November 6, 2003
A Cross in a Chalice
This tribute to the Knights of Columbus was delivered by Edward Cardinal Egan in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of the Knights' 2003 Supreme Convention.
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers and Deacons, devoted Religious, Dr. Anderson, my brother Knights, and friends all:
When I was telephoned and invited to offer remarks at this splendid dinner, my priest-secretary asked me what I planned to say. Without a moment's hesitation, I answered with just one word - "Thanks." For I am very much in debt to the Knights of Columbus and I am delighted to have an opportunity to tell you so, and to tell you why as well.
Here are just a few of the reasons for my gratitude.
First, I am deeply appreciative of your leadership in defense of human life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. You are an example and a challenge to Catholics across the nation and, indeed, across the world. Your powerful statements to our political leaders, your beautiful pro-life messages to diocesan and parish groups, your generous support of agencies and programs that assist mothers and children in need, and your prayers for the correction of unacceptable legislation and unacceptable judicial decisions regarding life issues in this beloved land of ours are all great and valued gifts for which there is no limit to my gratitude. In this connection, permit me also to say a special word of appreciation for the assistance you have given the dioceses of the State of New York as they put together a network to apprise our legislators of what we expect of them in defense of life. We are more grateful than you will ever know this side of heaven.
Second, I am deeply appreciative of your work in fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Your approach to dealing with this issue is particularly effective and marvelously inspiring. Your warmth and your genuine affection for priests and religious shine through everything you do. Similarly, your scholarships for seminarians are most appreciated. Over the past three years in which I have served in New York, I have never had an ordination class without young men whom the Knights of Columbus had generously sponsored in the seminary. Each of them is profoundly grateful, as am I. What a blessing it is for me to have an opportunity to say this to so many of the Knights and their families this evening!
Third, your extraordinary support for our Holy Father and the works of the Church Universal are without parallel among Catholic lay organizations throughout the world. What you have done for the charities of the Bishop of Rome, for the restoration of St. Peter's Basilica, for the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City, for missionary undertakings, and for numerous papal celebrations and events over the past many years can never be sufficiently praised. I think, for example, of Dr. Anderson's participation in the Holy Father's interfaith prayer for peace in Assisi last year. I had the privilege of being present, and never was I so proud of our Catholic laity as when I saw and heard our Supreme Knight speaking so eloquently for all of us.
Fourth and last, your continual involvement in projects and programs of our parishes is a gift for which I will always be most grateful. Your members lead parish committees. Your members share in parish Masses and celebrations and bring to every occasion in which you participate an aura of devout, manly faith that never fails to touch the heart. There is something very special about a procession into a parish church with the Knights of Columbus leading the way.
I could go on, but best not overstay my welcome. Permit me to end this way.
I had a wise and devout grandfather whom I loved very much. He was a Knight of Columbus who used to take my brothers and me to all celebrations of the Knights in which children were included. He was also a daily communicant with an uncommon respect for priests and religious.
One day when I was visiting my grandparents, my grandmother told my grandfather that I was thinking of going to the seminary. I could see on his face that he was delighted. However, sage old gentleman that he was, he simply remarked: "That's very good news."
In 1957, when I was making final preparations for priestly ordination in Rome, my parents sent me an envelope that had been prepared by my grandfather many years before he passed away, in fact, just about the time he learned that I was going to the seminary. It contained a gold cross about three-quarters of an inch by three-quarters of an inch which he had been given by his Council of the Knights of Columbus. On the envelope he had written: "I am praying that Eddie becomes a priest. Have him put this in his chalice, if he gets ordained."
If you ever come to my residence in Manhattan for Mass, you will see on the altar a chalice with a gold cross about three-quarters of an inch by three-quarters of an inch inserted into the base. It reminds me to pray every day for this glorious Fraternal Order, for all it does for the Church, and for all it does for wise and holy men like the grandfather, whose love and prayers helped bring this priest to the altar of God.
Thank you for all you are and all you do, and may the Lord continue to bless you and your loved ones abundantly.
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York