By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
More than 350 Iowa Knights of Columbus and their families gathered April 6-8 in Davenport for spiritual renewal, knowledge enrichment, sharing ideas and fraternal bonding. Awards were bestowed and the Knights’ charitable contributions and volunteerism were recognized. Some Knights wore the new regalia, while some wore the old regalia. The convention’s emphasis was on faith and participation in the public square, not clothing.
Joining his fellow Knights was Bishop Thomas Zinkula, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque who became bishop of the Diocese of Davenport last June. Along with 56 other men, he became a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus during the state convention, held in Davenport.
The Fourth Degree, also called the Patriotic Degree, is an honor bestowed on men willing to pledge lives of service and virtue in the public square. As the class honoree, Bishop Zinkula gave a brief talk at the April 6 Fourth Degree banquet at the RiverCenter. His remarks set the tone for the convention, focused on a Knight’s responsibility as a Catholic to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Everything else follows from that.
Patriotism and Catholicism
Bishop Zinkula cited passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and a second-century Christian letter from The Liturgy of the Hours to illustrate church teaching. “We are both faithful Catholics and American citizens, that’s what the church wants for us,” the bishop said.
“How does one be a faithful Catholic and a loyal citizen? I like to approach it from the perspective of nouns and adjectives. An adjective is an attribute, a quality of a noun …. The language I like to use is American Catholic. ‘Catholic’ is the noun. That’s who I am. That’s the most important thing about my life; and then, American. That happened because I live in the United States of America.”
There are limits to patriotism. “We don’t follow along blindly with the crowd. What happens if our country engages in practices contrary to Catholic teaching or the natural law? What if it declares an unjust war on another country? What then are our duties? Are we to support our country, right or wrong, as some people say? As Catholics,” the bishop said, “our first allegiance is to God, always. St. Paul wrote about the balance that Christians must maintain. He says, ‘In all ways possible, be a good citizen, but never place the demands of the state above the demands of Christ.’
“In fact, I would suggest that rejecting the illegitimate demands of the state is an act of true patriotism. Any nation that demands that Christians violate their consciences in the service of the state is acting in a destructive manner. By refusing to follow these unjust demands, the Christian calls his country to a higher ideal. An American Catholic is to love his country, but he will do so always with his eye on heaven, his true native land.”
Fight for religious values
Iowa Knights of Columbus State Deputy Antonio Banuelos spoke of the value that Knights place on patriotism within the context of their Catholic faith. The Fourth Degree Knights, specifically, take the word patriotism to heart, he said. “Be proud of loving our country; be proud of calling ourselves Catholic… Remind those around us — at work, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes — that we are called to build the domestic church. We are called to build our nation, honor God, indivisible. We are fighting for religious values. We are fighting for our country to be better and to protect the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and our moral values.”
He concluded: “Patriotism is what we do, it is what we are and we’ll keep defending it … and as Fourth Degree Knights we’ll keep being that light of Christ to everyone around us… once we bring his word to everybody, we will have a better country.”
In his keynote address on April 7, Banuelos emphasized the importance of men as role models. He cited a report that gangs are growing because men are looking for a family-like organization to bond with other men. “What better organization for men to bond, to build values, to support moral principles, to strengthen our families than the Knights of Columbus?”
Praise for service
Awards were presented throughout the weekend to recognize outstanding individual merit and service programs that local councils conducted. Bill and Sandra Gruman of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell and their family were honored as the Iowa Knights of Columbus Family of the Year. Their pastor, Father Ron Hodges, was honored as Chaplain of the Year for the Diocese of Davenport.
Iowa Knights of Columbus performed more than 1 million volunteer hours during 2016-17 and their councils donated more than $2.8 million to charitable causes such as Special Olympics Iowa, Habitat for Humanity, Camp Courageous, Catholic Charities, local food banks and pantries, and support for persons with intellectual disabilities.
Set an example
District Master of the Fourth Degree, Michael Gaspers, reported on two resolutions that the Fourth Degree Knights passed. One supports the Conscience Protection Act (HR 644) now before Congress. “Educate yourselves on what the bill’s provisions are and what the church teaches about the right to conscience and what the Knights of Columbus do to support that.” He asked the Knights to also educate their assemblies on the issue. “Get involved in the public squares in your communities about the importance of protecting the freedom of conscience.”
The Fourth Degree Knights also affirmed support for and commitment to traditional marriage. “Do what you can in your own families and in your own communities to strengthen families in their marriage commitment. Help them with whatever programs you can to grow spiritually and to overcome difficulties and obstacles that especially young people face when they hear the message that if you want to, just get out. We need to be the example of sticking it out.”
One of the convention’s highlights for local host chairman Vern Vondera of Our Lady of Victory Parish-Davenport was the “generosity of all of the people in the community who volunteered to make it come together. It was humbling to see the great support — everything from baked goods to silent auction donations to people showing up to help.”
The convention “exceeded our expectations,” said District Deputy Steve Gaertnier of Holy Family Parish-Davenport. “Many participants said it gave them a renewed feeling of their faith.”
Iowa Knights of Columbus State Award recipients 2017-18:
Grand Knight of the Year: Jeff Meyer, Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Knight of the Year: Matt Bahl, Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Family of the Year: Bill and Sandra Gruman, Davenport Diocese.
Deacon of the Year: Deacon Joe Schockemoehl, Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Youth of the Year: John Trumm, Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Diocesan Chaplain of the Year: Davenport Diocese, Father Ron Hodges; Des Moines Diocese, Father Thomas Kunnel; Dubuque Archdiocese, Father Aaron Junge; Sioux City Diocese, Father Lynn Bruch.
Outstanding District Deputy: Claude Mertzenich (Archdiocese or Dubuque)
Church Surge with Service program: winner, Council 8178 (Monona/ McGregor), Ten Commandments
Community Surge with Service program, winner, Council 1962 (Manchester), Flags for Flight
Council Surge with Service program, winner, Council 8178 (Monona/ McGregor), Taste of Tuscany
Culture of Life Surge with Service program, winner, Council 780 (Carroll), Ultrasound Fundraiser
Family Surge with Service program, winner, Council 15813 (Dubuque), Bahl Family Fundraising Events
Youth Surge with Service program, winner, Council 700 (Waterloo), Ranger Rosary Program
Read more about the diocesan award winners here.