The Knights of Columbus’ friendship with the Vatican extends a full century, beginning in 1920. Since that year, Knights have helped each pope with various initiatives from building recreation and athletic centers in Rome to protecting the Eternal City from bombing during World War II.
A full history of the Knights, including our work with the Vatican, can be found in the bookThe Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History. Here are some of the highlights:
Pope Benedict XV asked the Knights to build sports facilities for underprivileged Roman youth who didn’t have space for recreation, exercise and fellowship. The Knights answered the call by building several athletic recreation facilities throughout the city. Those centers are still in use today as outreach centers, sporting sites, food distribution centers and more – even hosting Special Olympic events.
Pope Pius XI praised the Knights for mobilizing support for the Church of Mexico during the Mexican government’s persecution of Catholics. In his papal encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque. He wrote:
A word of very special praise is due those Catholic organizations, which during all these trying times have stood like soldiers side to side with the clergy.[…] First of all We mention the Knights of Columbus, an organization which is found in all the states of the Republic and which fortunately is made up of active and industrious members who, because of their practical lives and open profession of the Faith, as well as by their zeal in assisting the Church, have brought great honor upon themselves
As a cardinal, Pope Pius XII visited the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven in 1936.
Later as pope, Pius XII worked with Count Enrico Pietro Galeazzi, the director of the Knights’ office in Rome. Galeazzi served as governor of Vatican City during World War II, working as a liaison between the Vatican and other nations, including the U.S. In one instance, Galeazzi brought a letter from Pope Pius XII to the White House, in which the pontiff asked President Roosevelt that Rome be spared from Allied bombing.
The Knights’ recreation centers in Rome also served as the pope’s distribution center of food and other necessities during the war.
Pope St. John XXIII became the first pope to visit one of the Knights’ playgrounds in 1959. The visit must have impressed him, because a few years later, in 1961, he spoke about the playground to Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart during a private audience. Pope John XXIII told the supreme knight that he had heard about the Order’s initiatives during his youth and later was pleased to witness with his own eyes “the fruit their charitable assistance was producing.”
Since 1966 the Knights have supported Vatican Radio. And under Paul VI, the Knights expanded their role in the Vatican’s communications outreach by donating equipment for Vatican Radio, underwriting the creation the Vatican Film Library, televising special programs from the Holy See throughout the world and reprinting the pope’s championed encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The Knights also donated property that is now the site of the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall.
John Paul I
Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant was granted an audience with Pope John Paul I, becoming the first layman to visit with the new pope.
John Paul II
The Knights developed a close working relationship with Pope John Paul II. The Knights not only televised events and funded pastoral visits for the future saint, but also opened the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical School of Theology in Kraków.
The Knights also led a restoration project of St. Peter’s Basilica and funded a Polish chapel in the Vatican Grottoes. As a gift of appreciation, John Paul II presented to the Knights a copper cross once displayed as part of the statue of Christ on the roof of St. Peter’s.
The Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. is an initiative of the Knights of Columbus.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Supreme Knight Carl Anderson to positions on the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Synod on the New Evangelization. The Knights also coordinated and commemorated the pontiff’s Mass at Yankee Stadium in 2008.
It was during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI that Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, was declared “Venerable.” The decree furthers Father McGivney’s cause for canonization.
The Knights have continued to work with the Vatican throughout Pope Francis’ pontificate. They provide financial assist to Pope Francis through charitable programs and through supporting papal visits, such as those to the U.S. and Lithuania. They also supported World Youth Day, an initiative started by John Paul II and continued by Pope Francis. The Knights welcomed Pope Francis at the K of C–sponsored Mercy Centre during World Youth Day 2016 in Kraków.
Additionally, the Knights produced a documentary about Pope Francis, which you can watch here.
We look forward to celebrating our support for the Vatican and the Holy Father for another hundred years and then some.
Learn more about the Knights here.
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