(Vatican Radio) “There are really two principal missions that we find ourselves engaged in today. First is the question of the religious liberty of the Church, and the Churches mission to build a culture of life and civilisation of love”, says Karl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, the Knights of Columbus.Listen to Emer McCarthy's full interview with Karl A. Anderson:
Two thousands members – committed lay Catholic men – are descending on the Californian city of Anaheim for the 130th Supreme convention, together with their families and their parish pastors. 90 leaders, Cardinals Archbishops and bishops, of the North American Church will also be attending the three day Convention, reflecting the growing synergy between this grass-roots lay Order and the Church hierarchy in the US. Particularly in one area: that of liberty – above all religious liberty.
The Convention theme reflects North America’s historical identification with this human right. It is taken from the inscription engraved on the iconic symbol of US Independence, the Liberty Bell: Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants.
“130 years ago” continues Anderson “the Knights of Columbus was founded in the United States, in large measure, to bring Catholic men together to defend the liberty of the Church and combat prejudice and bigotry against Catholics that was so prevalent in the United States in the 19th century. Looking to the problems today the challenges we face in terms of religious liberty, we decided to recall our roots and our founding. Particularly this year as the bishops stand forward in an unprecedented way to defend religious liberty – for the freedom of the Catholic Church in the United States but also for the religious liberty of all Americans”.
But attacks on religious freedom are not limited to the US, Anderson notes. “We have seen it historically in Mexico, where it continues to be an issues, also in Canada and now this week in the Philippines where the government in trying to impose reproduction services – ‘reproductive health’ so they say – in terms of life issues and also in Poland. So we see a combination of defending liberty, working for a culture of life and also building a culture of life by being our brothers keeper, in reaching out in works of charity”.
14 thousand local parish based councils across the globe are actively bringing forward this mission. And despite the global economic crisis, in 2011 Knights of Columbus members donated 158 million dollars to charitable initiatives and 70 million hours in service to others. A record in their 130 year history.
Their initiatives include international charitable partnerships with Special Olympics, the Global Wheelchair Mission and Habitat for Humanity to our own Food for Families and Coats for Kids projects and other purely local charities.
In his message to the Supreme convention Pope Benedict also praised their prayer vigils for his Universal mission.
Anderson concludes: “We pride ourselves in being closely aligned to our local pastors and we think that that is where the vibrancy of the Catholic Church really lives day to day. So that fact that we can be a charitable force, a faithful group of Catholic men united to their parish priest and helping him in his pastoral needs. Really today we find precisely what we found 130 years ago. The struggle for religious liberty as well as working in charity to help our brothers and sisters in need”.