Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Knights of Columbus in the Philippines

The Knight of Columbus is a Roman Catholic, family, fraternal and service organization which is a member of International Alliance of Catholic Knights. It is the world’s largest fraternal service organization. The order operates with blessings of the church, and helps it in its endeavor to reach out to the faithful and to serve the community. Recognizing the effort of the order, Pope John Paul II said that the Knight of Columbus is the “strong arm of the church”. The order involves itself in charitable and humanitarian activities such as helping victims of calamities like typhoon, giving donations and paying visits to the sick and needy in such institutions as hospitals and orphanages. Knights, as what the members of the order are called, also provide free and voluntary service to the community on endeavors that can help the people and the local government. With sense of fraternity, knights foster strong bond of relationship with each other and help each other in their time of needs.  

Father Michael J. Mcgivney (August 12, 1852-August 14, 1890), an Irish-American Catholic priest from New Haven, Connecticut founded the Knight of Columbus on March 29, 1882. The son of Irish immigrant parents, Father Mcgivney saw the hardships of Catholic families in the search of livelihood in a Protestant Anglo-Saxon dominated society. Their situation was exacerbated during a loss of a breadwinner in the family. Surviving members had to cope with the lack of income and finding job. To deal with the problem affecting the Catholic families, Fr. Mcgivney established a mutual benefit society that could provide a sort of insurance system to the families. Fr. Mcgivney also noticed that Catholics were barred from joining labor unions. And by policy of the Catholic Church, a catholic could not join fraternal organization such as the Free Masonry. On that background, a new catholic organization was conceived.

The explorer Christopher Columbus, a catholic who served under Queen Isabella I of Catholic Spain, was the person who opened the door of the American continent for European settlement and Christian evangelization. He was considered a hero during Father Mcgivney’s time. But the young priest was some sort of disappointed to observe that catholic immigrants were marginalized in the predominantly protestant society. He originally thought of a name “The Sons of Columbus” for his organization.  The word “Columbus” was some sort of a mild rebuke to the “Anglo-Saxon” leaders to stress that Catholicism had a role in the founding of the United States.  The word “sons” was replaced with the word “knights” after James T. Mullen who would later become Supreme Knight successfully suggested that “knights” would better describe the ritualistic nature of the organization. Thus the name “Knights of Columbus” was adopted for the new organization.

In the Philippines, the first members of Knights of Columbus were American army and navy soldiers who established the first council which was Council 1000 on April 23, 1905, in Intramurus, Manila. Its first Grand Knight was Richard Campbell. Atty. Gabriel LaO was elected as the first Filipino Grand Knight. In 1947, Fr. George J. Willmann was granted by the Supreme Council in the expand the number of council in the Philippines. In 1948 the first Knights of Columbus district was established composed of Manila Council 1000, and the newly constituted councils: Cebu Council 3106, and Cagayan de Oro Council 3108. Father Willmann was the first District Deputy who served until 1953. In March 1, 1954, Supreme Knight Luke Hart appointed Fr. Willmann to the title of Territorial Deputy which he held until 1961. By 1962, he was made the first Philippine State Deputy as a result of the emergence of more than 100 councils in the Philippines. Father Willmann served in that capacity until his death at age 89. According to past Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant he was the Father Michael J. Mcgivney of the Philippines. Former Senator and Ambassador Oscar Ledesma succeeded Fr. Willmann as the Philippine State Deputy from 1977 to 1983. He was instrumental in the creation of three Assistant State Deputy positions of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Mardonio Santos succeeded Ledesma in 1983. During his term, the order saw enormous growth of membership. On July 1989, the Philippine Jurisdiction was divided into three states of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And the Assistant Philippine Deputies were then automatically appointed to be the first State Deputies of their respective areas.

A knight is dedicated to the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.  Charity is the first principle of a knight which calls for generosity in sharing his material resources and services especially to the poor and less fortunate people. Unity is the solidarity or the spirit of teamwork among knights in the attainment of the order’s goals and activities. Fraternity is the spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie that bind a knight with another. Patriotism is the unselfish love and duty for the country. A knight’s adherence to the constitution and service to the government are in line with this principle.

Hierarchy in knights’ ranks is categorized in four degrees. The first degree is the lowest and the fourth degree is the highest. Each degree, in ascending order, embodies the core principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. To qualify as a knight, a gentleman must be 18 years old and above, and that he must be a practical Roman Catholic. He undergoes a closed ritualistic initiation called exemplification to become a first degree knight. In that level he embodies the principle of charity. He climbs into the ladder of hierarchy by following the rules set by the Knight of Columbus. He should also recruit a new member to reach the second degree. A third degree exemplification brings a knight closer to full knighthood. The fourth degree which embodies the principle of patriotism brings the knight to the apex of the knights’ hierarchy and bestows on him the title as a “sir knight”.  An elaborate rite participated in by the color corps, top officials of the assembly and clergy and attended by family members and guests characterized the exemplification to the fourth degree.  In that degree a knight can qualify as an elected officer of a council or an assembly. A fourth degree knight can have the regalia consisting of chapeau, baldric, cape, tuxedo or white dinner jacket, a bow tie, a glove and a sword upon purchase. On his option he can join the color corps which is the most visible group of the order. Priests who desire to become knight do not participate directly in degree exemplification as laymen do, but rather take the degree by observation.

The council is the lowest and the basic unit of the order. It comprised of knights of all degree. Only 4th degree knights are eligible to become an officer of the council. Officers are elected by knights of the council except the Financial Secretary who is appointed by the Supreme Knight who is based in USA. The highest officer of the council is the Grand Knight. The council holds a meeting every first Sunday of the month. The assembly is composed of fourth degree knights of member councils who hold meeting every fourth Sunday of the month. It also elects its own officers. The highest officer of the assembly is called the navigator. Councils and assemblies usually establish their headquarters at the parish or church they are connected with. The assemblies and councils are overseen by a district whose head is the District Deputy. The Philippines is divided into four states of the Knight of Columbus which are the North Luzon, the South Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. Each state is a jurisdiction of an officer who is called the Deputy. The highest authority of Knight of Columbus units the world over is the Supreme Council in 1 Columbus Plaza, New Haven, Connecticut, USA which is headed by the Supreme Knight who at present is Carl A. Anderson.  
                                              Council                                     Assembly             
                                        Grand Knight                                   Navigator 
                                           Chaplain                                             Friar
                                  Deputy Grand Knight                            Captain
                                           Chancellor                                     Admiral
                                             Recorder                                        Scribe
                                    Financial Secretary                               Comptroller
                                           Treasurer                                            Purser
                                            Lecturer                                         Non Existent
                                            Advocate                                       Non Existent
                                             Warden                                             Pilot
                                        Inside Guard                                    Inner Sentinel
                                       Outside Guard                                 Outer Sentinel
                                  Trustee (Three Year)                       Trustee (Three Year)
                                    Trustee (Two Year)                         Trustee (Two Year)
                                    Trustee (One Year)                          Trustee (One Year)
                                        Non Existent                            Color Corps Commander
                                        (Above is list of officers of council and assembly)

Knights follow a military like protocol and parliamentary procedures during their meetings. In the council level the title of officers is prefixed with “worthy”.  A Grand Knight is thus addressed “worthy Grand Knight”. In the assembly the title of the officers is prefixed with “faithful” and in a meeting a knight should say “faithful navigator”. Utmost respect is rendered to the Grand Knight, Navigator, top officers of the district and state and the clergy during official meetings and other gatherings.

The original purpose on which Knight of Columbus was founded which is to provide financial assistance to members during times of needs and misfortune has lived on. Relative to it, the Knight of Columbus has in its system the provision of voluntary insurance which is exclusive to the members of the order. The U.S. Knight of Columbus is an organization with over a billion of US dollar in assets. Its financial program has generated 2 million insurance contracts totaling US 90 billion dollars in life insurance that is in force and backed up by US $21 billion in assets as of 2014. In 2013, its insurance program has a surplus of US $1.8 billion. Knight of Columbus ranked 900 in total revenue in 2011 according to Fortune’s 1,000 list. The financial benefits however cannot be extended to the Philippines because of restriction on laws between the country and the U.S.

In the Philippines, in 1958, Fr. George J. Willmann founded the Knight of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc., or KCFAPI. It was incorporated as a non-stock corporation. On September 9, 1958, KCFAPI was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and was duly licensed to operate an insurance system that would cater exclusively to the members of Knights of Columbus.  With its insurance programs, the association provides knights following advantages: one is that they become a co-owner of the association when they apply for insurance: another benefit for them is that the insurance transaction is tax free and exclusive to the members of the Knight of Columbus. KCFAPI has subsidiary companies that could enhance its financial status. Income of the association is used to pay for the proceeds due to the members, to spend on charitable and humanitarian activities and to fund the scholarship of seminarians.

Some world famous figures who are members of the Knight of Columbus include the late President John F. Kennedy of USA, his brother Ted, the legendary baseball legend Babe Ruth, former World Heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, Jeb Bush and two-time Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Day. In the Philippines, some of famous Knights of Columbus members include the late former Senator Oscar Ledesma, former Supreme Court justice Hilario Davide, Justice Jose Reyes, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. The list of famous knights is not limited to the names that are mentioned in this paragraph.