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Charity, Unity and Fraternidad

Posted on May 22, 2022 in: General News

Charity, Unity and Fraternidad

Outreach to Hispanic Catholics and other immigrant communities reflects the origins and growth of the Knights of Columbus

By Elisha Valladares-Cormier


Members of St. Anne Council 10540 in Gilbert, Ariz., meet to discuss Into the Breach, the 2015 apostolic exhortation to Catholic men by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix. Photo by Nancy Wiechec

When Blessed Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, many of its first members were — like Father McGivney — the children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves. Today, even as Catholic men around the world join the Knights of Columbus, a growing group within the Church shares a close similarity with those very first Knights: Hispanic Catholics in the United States.

“The Hispanic community — including the immigrant and refugee communities — is the best reflection today of the early Knights of Columbus,” explained Supreme Director Antonio BaƱuelos, a past state deputy of Iowa who immigrated to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico. “I have seen how the Order has helped immigrant and refugee families integrate more fully into the Church and take more active roles in church leadership.”

As of 2016, Hispanics made up more than 40% of the Catholic Church in the United States, and an even greater proportion — more than half — of American Catholics under the age of 29. However, while the Hispanic population in the U.S. Church has grown rapidly for decades, surveys indicate the practice of the faith decreases by roughly 10% with each generation: More than 6 in 10 immigrants from Latin America identify as Catholic, but the same is true for only 43% of the grandchildren of immigrants. These demographic changes raise a question for the Knights of Columbus: How can the Order provide pastoral care to the largest segment of the Church in the United States today?

“Hispanic men are interested in how the Knights can help them grow in faith and as husbands and fathers. We know this because they tell us,” the supreme knight said. “Now is the time for us to lay a foundation in the Hispanic community on which future generations can build.”

“We need to understand that Hispanic ministry or outreach is not only about doing things in Spanish. It is about a true identification with our brothers and sisters, as Jesus prayed to the Father: ‘Let them be one as you and I are one.”

BROTHERS AT HOME AND ABROAD

The Knights of Columbus has a long history of building unity among Catholics throughout North America. The first Latin American council was established in Mexico City in 1905, taking the name Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 1920s and ’30s — when simply being a Knight could be cause for arrest or even execution — K of C leaders worked strenuously to bring attention to the plight of their Mexican brothers. Since 2000, nine members of the Knights of Columbus have been canonized or beatified as martyrs of the persecution.  The blood shed by these martyrs “has united forever the Knights of Columbus with the people and the land of Mexico,” Past Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in 2011. “The Order’s history is forever linked to this history of this great nation.”

As Mexican Knights sought refuge in the United States, they started their own councils, beginning in 1927 with Tepeyac Council 2635 in South Los Angeles. In 1931, members of this council helped start an annual procession in honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, their home country’s patroness and a source of comfort during persecution. The oldest religious procession in Los Angeles, the event continues to draw tens of thousands of participants each December.

Another link between the Hispanic community and the Order is shared devotion to the Blessed Mother under her title Our Lady of Guadalupe. She revealed herself to St. Juan Diego as “your compassionate mother, yours and all of the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries” — a mother attentive to all of her children’s needs and suffering.


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