Members of the Knights of Columbus process during Mass Aug. 4 at their annual convention in Philadelphia. Approximately 2,000 knights gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their 133rd supreme convention.


Members of the Knights of Columbus process during Mass Aug. 4 at their annual convention in Philadelphia. Approximately 2,000 knights gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their 133rd supreme convention.

August 17,2015

Christianity may be thriving around the world, but it is under severe attack and threatened with extinction in the Middle East, the region of its birth.

This was a major theme at the 133rd supreme convention of the Knights of Columbus in Philadelphia Aug. 4-6.

At an Aug. 4 news conference, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said 80 per cent of the religious persecution in the world is directed at Christians and a terrible microcosm of this is the persecutions in Syria and Iraq.

"In Iraq, an estimated 125,000 Christians have been driven from Mosul and its surrounding area," he said. "In Syria, an estimated 700,000 Christians have been displaced."

Because in many cases it is internal displacement within the country, the people have not been designated as refugees and little has been done to help them.

Anderson called to mind another Knights of Columbus convention in 1926, also in Philadelphia.

At that time, then-Supreme Knight James Flaherty announced the Knights would take up the cause of Catholics in Mexico who were being persecuted during the presidency of Plutarco Calles.

Of the 25 Mexican martyrs of that era who have since been officially canonized saints for their defence of the faith, six were members of the Knights of Columbus.

"Today we are compelled to speak up for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East," Anderson said.

"Pope Francis has called the conditions under which Christian refugees live there intolerable. He has said the situation calls for our prayers and concrete actions to help."

The Middle East situation also was on the mind of Pope Francis as was evident in a message of good wishes and prayer sent to Anderson as the convention opened. It was written on behalf of the pope by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

"His Holiness is profoundly grateful for the efforts of the Knights to raise public attention to this grave humanitarian tragedy," the message said.


"He appeals once more to your order for constant prayer, in families, parishes and local councils for these, our beleaguered brothers and sisters, who strive only to be faithful to Christ."

To date, Anderson said, the Knights have given $3 million to humanitarian aid for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, and they invite individual knights and others to support the Christian Refugee Relief Fund.

The fraternal organization pledged an initial $1 million to the fund. All costs for its operation will be covered by the Knights of Columbus with 100 per cent of donations applied to relief.

To assist those who wish to donate, the website has been developed.

Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, in remarks to the convention, placed the blame for the current persecution squarely on the wars in the region.

"There was no persecution before the war," Jeanbart said. The backing of revolutionary regimes "is giving money and weapons to the people who are slaughtering us and raping our women."

For the Knights, he said, "Your concern has made a big difference for me."

Archbishop Bashar Warda

Archbishop Bashar Warda

Chaldean Archbishop Bashir Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq, spoke of the situation in Iraq, where many Christians have fled.

"You have given us help to stay there, to help the people living in tents, in schools and hospitals and churches. Today, thank God, we are able to help these families," he said.

Warda thanked Americans for their aid to the persecuted and said, "It is your responsibility to speak for them, not because they are Christians, but because they are persecuted."

The convention, attended by about 2,000 knights, opened with due pomp and circumstance, including a procession by more than a hundred prelates - 11 cardinals, 98 archbishops and bishops, and another hundred or so priests.

They concelebrated Mass with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.


After Mass, Chaput inaugurated this year's Holy Family Prayer Program with the distribution of framed images of the Holy Family which the Knights' state deputies took home to their jurisdictions to be used at prayer liturgies.

The program was begun in 1979, he explained, and since that time, 17 million people have participated in more than 147,000 prayer services.

The framed images are copies of a 17th-century etching by Giovanni

Batista based on a 16th-century painting.

The Knights also took part in a Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Archbishop Stefan Soroka, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Stephan Soroka

Archbishop Stefan Soroka

It is only the second time that a Ukrainian Catholic liturgy was celebrated at a Knights' supreme convention; the first was in 1988, the millennial year of the Christian conversion of Ukraine.

Soroka, a native of Winnipeg, is metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.


In his homily, he related how some years ago, when he was a parish priest, he helped organize a Knights of Columbus council in the parish.

Men who had never been active in parish programs and appeared shy and hesitant, nevertheless joined the council, and were transformed into energetic leaders, both in the parish and the community.

"They became so bold, so confident, that they were not hesitant to even advise me as to what I should be doing," he said.

"Their natures changed. The power of fraternal prayer and works of charity in an atmosphere with a patriotic love for God, Church and country transformed these men and their families."