By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
GREENVILLE “Lift High the Cross,” the millennium message of Pope John Paul II, was the theme for this year’s Knights of Columbus 80th Annual State Convention, held May 4-6 at the Hilton Hotel here.
About 250 Knights of Columbus from across South Carolina met in the Piedmont to review their accomplishments during the fraternal year and recognize Knights, families and councils for their efforts in community, charitable, council, family and youth activities.
Bishop Robert J. Baker was the celebrant at the convention Mass on May 5, held just prior to the State Council Banquet.
In his homily, the bishop asked what can be done to promote vocations to the ordained ministry, the religious life, and various forms of the lay apostolate. He answered that the first component is prayer. “The Lord has not stopped calling priests and religious men and women to serve the church. It is just harder to hear the call of the Spirit today.
Bishop Baker then encouraged each Knights council to obtain a copy of the “Imagine Being a Priest” video from the Diocese of Charleston vocations office. “Help us help the Lord increase the number of worthy candidates for service as priests, deacons, religious and lay people collaborating in service,” the bishop said. “Help us help the Good Shepherd carry out his shepherding role to the great people of the Diocese of Charleston.”
At the convention dinner, State Deputy Charles Richitelli said he hoped the convention theme would help inspire the Knights to raise the cross to new heights and renew their faith in God, the order, and themselves.
Bishop Baker again took the opportunity to thank the Knights of Columbus for their loyalty in issues the church has emphasized, listing the pro-life, capital punishment, and vocations promotion areas.
The bishop said he would be calling on the organization for further assistance to help in efforts for retired priests and center-city schools, saying he is committed to supporting Catholic school education but that “the costs are astronomical.”
Bishop Baker also updated members concerning the ongoing year of reconciliation taking place in the diocese and announced that in 2002 a major evangelization effort will be launched in the Palmetto State through the Disciples in Mission program. He concluded by thanking the Knights for “being a collaborator with me in ministry.”
The guest speaker for the evening was Ronald J. Tracz, assistant to the Supreme Knight and senior vice president for Fraternal Services from New Haven, Conn.
Tracz said the order, which recently celebrated its 119th birthday, now has 1.6 million members in 12,000 councils throughout the world. The Knights also have $8.5 billion in assets and $41 billion of insurance in force. “Those facts speak well for us,” he said. “We have been able to carry the torch of Columbianism from generation to generation.”
Last year, said Tracz, Knights donated $109 million to charitable causes and also volunteered 55 million hours to charity.
“These are stories about you, the blood drives, church dinners, food baskets, and dances,” he said. In South Carolina, Knights here donated $430,000 to charitable causes and over 300,000 volunteer hours to charity. “Priests, school administrators, and social service directors all speak of the good you do,” said the senior vice president for Fraternal Services.
He added that new Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has emphasized the need for the organization to grow and has developed goals in order to facilitate that end. These include offering the opportunity to join the Knights of Columbus to every Catholic man, to have a Knights presence in every parish, and involve and recruit young people.
“We need to educate eligible prospects and their families to prepare for the future,” said Tracz, who noted that the order has had 27 consecutive years of net membership gain.
He continued, “Each of you here today is part of a unique organization. There are lots of problems out there today, but there are lots of K of C members. It’s a new springtime for the Knights of Columbus. Let us remember to ‘Lift High the Cross.'”
At the conclusion of the banquet, members were able to kick up their heels at a dance or enjoy the hospitality suite before the early morning awards breakfast on Sunday.
Before the plaques were given out the next day, however, several presentations and monetary grants were made to the following: $10,000 to Bishop Baker for vocations, in addition to a $1,000 check from the Mass collection the previous evening to go to the diocesan Volunteer Program; $5,000 to professor Charles White of Clemson, director of Outdoor Laboratories at Camp Hope; $5,000 to Barry Coates, president of South Carolina Special Olympics; $5,000 to Ann Poole of the Washington Center in Greenville; and $5,000 to Gene Marlow of Greenville County Disabilities and Special Needs Board.”