Anderson: Like worship, Christian witness is essential to religious freedom



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WASHINGTON (CNS) – One of the main concerns of Carl Anderson, now retired CEO of the Knights of Columbus, is to preserve religious freedom in this country.

“It is not so much about the arguments about the separation of church and state as it is about the values ​​that faith brings to our culture – the need for Christian witness,” he told Catholic News. Service.

“We need to understand why the free exercise of religion is so important to the US constitutional framework,” he said. “This is the Bill of Rights first right after all – they (the Founding Fathers) had a lot of other choices, but they put it first because they thought that was the problem. most important that human beings have to face. “

“Many lay people are trying to reduce this right to worship – the free exercise (of religion) goes far beyond that,” he said. It is about living “your life according to your religious convictions – this has always been the Catholic understanding”.

To “stand up for what we value, we must demonstrate the values ​​we bring to society, especially as Catholics…

For Knights, these values ​​are the four fundamental principles that guide everything they do in church and society: “charity, unity, brotherhood, patriotism”.

Anderson retired on February 28 as Supreme Knight when he reached the organization’s mandatory retirement age of 70. He was replaced by Patrick Kelly, but continues to serve on the Knights’ board of directors.

He is the author of several books, including “These Liberties We Hold Sacred,” published earlier this year by Square One Publishers. It is a collection of his speeches, essays and articles over the past several years addressing “that first freedom” – religious freedom – as well as the sanctity of life, faithful citizenship and the family.

The best example of Christian witness in the book, Anderson said, is the work the Knights of Columbus did “to defend the Christians of Iraq against genocide” by pushing the United States to officially declare this genocide, which finally happened in 2016.

The Knights and In Defense of Christians released a report that year documenting hundreds of killings of religious minorities by Islamic State fighters, which led then Secretary of State John Kerry to make the declaration of genocide.

This is the perfect example of the responsibility of Christians to engage government on important issues, Anderson said. “It is incumbent on Catholics that we are engaged in the political process, the government process, and that we can work in a bipartisan fashion. “

This genocide effort involved, among others, Kerry, the Obama administration and U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo from California on the Democrats ‘side and, on the Republicans’ side, Representative Chris Smith from New Jersey and Mike Pence, both when he was a congressman from Indiana and after being elected vice president in 2016.

The declaration ultimately led to the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, enacted by President Donald Trump to hold IS militants accountable as perpetrators of the genocide and provide assistance. humanitarian aid to their victims.

The Knights of Columbus have played a role in rebuilding parts of northern Iraq since 2014; the organization has spent more than $ 25 million to assist in the recovery of persecuted communities in Iraq and Syria, including helping to build sustainable infrastructure amid the fraternal organization’s calls for greater security for religious minorities back in northern Iraq.

Anderson commented on Pope Francis’ historic pastoral visit to Iraq March 5-8, stating: “I think we have a courageous Pope, he has a missionary spirit, a missionary heart and it was so evident” during the trip .

“His trip was a huge service to the church in Iraq,” he told CNS. “I hope this will elevate the position of the Christian community in this part of the world which is in many ways treated as second class citizens.”

The role of the church in Iraq is “very important to our own understanding of religious freedom and our service to our own society,” Anderson said.

“Today Christians in the Middle East are a shining example to the world – and especially to Christians,” he wrote in the book. “They forgive their tormentors and practice their faith despite what, for many of us, are truly unimaginable costs.”

In the United States, we take religious freedom for granted, Anderson said, adding that there must be “a strong internalization of the faith” to resist the “constant pressure” to diminish this freedom.

“Catholicism is not something outside of the American experience,” he added, saying he has been part of the nation since its founding. Each generation of immigrants from Catholic countries, like the Irish, Italians and now those from Latin America, and their traditions, he said, have added “to our own understanding of being an American.”

For Anderson, the culmination of his tenure as the best knight was October 31, 2020, the beatification of the organization’s founder, Blessed Michael McGivney.

But he also said that what had “edged him up” over the years was “the enormous expansion of Knights’ charitable work in so many countries, not just the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico. , in Korea, France, Poland but in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

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Copyright © 2021 Catholic News Service / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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