efforts of the Knights, saying “forming Catholic men must be our top priority.”
“I have said it before, and I will say it again: If we get the man right, we get everything right — the marriage, the family, the parish, the community,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the church needs “men who say ‘yes’ to their God-given vocation,” such as St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe entrusted her message on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico. Kelly noted the Knights are preparing for the 500th anniversary of the 1531 apparition and that the Knights have been consecrated to the Virgin Mary under this title for two decades now.
Returning to the theme of forming disciples, Kelly said the Knights’ new formation program, “Cor” (Latin for “heart”), was a “game-changer” successfully piloted by some councils. Now being rolled out to all councils, he said Cor will provide Catholic men fellowship — which is needed in a world where people are lonelier than ever — and will “deepen our relationship with Christ, making it easier to profess and defend what we believe.”
Cor is just one of the new faith-formation programs the Knights are rolling out. Kelly said the Knights are introducing a new Bible study called “Men of the Word” and a new video series on marriage, family and fatherhood.
Kelly drew the Knights’ attention to a January 2023 Pew Research Center survey that showed only 35% of Catholic parents think it is very or extremely important if their children share their beliefs in adulthood. Kelly said the new video series will help Knights show parents why “a relationship with Christ is the greatest gift we can offer to the next generation.”
Kelly then turned to encourage Knights in one of the most prominent displays of their belief in Christ’s personal presence among them: the Eucharist. He noted the local Eucharistic processions the Knights have held as part of the National Eucharistic Revival and that one of the revival’s processions to the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis starts from Blessed McGivney’s tomb in New Haven, Connecticut.
“I encourage every Knight to embrace the revival and deepen his faith in our Eucharistic Lord,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that charity springs from the love of Christ, pointing to the life of St. Teresa of Kolkata, which Knights help reveal in the 2022 documentary “Mother Teresa: No Greater Love.”
Kelly gave further examples of how the Knights’ charity flowed from love for Christ: He pointed to their $33 million aid to Middle Eastern Christians to survive genocide and remain in their homelands, and their ongoing Native Solidarity Initiative in partnership with North America’s Indigenous Catholics.
He pointed out that Knights have given 127,000 wheelchairs over the past two decades and its Coats for Kids initiative will distribute its 1 millionth coat this winter.
But the nature of the Knights’ charity, Kelly pointed out, is not just material — but personal. Highlighting the Knights’ natural disaster response — $5.3 million in the past year — he pointed to how Knights in the Philippines “took disaster response to a new level.”
“They gave food and clothes to flood victims, while planting new trees in devastated areas,” he said. “Filipino Knights are rebuilding what Pope Francis has called ‘our common home.'”
But this personal charity also was evident in the Knights’ response to Ukraine. The Knights established the Ukraine Solidarity Fund within two days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24, 2022, which has raised over $21 million.
Kelly singled out the Polish Knights for being on the “front lines of charity” with their Ukrainian brothers, driving charity convoys “directly into Ukraine — into the middle of a warzone.”
Kelly asked the Knights present from Poland and Ukraine to rise from their seats in the assembly — calling them a “sterling example of ‘first in faith and charity'” — and all the people in the room rose to give them a standing ovation.
Kelly, who recently traveled to Ukraine where he personally pledged the Knights’ support to Ukrainians suffering and displaced by the war, told the Knights he was struck by Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s words about the “duty to cultivate love.”
“For, as he said, ‘hatred gives birth to criminals; but love gives birth to heroes,'” Kelly recounted.
“My friends, Ukraine is becoming a nation of heroes,” Kelly said, singling out Ukraine’s Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv and Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy of Odesa who were present.
Kelly highlighted more ways the Knights’ faith was put in action at home and abroad. He spoke about the anti-trafficking work the Knights are conducting in Ukraine and the Philippines to save women and children, particularly through working with religious sisters.
“As Catholic men, we protect vulnerable women and children,” Kelly said. “Every human being is made in God’s image, and no human being should ever be bought or sold.”
Other initiatives highlighted by Kelly included defending religious freedom, even as the cultural climate has become more hostile.
“There is nothing hateful about the sanctity of marriage, the reality of biological sex, or the humanity of the unborn child,” he said.
“We stand for the truth because it’s right — even when it leads to ridicule and scorn,” Kelly added.
As he concluded his address, Kelly also drew Knights’ attention to two key figures who advanced the cause of Father McGivney: Pope Benedict XVI, who had called Father McGivney “that exemplary American priest” and put him on the path to his beatification in 2020 after Pope Francis issued a decree confirming the needed miracle.
Kelly said he and the Knights’ supreme officers were able to bid farewell “to this extraordinary servant of Christ and his church,” saying the Knights honor Pope Benedict, who died Dec. 31, 2022, as a “great and holy man.”
Kelly also told Knights about the support they have from Pope Francis who “was grateful for everything we’re doing” and called on the Knights “to continue advancing the church’s mission.”
“This is a challenge we gladly accept,” Kelly said. “We will continue to take up the mission of evangelization — in our hearts and in our communities. And we will continue our mission of charity — a charity that evangelizes.”
Kelly concluded his remarks by saying that this challenge from Pope Francis is the same challenge Father McGivney set before the first Knights.
“Catholic men rallied to the cause in his time,” he said. “And in our time, we will inspire a new generation of men on a mission — first in faith and charity. Vivat Jesus!”
The Dialog provides readers news to your inbox with the Angelus e-newsletter. Sign up here for a free subscription to the Angelus.