Ukrainian archbishop celebrates Mass for Knights

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PHILADELPHIA - It is a general custom at the annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus that the head of the diocese or archdiocese where the convention is held celebrates the opening Mass.

This year in Philadelphia for the Aug. 4-6 convention the Knights got a twofer, because Philadelphia happens to have two sitting Catholic archbishops.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput celebrated the opening Mass at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and a day later Archbishop Stefan Soroka, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the same venue.

Archbishop Soroka also is the metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.

It is only the second time in the Knights' history that a Ukrainian Catholic liturgy was celebrated at the organization's convention; the first was in 1988, the millennial year of the Christian conversion of Ukraine.

In this case, the altar area took on the look of an Eastern Catholic sanctuary, dominated by a large icon of the Theotokos (Mary, the mother of God).

For those unfamiliar with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Soroka explained it is "one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the See of Peter, of which 18 serve their faithful in the United States."

In his homily, the archbishop explained some of the points stressed in the theology of the Eastern churches, including "the divinization of man beginning at baptism."

In a special way, he said, "men who choose to become Knights of Columbus following in the footsteps of our founder, Father Michael McGivney, also experience special transformation as they are transfigured on this path to divinization."

Archbishop Soroka related how years ago when he was a parish priest he helped organize a Knights of Columbus council in the parish. Men who had never been active in parish programs and appeared shy and hesitant nevertheless joined the council and were transformed into energetic leaders both in the parish and the community.

"They became so bold, so confident, that they were not hesitant to even advise me as to what I should be doing," he said. "Their natures changed. The power of fraternal prayer and works of charity in an atmosphere with a patriotic love for God, church and country transformed these men and their families."

Approximately 2,000 members of the Knights of Columbus from around the country and abroad gathered at the convention center for what was the fraternal organization's 133rd Supreme Convention.

The theme for the three-day convention was "Endowed by Their Creator with Life and Liberty," paraphrasing the famous words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the same city 239 years ago.

In a message to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson as the convention opened, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, sent good wishes and prayers on behalf of Pope Francis.

He also drew on the convention theme, saying Pope Francis hoped it would call attention "to the duty of American Catholics, precisely as responsible citizens, to contribute to the reasoned defense of those freedoms on which their nation was founded.

"The cornerstone of these is religious freedom, understood not simply as the liberty to worship as one chooses, but also, for individuals and institutions, to speak and act in accordance with the dictates of their conscience," said Cardinal Parolin's message.

When that right "is menaced, whether by invasive public policies, or by the growing influence of a culture which sets alleged personal rights above the common good," the message continued, all citizens who are concerned "for the overall welfare of society" must mobilize to protect that right.

It also noted that Pope Francis is preparing for his visit to Philadelphia Sept. 26-27 and participation in the World Meeting of Families.

The pope, it said, "expresses deep appreciation for the (Knights') steadfast public witness ... (of) our Christian understanding of marriage and the family."

The sacrament of marriage "is, in the Creator's plan, a natural institution, a lifelong covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family," the cardinal's message said.

Today, the institution of marriage "is under attack from powerful cultural forces," it added, "(and) the faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society."

Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015