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Knights of Columbus celebrate 100 years of charity in Rome

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A group of the Knights of Columbus are on pilgrimage in Rome to celebrate 100 years of their charitable presence in the Eternal City.

The Knights of Columbus have been working in Rome through nine pontificates and a world war in which Italy and the United States were on opposing sides, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson highlighted in a news conference on February 11.

“Our motto was everybody welcome and everything free,” Anderson said.

The Knights of Columbus’ permanent presence in Rome began in 1920, in the aftermath of World War I, when Benedict XV invited the order to offer charitable aid in the city, particularly to youth who were victims of the war.

The Knights had run hospitality centers for American troops in Europe, including Italy, during World War I.

After the invitation of Benedict XV, the group’s first project in the Eternal City was the construction of playgrounds for young people, Anderson said, something the order continues today with five sports centers for Roman youth.

During World War II, many of these playgrounds also became distribution centers for aid.

These centers were followed by numerous other initiatives. At the Vatican, some notable contributions of the order were the donation of the land on which the Paul VI Hall was built, and the restoration of various Vatican landmarks and artworks, including the facade of St Peter’s Basilica and the statues of St Peter and St Paul in the square.

The group was also instrumental in the history of Vatican Media, providing financial assistance for the transmissions of Vatican Radio in the 1960s and the funding of a television satellite for the broadcast of papal events and Masses.

The Knights continue to support these broadcasts, bringing the “sounds, words, and images of the pope” to people around the world, as well as other initiatives of the Dicastery of Communication, the department’s secretary, Mgr Lucio Ruiz, said at the press conference.

Guzmán Carriquiry, vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, spoke about the Knights of Columbus’ contribution to the work of the commission and its participation in the 1999 synod on America.

The Knights of Columbus has also partnered with the Fabric of St. Peter, which is responsible for the care and restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica. Anderson said upcoming projects with the office include work in the Vatican excavations, where there is the tomb of St. Peter, and at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

In 2020, “The Knights of Columbus, an Illustrated History,” was published. It was written by Knights’ vice president of communications Andrew Walther and his wife, Maureen.

Anderson and the supreme council of the Knights of Columbus met with Pope Francis in a private audience on February 10.

The pope praised the order’s “work of evangelical charity and fraternity in a variety of fields,” also recalling their “faithful witness to the sacredness and dignity of human life, evident at both the local and national levels.”

“In our world, marked by divisions and inequalities, the generous commitment of your Order to serve all in need offers, especially to young people, an important inspiration to overcome a globalization of indifference and build together a more just and inclusive society,” Pope Francis said.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order, was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 by Venerable Michael McGivney, a parish priest. It has 1.8 million members worldwide who perform volunteer service and advance the order’s key principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.