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California, U.S.A. — As more than 2000 Knights of Columbus and their family members gather for the organization’s 130th International Convention – together with more than 80 archbishops and bishops, including 12 cardinals, and scores of clergy – the Pope has praised the organization’s work for religious liberty in a letter to be released to attendees Tuesday.
The letter’s distribution will come just two days after the Knights of Columbus – along with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – drew tens of thousands to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe in what was described as the largest celebration of the Virgin Mary in Southern California in a generation.
At a time when Catholics in the United States face unprecedented attempts by the federal government to limit First Amendment religious liberty, the Pope has applauded and encouraged the work of the Knights of Columbus to protect Americans’ religious freedom.
The letter, signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, offers Pope Benedict XVI’s encouragement of the organization’s work for religious liberty and expresses confidence that the Knights will take a leadership role in leading the laity “to counter reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about issues which are determining the future of American society.”
The Knights – led by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson – have been actively involved in the defense of religious freedom, speaking out publicly in the face of proposed limits to First Amendment rights including the HHS Mandate. That regulation seeks, with only the narrowest of exemptions, to force employers to cover medical interventions which are contrary to Catholic teaching – and the government’s arguments Hosanna Tabor, which sought to eliminate the exception from general employment law granted to religious ministers.
The letter expressing the Pope’s sentiments states: “At a time when concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom, the Knights of Columbus have worked tirelessly to help the Catholic community recognize and respond to the unprecedented gravity of these new threats to the Church’s liberty and public moral witness.
By defending the right of all religious believers, as individual citizens and in their institutions, to work responsibly in shaping a democratic society inspired by their deepest beliefs, values and aspiration, your Order has proudly lived up to the high religious and patriotic principles which inspired its founding.”
It continues: “His Holiness is confident that the Supreme Convention will carry on this distinguished legacy by providing sound inspiration, guidance and direction to a new generation of faithful and dedicated Catholic laymen.
As he stated to the Bishops of the United States earlier this year, the demands of the new evangelization and the defense of the Church’s freedom in our day call for ‘an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-a-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about issues which are determining the future of American society”
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore – Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty – said: “The sentiments expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in the letter to the Knights of Columbus makes clear that our work on behalf of religious liberty is important not only to the Knights and to the Catholic Church in the United States, but also to the universal church.
United with our Holy Father, the Knights of Columbus will continue to actively take the lead among the Catholic laity in supporting the First Amendment rights of our Church and of all Americans in the face of the unprecedented threats to our freedom confronting us today.”
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted: “The message from the pope to the Knights of Columbus is clear. We must continue to stand up for our religious liberty and to point the way for our fellow Catholics to do the same. Defense of religious liberty has long been a part of the Knights of Columbus history – dating back to our defense of Catholic education from the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
We are honored by the pope’s encouragement and confidence in our work, and will continue to do all we can to protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans from laws and regulations that would encroach on the first freedom guaranteed in our bill of rights – the freedom to practice our religion.”
The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest fraternal group, with more than 1.8 million members worldwide, the majority of whom live in the United States. One of the country’s most active charitable groups, last year the Knights of Columbus set records by giving more than $158 million and 70 million hours to charitable causes.
The Organization’s 130th convention in Anaheim, Calif. will run from August 7 – 9. It is the largest gathering of Catholic bishops and cardinals in the United States outside of the annual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meetings.