Members of the Knights of Columbus hold swords as U.S. military personnel leave in wheelchairs after a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France May 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Members of the Knights of Columbus hold swords as U.S. military personnel leave in wheelchairs after a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France May 16. The latest annual report showed a record year for charitable giving and service hours by Knight of Columbus members. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The volunteerism of the Knights of Columbus and the fraternal organization’s fundraising for charitable works fit right in with Pope Francis’ emphasis on the idea of “a church of and for the poor,” according to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

Lending a hand for charity is not only giving “the gift of your own time” but also “the gift of yourself” to those in need, he said.

“Once you see what a difference your work makes, it encourages you to do more,” he added.

Anderson spoke with Catholic News Service shortly after the release of an annual report showing the Knights set a record last year for charitable giving and service hours with more than $173 million in donations and more than 71.5 million hours of service.

The number of hours contributed by members rose in 2014 by more than a million hours over the 2013 total with each member donating nearly a full workweek on average.

During the past decade, Knights, who today number about 1.9 million, have donated nearly $1.55 billion to charity and 691 million hours of volunteer service.

Anderson sees a strong “Catholic commitment to neighbor and community” and said that “even in hard times, people will step up.” The Knights’ programs also provide “a way of being involved in your faith in a deep way,” he noted.

Each year during the past 15 years, the Knights broke the previous year’s record, despite the recession caused by the 2008 stock market crash.

For Anderson, the record giving of time and treasure is also a special way to prepare for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit in September.

“Charity has been at the heart of the Knights’ mission for the past 133 years,” Anderson said in a statement accompanying the report, which was released at an annual meeting of the Knights’ state leaders held earlier in June at the organization’s headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.

“In America, Pope Francis will find a church that is alive with the love of God and love of neighbor, and the Knights of Columbus are excellent examples of this reality,” he added.

Anderson told CNS that he thinks “Pope Francis is doing a great job,” praising the pontiff for being “so strong in his encouragement of people to do more for those in need.”

He highlighted some of the ways the Knights helped others in 2014:

  • Launched the Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund last August and through it contributed $2.6 million for humanitarian assistance to those suffering persecution and dislocation in Iraq and the surrounding region.
  • Gave $200,000 each to the Eastern and Latin Catholic communities in war-torn Ukraine for humanitarian relief, supporting projects that feed and aid homeless children and refugees living on the streets of the capital city of Kiev.
  • Ran the Black Friday Coats for Kids program to give winter coats to children who don’t have them. (“Black Friday” is the Friday following Thanksgiving and traditionally the day many Americans head out to do shopping for Christmas.) Knights also contributed to local food pantries, community food banks and soup kitchens through the Food for Families program, and members participated in blood drives, Habitat for Humanity and the American Wheelchair Mission, which delivers new wheelchairs and mobility aids free to physically disabled children.
  • Provided $1.4 million to directly support athletes who will take part in this summer’s Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. The funds will cover the cost of transportation, housing and meals for the athletes as they travel to the games, stay there during the competition and return home. Tucson hosted a scrimmage softball game this month with athletes from Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix areas.

Anderson said the Knights have long supported the Special Olympics, because Sargent Shriver, husband of the games’ founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a member of the Knights. Beyond donating funds for athletes in the upcoming competition, state Knights councils also were encouraged to boost their already strong ties to the Special Olympics.

The Knights also are active in pro-life efforts, he said, having helped put over 600 ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers that couldn’t afford them. Seeing a sonogram of an unborn baby “really gets people to change their minds” about abortion, he explained.

Service Award recipients across the Arizona State Council

Through all of these programs, members of the Knights can see the impact they have on people.

Whether it’s a woman showing off her child and saying, “Here’s the baby I had because I went through your ultrasound machine,” or being able to pick up a disabled child “and put him in a wheelchair,” ultimately “you see how you change people’s lives,” Anderson said.

When asked about his goals for 2015, Anderson responded he’d like to “continue that momentum” on record-breaking fundraising and service hours, because “that’s priority number one.”

The top 10 U.S. states for money raised by local Knights in 2014 were: Texas (first place), Illinois, California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin (10th place).

He also said the organization wants to “open our doors even wider” by reaching out more to the Hispanic community.

The Knights of Columbus has more than 14,000 councils in North and Central America, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Europe. Membership is open to men age 18 or older who are practicing Catholics.

By Daniel O’Shea, Catholic News Service.