Pope Francis thanked the Knights of Columbus for their support of Christian marriage in a message to their 133rd Supreme Convention this week. The letter comes less than two months before the Pope’s visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families at the end of September. “Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator's plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family,” the Pope said in his message.      The support of the truth of marriage is a duty for all of the lay faithful, Pope Francis continued, because marriage “is essential to the wise and just ordering of society.” As marriage has recently been under attack in the United States, the Pope said he hoped the theme of the convention, “Endowed by their Creator with Life and Liberty,” would spur American Catholics to “contribute to the reasoned defense of those freedoms on which their nation was founded.” The Holy Father expressed his hope and trust that the catechetical programs founded by the Knights ahead of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the Synod on the Family would contribute to the witness to the truth about marriage. Pope Francis' message to the Knights came during the same week as his general address on divorced and remarried Catholics. The Holy Father encouraged a more welcoming approach toward Catholics in these situations, and urged clergy to not treat them as though they are excommunicated. “The Church well knows that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament,” the Pope said in his Aug. 5 General Audience at St. Peter's Square. Nonetheless, he added, the Church should always approach such situations with a “mother's heart; a heart which, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of the person.” In his letter to the Knights, the Pope also praised the group’s efforts to aid persecuted Christians in the Middle East and in other parts of the world through their Christian Refugee Relief Fund, and appealed to them for their continued efforts and prayer. At the Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson unveiled a new portal on the Knights’ website, christiansatrisk.org, where Americans can go to donate to help Christians in the Middle East. He also announced that the Knights will be selling wooden crosses made from the olive trees in Bethlehem as another way to fundraise for the cause. “It is urgent that, from Catholics throughout the world, an unceasing sacrifice of prayer be offered for the conversion of hearts, an end to fanatical violence and intolerance, and a general recognition of those fundamental human rights which are not granted by the state, bur from the hand of the Creator, whom all believers invoke as a God of peace,” he said.   With 1.8 million members around the globe, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. The group was founded in 1882 by the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. In 2014, the Knights raised more than $173.5 million for charity and performed more than 71.5 million hours of volunteer work.