By Courtney Grogan
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson pledged the fraternal organization’s continued efforts to aid and rebuild persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East, during his Aug. 7 address at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore, Maryland.
Anderson also unveiled a new pilgrim icon, “Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians,” created for the Knights by Italian artist Fabrizio Diomedi. The icon will travel from parish-to-parish across the country to raise awareness, show solidarity, and inspire support for persecuted Christians.
In his opening remarks at the convention, taking place August 7-9, Anderson said that he hopes that this “pilgrim icon program” will “focus the eyes of our Church on the sacrifice of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Anderson’s remarks highlighted the pivotal role that the Knights of Columbus have played in supporting Christians in the Middle East, where they have committed more than $20 million since 2014 to provide “food, shelter, and clothing to our neighbors who lost everything in Iraq and Syria because they refused to give up their love of Christ.”
“It is clear that without the support of the Knights of Columbus, Christianity might have died in Iraq,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, in a video shown during Anderson’s speech. The Chaldean archbishop’s community was driven from their historic home in the Nineveh Plains by repeated attacks from the Islamic State starting in 2014.
Vice President Mike Pence also thanked the Knights of Columbus for their support of minorities in the Middle East in a video message shown at the convention. Anderson said that the Knights are working with the vice president to ensure that these minority communnties are included in U.S. and U.N. assistance in Iraq.
“When the conflict between Kurdistan and the Government of Iraq threatened an ancient Christian town that had just been rebuilt, we alerted the State Department and the White House. We worked with them to help de-escalate tensions and avoid a bloody conflict that could have ended the Christian presence in Iraq,” said Anderson.
The Supreme Knight also thanked Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, who was in attendance at the Baltimore convention, for his courageous leadership.
Anderson said that he is challenging the Knights of Columbus to raise $1 million this year to finish a project to provide housing for both Syriac and Chaldean Christian families. The 140-unit apartment building will be called the McGivney House, in honor of Father Michael McGivney, the Connecticut priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.
Anderson commended the Knights for meeting last year’s challenge of raising $2 million for the rebuilding of the Iraqi town of Karamles, which he said had been “a Christian town for centuries before ISIS overran it, drove out its inhabitants, destroyed their homes, and desecrated their churches.”
One Knights of Columbus council in Nebraska, St. John the Baptist Council 10-305, raised $163,000 for the families of Karamles at a dinner and auction.The funds will be used to rebuild more than 80 homes of Christians in Iraq.
“If we value only self-interest, we will get discord and division. But if we value charity — if we value unity and fraternity — we will build a society where the common good is protected,” said Anderson.
He highlighted the many other charitable initiatives the Knights have funded throughout the world, including providing for 950 ultrasound machines, 7,649 new wheelchairs, 105,000 new coats for children, and a pilgrimage that brought over 200 wounded veterans and military personnel to Lourdes, France. Last year, the Knights also contributed $4.2 million dollars for disaster relief after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida.
The Knights of Columbus’ total charitable contributions last year exceeded $185 million dollars with its members providing 75.6 million volunteer hours.
Internationally, Anderson also announced that the Knights of Columbus is expanding, with its newest territory in now in South Korea and a new State Council designation for Ukraine. He also noted that the Knights have experienced a considerable growth in membership both in France and the Philippines.
This year, membership totalled 1,967,585 – a new high, according to Anderson.
Addressing attendees in the Baltimore Convention Center, Anderson quoted a speech delivered by Saint Pope John Paul II at the Baltimore Orioles Park at Camden Yards next to the center:
“Catholics of America,” St. John Paul II proclaimed, “Always be guided by the truth — by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God.”