OSV News – When Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, leader of more than 2 million Knights of Columbus members worldwide, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in April, he shared an insight about the era in which the organization's founder, Blessed Father Michael J. McGivney, evangelized.
"The culture of Father McGivney's time was hostile to the truths of our Catholic faith," said Kelly, "and the culture today is perhaps even more hostile."
Such a reality could be profoundly discouraging, but it instead inspired Kelly to launch a robust new set of initiatives to "sharpen" Knights as courageous witnesses to Jesus Christ.
It's faith formation for what some have called a post-Christian society.
Dubbed "Cor" – Latin for "heart" – the initiative is designed, its website says, "to form and strengthen Catholic men in faith and virtue as missionary disciples by drawing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, formation, and fraternity."
"We asked our guys, ‘What if we found a way, at the council-level, to provide quality prayer, faith formation, and fraternity – separate from our traditional business meeting?' We simply asked our guys around the world," said Damien J. O'Connor, vice president of evangelization and faith formation in the Department of Fraternal Mission at the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.
There are more than 16,000 local Knights of Columbus councils worldwide.
"And the response was overwhelmingly positive. We said, ‘You know, at the grassroots level, we can provide these opportunities for our men – and any man in the parish – to give them that space to come together, to receive those three things,'" O'Connor told OSV News. "So over the last two years, we've been developing this initiative. We have over 70 jurisdictions worldwide. Sixty-one have currently adopted this and are trying to implement it at the council level."
Kelly announced Cor at the Knights' 140th Supreme Convention, held Aug. 1-3 in Orlando, Florida. Components include "Into the Breach," a 12-episode video series; "Men of the Word," a Bible study; "Patris Corde," a study of St. Joseph's life as a model for Catholic men; recitation of the rosary; Holy Hour; a monthly challenge from the Knights' supreme chaplain; and a wealth of supporting materials, with more to come.
"What we're being more intentional about is actually going back to the basics, of when Blessed McGivney started the order," O'Connor explained. "It was very much to help the widows and orphans; no doubt about it. But if you read the history of him and his writings, he cared deeply about the formation of men. And so we're simply being more intentional about that. It's nothing new for the Knights; it might feel that way, but it's really not."
Reactions speak for themselves.
"Into the Breach" had so many views – over a million – that a second series is planned, focusing on the family.
When O'Connor attended the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in August, he came supplied with "Men of the Word" Bible study packages. "I thought, ‘Well, we'll bring a lot extra, and whatever we don't give out, we'll take back," he recalled. "Every single one of them was taken."
As a result of Cor, "What we're finding is men are now asking to join the Knights of Columbus, rather than us asking them," O'Connor said. "Because they're growing in their faith; they're enjoying their time together – and they want more."
Kelly, O'Connor emphasized, "deserves all the credit."
"I remember saying to Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly – maybe six, seven years ago – ‘If we could really evangelize our guys; if we could really offer them quality faith formation, I believe it changes the world, because we have 2 million members. So if you had, even, 30% that really became evangelists, it changes the world," O'Connor reflected. "And I remember he said, ‘I think about this every day.'"
Jimmy Dee, jurisdictional director of evangelization and faith formation for the Tennessee Knights of Columbus, said that Tennessee "was one of the original pilot locations" that helped the Knights' Supreme Council "design and launch this series of new truly incredible, Christo-centric programs – an initiative that's helping reignite the hearts of our Catholic men across the country and around the world."
"We've been a wonderful observer and participant in its growth from an idea to, now, a national call to all Knights to return to our roots," said Dee.
He is enthusiastic about Cor's flexible design.
"What I like the most about the way this particular initiative has been designed is that it's both Christo-centric and parish-centric – in that each parish will find its own proper mix of these events and activities that will speak to the men of their parish," Dee explained. "So, unlike more traditional programs that we've offered in the past – which were very much replicated the same, regardless of where you were, in what council, or what parish – this initiative is driven at the parish level, by the hearts of those who are literally on the front lines.
"And they are the ones who are listening to the needs of their pastors, and then taking actionable steps to help our priests with their pastoral mission."
And that can differ from parish to parish.
"It may be the church needs a boost in the fraternal activities, or the things that bring people together in a fun and joyous way. Maybe they need to focus more on helping men create better prayer habits in their day-to-day routines. Or is it possible they could use a little more catechesis, and learning more about the details of our faith?," Dee commented. "It's not a one size fits all. It's what are we hearing in the pews and with our priests that we need to be able to provide in order to strengthen the Catholic man; the Catholic family; as well as the parish, and our Catholic community as a whole."
The response in Tennessee has mirrored the nationwide response.
"Better that 65-70% of our Knights across Tennessee have either adopted a Cor model of program," Dee said, "or are in the process of building one."
But Cor isn't simply about personal enrichment, Dee stressed.
"These events and activities are helping us to build and create programs and pathways of discipleship that will help men gain that confidence necessary for them to be a witness of their faith and share it with others, while inviting them into a relationship with Jesus Christ," noted Dee.
"We're getting right down to that front-line problem of, Catholics are great when it comes to practicing their faith, but we're not real good at sharing it. This initiative is getting to the absolute heart of that problem – pun intended," he laughed. "In Tennessee – keeping in line with this new initiative – we're telling people that our new state motto is, ‘We are Knights to our Cor.'"
In Laredo, Texas, Héctor Chapa – grand Knight for Council No. 9626 at St. Martin De Porres Catholic Church, district deputy of District 232, and coordinator of evangelization and faith formation for the Diocese of Laredo – has witnessed his council's membership double since it began Cor gatherings.
A council that previously had 12 Knights now has almost 30, with as many as 46 weekly attendees.
"They'll start asking, ‘What do I need to do to join?' It's just great," Chapa said of the Cor participants. "It builds character within the parish itself. We have a better understanding and working relationship with our priest."
Chapa added, "Once we got started, they wanted more." Fall and spring sessions offered an interactive, multi-week men's program called "That Man Is You!" developed by Paradisus Dei, but Chapa and his fellow Knights explored the "Into the Breach" video series during the summer.
"We were able to grow by another 15 members," said Chapa. "The video itself is very well-presented," he emphasized, noting the council will soon place an order for the next series. "It's real down-to-earth. It's easy to watch. It's easy to understand."
Activities have gained such momentum that the council has held a Eucharistic procession; a popular fish fry; and soon, their first men's retreat.
"Our common hope here is, we need to do everything that we need to do to make sure we get our families to heaven," Chapa said, "before anything else."
The Cor initiative, Chapa is certain, contributes to that effort.
"It sets you up to be able to build yourself up, and basically – hey, we need to go into battle, guys! We understand that the devil is coming after our families," Chapa cautioned. "What are we going to do about it? We need to sharpen our swords, more than anything else."
Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.