As you may be aware, on Tuesday, June 2, President Trump visited the national shrine of St. John Paul II, which is run (or at least financially supported by) the Knights of Columbus. This visit came on the heels of his controversial photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal in Washington DC, a visit which was preceded by the tear-gassing and forcible removal of non-violent demonstrators, including the pastor of St. John’s. The visit the shrine was a ill-disguised campaign stop, clearly intended to firm up his support among conservative Catholics. The Shrine itself has issued the following statement which appears on their main page:
Many are aware of a presidential visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine today. Here is a statement from the Shrine: “The White House originally scheduled this as an event for the president to sign an executive order on international religious freedom. This was fitting given Saint John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate. International religious freedom receives widespread bipartisan support, including unanimous passage of legislation in defense of persecuted Christians and religious minorities around the world. The Shrine welcomes all people to come and pray and learn about the legacy of Saint John Paul II.”
Shortly after this, as a Knight I received an email from Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, announcing a novena against racism. You can read the press release about it here.
In response to this email, I wrote the following email to Carl Anderson, so far unacknowledged. I posted it on my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here to give it a somewhat wider audience, in the hopes that other Knights would see it and, if they agree with me, share their feelings with our Supreme Knight.
Dear Mr. Anderson,
thank you for a call for a novena against racism in America. It is a welcome stance. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Knights, through the John Paul II Shrine in DC, have played a role in fomenting division and racism, by allowing President Trump to use it as a backdrop for what are obviously campaign photographs. I fully endorse the comments of Archbishop Wilton Gregory of DC, who wrote:
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.“
I read the statement on the Shrine’s statement on their website, and I found it weak and disingenuous. I think a more believable stance by our order would be to endorse what the Archbishop said, call for the Knights to join in peaceful demonstrations wherever they live, and to make a greater effort to reach out and serve Black communities near them. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
David V. Cruz-Uribe, OFS Treasurer KofC Council 16400 Tuscaloosa, AL