After thanking the Knights of Columbus for their generous work and continued service to the poor, two international archbishops stressed the need for all of the faithful to stand up for religious freedom.
“On an issue of such fundamental importance we must not fail to be vocal,” said Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Throughout North America the need is clear.”
The archbishop addressed a gathering of more than 2,000 at the Knights' 130th Supreme Convention in Anaheim, Calif. on Aug. 7.
The event drew numerous members of the hierarchy, including 12 cardinals and more than 70 bishops, archbishops and abbots.
With over 1.8 million members in more than a dozen countries and territories across the globe, the Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world and is committed to the core principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
Archbishop Smith expressed “deep esteem” and “gratitude” for the work and solidarity of the Knights in Canada.
He warned of growing challenges to the faith, including an increasing secularism that refuses to tolerate differing views and attempts to “relegate religious belief to the private sphere.”
This secularism threatens religious freedom not only in the United States, but also in Canada and around the world, he observed.
The bishops of Canada recently issued a pastoral letter responding to violent attacks against Christians in many areas of the world, as well as “an aggressive relativism” within their own country that seeks to silence all those that hold different opinions.
In their letter, the bishops emphasized that “freedom of religion and conscience is necessary for the common good” of religiously diverse countries. They explained that these freedoms – which include not only the right to worship but also the right to bring one’s faith to the public square – come not from government but from the humanity that all people share.
Religious freedom is not merely a Catholic issue, said Archbishop Smith, but rather, one that “impacts the lives of all believers and even those of no faith.”
Thanking the Knights of Columbus for their bold witness, he called for a continued affirmation of robust religious freedom and conscience rights.
“Believers are summoned now to stand up for their faith, even if they must suffer for it,” he said.
Filipino Archbishop Antonio G. Tagle of Manilla also addressed the group, thanking them for their work and encouraging them to intensify their “communion with the poor through a dialogue of life and love with them.”
“The abandoned and neglected should experience the caring of true brothers from us,” he said. “Then they will know that the Church is indeed the family of God.”
Through the Holy Spirit, we come to see each person as “a brother or sister deserving of our love and service,” the archbishop observed.
Doing this requires “a formation centered on Jesus,” he explained, stressing “His teaching, His humility, His docility to God’s will and His heroic service to all.”
Committed to charitable service to those in need, the Knights recently announced record-breaking levels of giving to charity, totaling more than $158 million in donations and over 70 million hours in volunteer work last year.
Archbishop Tagle praised the good work of the order and added that “[o]nly by being rooted in Jesus can every Knight be a true brother to others and a defender of the poor.”
“I also stand before you in the name of the lonely, lost, weary and wounded people of the world,” he said. “Let us be brothers to them. Let us be Jesus' love to them.”