I wish to express my gratitude to Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and fellow Knights for the invitation to this Concert in this historical Basilica, linked to the memory of Saint Francis of Assisi and one of the most ancient Marian places in Rome, on the occasion of the naming of a Square, in this City, Cavalieri di Colombo. Thus, we are united for such a particular circumstance, which wants to be a demonstration of the recognition for your commitment and your love towards the great City of Rome, center of Catholicism and seat of the Successor of Peter.
I am happy to convey the felicitations of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who has asked me to mention that his venerated Predecessor Benedict XV was (the one) to invite the Knights of Columbus to establish themselves in Rome in 1920. Since then, the initiatives of your Order have successfully continued in the Eternal City, followed with a great and rewarding friendship.
This American organization is better known by the majority of the Romans for its sports centers which are present in this city. In fact, the Knights of Columbus have had a decisive role in the construction and organization of sports facilities for the children of the city, as well as in restoration of artworks in the Vatican and in projects for telecommunications. Even more so your role has been important as a confidential diplomatic channel between the United States of America and the Vatican City State, before the diplomatic recognition of the Holy See by the United States in the 80s.
Among the most important restorations to which you have contributed there are the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Maderno Atrium, the dome of the Holy Sacrament, the Vatican Grottoes, the statues of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as many other works.
Instead regarding diplomatic relations, we might remember that Count Enrico Galeazzi, director of the Knights in Rome, was sent by Pope Pius XII to the United States in order to obtain from President Roosevelt the cessation of bombings on Rome in 1943, after allied airplanes had bombed the city. And the foundation for Vatican diplomatic relations with the United States was posed approximately 40 years later, in 1982, at the international Convention of the organization.
But perhaps more incredible than anything else is that the Knights of Columbus continue to operate in Rome, through the opening of their sports centers, even after the Second World War, where the United States and Italy were adversaries and in a period where the Government of the time had abolished the activities of Catholic youth.
After the war, the Knights of Columbus carried out an important relief role in Italy and for the Italian population, and they have remained for Rome, even today, a symbol of the solid bond of faith and friendship, never interrupted. The members of this Foundation have shown (us) the laity vocation of the witness of the Gospel, within the Church and in society in general, accepting the particular challenge that Catholic laity finds itself having to face. In the first place, they have demonstrated their willingness to assume the tasks (commitments) of each baptized person and to be a witness of the fundamental position required from every Christian, whether consecrated or lay, that is to say, our full, absolute acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and the decision to follow him as (our) Head (Leader) and Master.
Your Founder, Venerable Father Michael McGivney was prophetic in clearly understanding that the total and complete “yes” to Christ was not exclusively reserved for those who had received sacred Orders or had professed religious vows. On the contrary, this is a “yes” which is required at every baptism. Father McGivney’s conviction was founded on an even more profound intuition, and, that is, that our concern for the needy and the perseverance in charity activity could attenuate and find (itself) without their deepest meaning if it were not deeply rooted in faith, intended as an indwelling of the Holy Trinty in our hearts, through the divine grace which allows us to renew every day our “yes” in the person of Jesus Christ.
This summons the spiritual presence of the Virgin Mary among us, especially in this liturgical period of Advent. This reminds us of the witness of St. Francis of Assisi, here contemplated by his sons, the Friars Minor. And this also confirms the witness of the Knights of Columbus, to which appreciation is shown by the civil and ecclesiastic community of Rome. To you, Mr. Supreme Knight, to all the Knights and friends who are present, I wish a fruitful pathway of Advent and Holy Christmas, full of peace and serenity.