The crisis in the Church today is one of evangelization, or rather, one of a failure to evangelize, especially to and within the Catholic family, Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus’ international organization, said at the 2020 Catholic Men’s Conference.
The annual conference, held Feb. 1 at Xavier College Preparatory, drew 1,100 men from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix and beyond to better equip them to be stronger husbands, fathers and men of Christ.
Although Anderson acknowledged the recent sexual abuse scandals in the Church have contributed to the trend of Catholics no longer attending Mass, the rate has been declining for decades, he noted. The supreme knight offered several statistics saying that in the last 50 years, more than 26 million Americans have left the Catholic faith, Baptisms have fallen by more than 40 percent, sacramental marriages have plummeted by two thirds, and the number of Catholics who attend Mass every week has fallen by more than half. This year also marks the first time that a majority of Hispanics in the U.S. said they no longer identify as Catholic, he added.
“We cannot expect someone else to come in and make everything right. The challenges we face are too great. All of us have a responsibility,” Anderson said. “As Catholic men we must step up. We must act now.”
Anderson has headed the Knights of Columbus — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization for laymen with 1.9 million members worldwide, including 17,200 in Arizona — since 2000. He praised the apostolic exhortations by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, “Into the Breach” and “Complete My Joy,” as “wonderful” introductions to a Catholic spirituality for men and for married couples, respectively. At the conference, the Knights showed a trailer for a new video series being done in conjunction with the diocese based on “Into the Breach.” The series is set to formally launch on Ash Wednesday.
During Anderson’s tenure, the Knights have taken the cause of supporting persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.
“I have met with priests who have been tortured and who have had their churches desecrated and destroyed,” Anderson told the men of the diocese. “For these brothers and sisters in the faith, there is no easy day to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They have no First Amendment protection for their free exercise of religion. Every day they face a hostile — even a life-threatening — environment with courage, determination and faith.”
After adding that the witness of these Christians tells the world that they “are willing to give up everything we have except our faith in Jesus Christ,” he asked if Catholics in the West had that devotion. He then challenged the men to read Sacred Scripture, attend Mass more often, be more involved in their children’s spiritual and religious formation and to contribute more actively to their parish communities.
Transmitting the faith to children is more than reading a textbook or sacramental participation, he said. “We have the responsibility not only to transmit to our children truths about the nature of God and the human person and standards of right and wrong,” Anderson said. “We also have the responsibility to transmit to our children what it means to live a life in Christ.”
Citing the example of the Knights’ founder, Ven. Fr. Michael J. McGivney, Anderson said that the organization’s principles of charity, unity and fraternity provide an enduring path of Christian discipleship.
“Fr. McGivney saw that Catholic men united in charity could form a brotherhood that would enable them to fulfill their mission — a mission to manifest Christ to others by their witness and in that way contribute to the sanctification of the world,” Anderson said. “Put another way, he knew that in a time of crisis, faithful brotherhood was the answer.”
Anderson concluded by challenging men to fulfill that mission by witnessing to their neighbors and other families.
“Today, is the opportunity for you to examine the principles that you stand for, that you live by and that you will fight for — for your family, your community and your Church,” Anderson said. “The times call for a new commitment on the part of Catholic men to the Church’s work of evangelization — an evangelization … that only the laity can provide. You may be thinking, ‘But what can I really accomplish?’ And I would answer, ‘Look around you at the men here today. Together we can become the men that God has called us to be — men of faith and men of action.’”
Other speakers included Alexandre Havard, who is known for his “Virtuous Leadership” program, and Herm Edwards, former NFL player and coach and current head coach for the Arizona State University Sun Devils.
Havard discussed magnanimity, the virtue of being great of mind and heart, noting how it goes hand in hand with humility. True humility, he said, is having self-knowledge.
“True humility is the truth about who you are,” Havard said. “It is the naturalness with which you can speak about your sins in two hours of confession, and the naturalness in which you can speak two hours about your gifts and talents with your friends, without boasting, just with realism.”
While we must also have a supernatural hope in God, Havard said, we should also have some faith in ourselves.
“We have received so much things through nature that we need to have faith in those things. We need to understand what it is that we received, and we need to investigate those gifts that God has given to us in order to multiply them.”
Pride and magnanimity are not the same thing, he said. Magnanimity is the striving of the soul, the will and the intellect toward great things and the desire for greatness, excellence and, for Christians, for holiness.
“The only greatness that is worth being called greatness is personal greatness and the holiness that you produce around you in the souls of people,” Havard said. “The day you die, the only thing you have in your hand is this — no business products, no empires, no towers — the only thing is your spiritual growth and the growth of people that have been growing because of you.”
In his address, Edwards discussed leadership, saying it isn’t about directing people, but rather, a way of being.
“When you’re a coach or a player, people judge you by wins and losses,” he said. “But when you step out there and you say you’re a man of faith, they judge you by your actions.”
Edwards recounted that when he meets with parents of potential recruits, they want to get to know him since he will be in direct contact with their sons for the next four years.
“No coach in the history of any sport has ever given a player talent. God gives them the talent,” he said. “What you have to do as a coach is you have to make sure they don’t waste that talent, because it’s a gift.” He added that he tells parents that when their sons leave his watch, “if he’s not a better man, I’ve failed you.”
The No. 1 thing leaders do, said Edwards, who attends Mass regularly at ASU’s All Saints Newman Center, is provide hope, adding that hope gives us energy, vision and opportunity.
“If we are truly men of faith, that’s what we provide because people watch you and everything you do.”
During the conference, men had the chance to go to Confession, offered in the chapel and in the track field. So many men sought the sacrament, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares was initially concerned they wouldn’t all get to go, but with 19 priests available, ultimately everyone who sought forgiveness for their sins received it.
“It is powerful to see over 1,000 men gathered to praise and thank Almighty God for all His many blessings and to learn more and more how to be faithful Catholic men in our day, in our families and in our society,” Bishop Nevares told The Catholic Sun.
Brandon Garcia, a parishioner at San Francisco de Asís in Flagstaff and a co-founder for the King’s Men in Northern Arizona, said he made sure to take plenty of notes.
“This year has been really good. I’m going to have to buy the talks so I can listen to them again, because it’s been very fruitful.”
The Knights of Columbus Arizona State Council has regularly co-sponsored the conference in recent years, an initiative that state secretary Luigi Baratta, a parishioner at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, says is important to help men learn how to evangelize within and outside the home.
“Being the largest catholic men’s group in the world, we want to lead by example,” Baratta said. “We fund this conference to bring Catholics together, not to necessarily join the Knights of Columbus, but to keep them in their faith and be leaders of their home. The father of the family is responsible for taking their children to church. We feel if they have that strength, they’ll continue to do that from generation to generation.”
The conference also drew men from outside the diocese. Jesús Rojo, who attends St. Mark Parish in El Paso, Texas, attended his third conference at the invitation of his son, a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale.
“There’s something good for all of us men,” Rojo said. “It’s about convincing me to go more deeply into the Church. I’m very thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to be here to learn and also to practice.”