The Knights of Columbus will lead new initiatives to support Native Americans and First Nations people in the U.S. and Canada, and to assist refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border, the organization’s leader announced Tuesday.

“In the United States, as well as in Canada, there are communities that too often are ignored. That is why we are focused on launching a new initiative focused on Native Americans in the United States and First Nations people in Canada,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced in his address to the 137th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, held in Minneapolis Aug. 6
 
The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide charitable organization with more than 1.9 million members.
 
Fr. Michael McGivney founded the organization in 1882 for men to have opportunities for solidarity and service to the Church and to their communities, and for widows of members to have material support.
 
The “four pillars” of the Knights are charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism, and a theme of the 2019 Supreme Convention that Anderson stressed is “Knights of unity.”
 
As part of the initiative to support Native American communities, Anderson said that the Knights, along with the Diocese of Gallup and the Southwest Indian Foundation, will break ground Aug. 11 on a St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine.
 
“It is our hope that in the years to come, this St. Kateri Shrine will become a national, spiritual home for Native Americans and, equally importantly, for all Catholics in North America,” Anderson said.
 
The Knights will “in the months ahead, find new ways to work with the Black and Indian Mission Office,” Anderson said, and will encourage local councils to reach out to Catholics living on Native American tribal lands and reservations.
 
Pope Francis also “expressed his great enthusiastic support for our efforts” at a meeting in November, Anderson said, where the Supreme Knight presented the Holy Father with a chalice made by Navajo craftsmen.
 
Anderson also announced that the national organization is “prepared to commit at least $250,000 immediately in humanitarian aid for refugees” at the U.S.-Mexico border, following the work of local councils to give food, clothing and water to refugees in the area. Anderson said that “we are prepared to expand” the initiative to refugee camps in every border state.
 
“Let me be clear: this is not a political statement,” Anderson said. “This is a statement of principle. This is about helping people who need our help right now. And it is a natural and necessary extension of our support for refugees across the world.”
 
Later in the address, Anderson brought up Kendrick Castillo, an 18 year-old Catholic who charged a gunman at STEM School Highlands Ranch school in the shooting there in May.
 
“His courage distracted the gunman, giving his classmates time to escape,” Anderson said. Castillo was a Catholic and the son of a Knight; his father, who was present at the convention along with family members, said that Kendrick wanted to be a Knight.
 
Anderson bestowed Castillo posthumously with the Knights’ highest award—the Caritas Award—and encouraged Knights to stand and vote to grant Castillo full membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they did with a standing ovation.

Noting the theme of “Knights of unity,” a letter to the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on behalf of Pope Francis, said that “on the eve of His death, Our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples,” and “the Church’s communion in charity is the wellspring of her mission.”
 
Pope Francis “thanks the Knights” for promoting prayer “for the sanctification of priests,” the letter said, especially through the Knights’ sponsoring of a U.S. tour of St. Jean Vianney’s incorrupt heart; the relic pilgrimage passed through stops in the 48 continental U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico from November 2018 through June 2019.
 
The pope also called on the Knights to uphold the “unity and solidarity between the generations” called for in the recent Synod on Youth, as young people are looking for examples of “faith,” “service,” and “commitment to the common good” in a culture of materialism.
 
President Donald Trump also provided greetings to the convention, saying that “I stand by with you in advocating for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn.” The president added that “we are all children of God.”
 
Elsewhere in his address, Anderson noted efforts by the Knights all over the world to serve others including devoting $2.7 million in disaster relief last year; the Knights helped the Florida panhandle rebuild after Hurricane Michael, which included $100,000 in donations to help a pastor whose rectory had been destroyed.
 
Also, the Knights helped victims of the conflict in Ukraine, and Anderson called on the Knights “to pray for a just and lasting peace that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
 
“To bring an end to anti-Catholicism in America was one of the reasons why so many men joined the Knights of Columbus,” Anderson said. Yet despite Catholics joining the “mainstream” of American society with the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960, new threats have arisen, he said.
 
“Sadly I must report to you today that there are those who would turn back the clock and that they are on the rise,” he said, citing hostile questions to Catholic judicial nominees over their religious beliefs. He referenced Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) comment to Catholic and mother of seven Amy Comey Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” during a confirmation hearing.
 
Another nominee, Brian Buescher, was a member of the Knights and was asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) if he would leave the Knights to avoid a pretense of bias over the organization’s pro-life principles.
 
The Constitution “forbids a religious test for public office,” Anderson said, saying the incidents manifest “once again, ‘Catholics need not apply’.”
 
However, Catholics should not withdraw from public life, and “we will never let that happen,” Anderson said. “We will not sit idle while the great achievements of the past are stolen from us and from our children’s children.”