SAN ANTONIO --The talk of the Knights of Columbus convention here, which I attended as an invited speaker, were missionaries from the Philippines. The Marikina Valley Council in Luzon traveled by foot for an hour and a half, each way, to establish a relationship with an indigenous Dumagat tribe living in the remote mountains despite the physical and language challenges.
Severo S. Del Rosario doesn't really understand what the big deal is. They were just doing what good Christian men do: helping, sharing their goods and skills and spreading their faith. Offerings of food and clothes -- the men and women were walking around largely exposed -- soon began a deeper sharing between the communities.
As the Dumagat people learned about Catholicism, they wanted more, some wanting to get married, others wanting to have their children baptized. When the Knights built a small chapel for the Dumagat people, "they were overjoyed," Rosario tells me through some English and the help of a Tagalog translator.
What the Marikina Valley Council is doing, says Arsenio Isidro G. Yap, Knights deputy for the state of Luzon, is an "integral part" of Christianity, "to go to poor places, where people are in need and where the faith is not being taught to the people."
In Manila, Yap's council works to help pregnant women and families with more children than they can support. Most recently, they helped a small fishing village obtain a no-interest loan.
As members of the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization, Yap says this charity work is not just about helping neighbors, but part of a life that ought to be transformative. He wants make sure men who are Knights under his leadership "become better Catholics, better men, better husbands."
The Knights are increasingly dealing with disaster relief -- helping some of those devastated by Hurricane Sandy and tornados in Oklahoma, and donating millions of dollars and man-hours to general relief efforts across the country.
The Knights are doing the work of civil responsibility, at a time when America's future in this regard is an open question. In his annual report to his brother Knights, Carl Anderson, head of the organization, brought up the Department of Health and Human Services' abortion drug, contraception and sterilization mandate that is "only one of many legal and regulatory challenges that threaten the free exercise of religion in the United States and elsewhere around the world."
He pointed to a relentlessness by which some attempt to "persuade the courts to stand the First Amendment on its head and give it a meaning completely contrary to its original intent." In the face of "those who would banish religion from the public square," he said, Knights, and Christians more broadly, "must lead by the good that we do" and "must not be silent in speaking up for our rights ... "show[ing] the world that it is love that motivates us to help and protect the poor, the widow, the orphan, the intellectually disabled, the cold and the hungry. And it is that same love that motivates us to work to help and protect families, marriage and the unborn."
As we face decisive junctures as a culture and country and challenges about who we are as a people, it's good to have leaders paving the way, providing prayer and charity, leadership and partnership. What an example to follow.