This weekend, Juneau is hosting the statewide conference of the Knights of Columbus, an international Catholic men’s spiritual, fraternal and charitable service organization. As you might expect of a Catholic organization, its three day-conference began with Mass at the Cathedral on Friday evening and will close this morning during Mass out at the Shrine of St. Therese.
The Knights of Columbus were founded in 1882 in New Haven, Conn., just a year after the site that became the city of Juneau was laid out in 1881. Fr. Michael McGivney was responding to the desperate plight of the widows and orphans in his largely immigrant parish. Those in McGivney’s parish lived in overcrowded and unhygienic slum neighborhoods, working long hours in dangerous or debilitating working conditions. Many workers died prematurely of tuberculosis, infectious diseases and work-related injuries. In the days before Workers Compensation and Social Security, their deaths forced wives and children even deeper into poverty and destitution. Thus, the Knights began (and continues to serve) as a social insurance society to provide for the widows and orphans of its members.
But the concern of the Knights began to serve not only the well-being of its members and their families but also the needs of the entire community as well. Following the example of their founder, Knights in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and elsewhere, motivated by their faith and the desire to serve the common good, raised and donated more than $167.5 million to a variety of charitable organizations and projects and volunteered more than 70 million hours of time toward charity work in 2012.
As you might expect, I’m proud of the charitable work of the Knights of Columbus and honored that they have come to our community for their statewide conference. But, as I think about their work, I am grateful for the work of so many fraternal and other charitable and service organizations that make this community and region a better, more just, and compassionate place to live. I can’t list them all (and won’t, for fear of leaving someone out), but what I have observed in my five years here as Bishop of Juneau and Southeast Alaska is that Alaskans value and honor service to the community, and especially service to those who struggle with poverty and need.
This weekend, for example, many of our fellow citizens will be going to Centennial Hall tonight for the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Glory Hole, Juneau’s downtown soup kitchen and homeless shelter. There they’ll stand in a long line to donate $30 for a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. Through the hard work and generosity of Juneau potters, who have donated hundreds of hand-thrown bowls, participants will be able to leave with a hand-made bowl as a reminder of all those in our community who are in need of food, hospitality and shelter.
Pope John Paul II, who alongside Pope John XXIII is being canonized in Rome today as a saint, defined solidarity as “The firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all … because we are all really responsible for all.” Events like Empty Bowls and the work of fraternal, charitable and service organizations such as the Knights exemplify the virtue of solidarity and allow us to do our part for the good of everyone. It is good to belong to a community where so many donate their time, talent and money on behalf of children, young people, seniors, those who are vulnerable or in need. By practicing the virtue of solidarity, we grow in generosity and compassion, both individually and together.
Pope Francis, speaking in a poor neighborhood in Brazil last July, said these encouraging words about the virtue of solidarity:
“When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them — some food, a place in our homes, our time — not only do we no longer remain poor; we are enriched. I am well aware that when someone needing food knocks at your door, you always find a way of sharing food; as the proverb says, one can always ‘add more water to the beans.’ … And you do so with love, demonstrating that true riches consist not in materials things, but in the heart!”