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The Knight's Cross

August 16, 2007

Fifty years ago in Rome I was preparing in the Fall for my ordination to the priesthood in December. The preparations included obtaining a chalice that my mother's parents had asked me to purchase as a gift from them. At that time in the Eternal City, rather than buy a ready-made chalice from a religious goods store, where it would be quite expensive, one could go to a chalice-maker and work out with him a fitting design and a fitting price as well.

The chalice-maker whom I chose had a tiny workshop on the ground floor of an old "palazzo" with a small door and an even smaller window opening out on to the "Via dei Coronari" very near the Piazza Navona, where tourists gather today in large numbers to enjoy a chocolate dessert known as "Tartufo" and purchase paintings from struggling artists. The "Via dei Coronari" is now an elegant avenue with art galleries and antique stores from one end to the other. A half-century ago it was a rather run-down, cobblestone street with humble workshops on either side in which furniture-makers, upholsterers, framers, goldsmiths and silversmiths plied their trades.

My chalice-maker was Signor Arturo Brandizzi, whom I visited on an October afternoon to discuss his fashioning a chalice for me. I told him of one he had made for a friend of mine some years earlier and asked for a similar design with a few adjustments. He was a warm, gentle fellow who accepted the assignment with a smile and stipulated a price that seemed quite reasonable.

Each week during my seminary years in Rome, I would write a letter to my family telling of life in the City of the Popes and the Caesars. In one, early in October, I reported my visit with Signor Brandizzi and included in the letter a pen-and-ink drawing of what the chalice would look like. A few weeks later I received an urgent note from my mother telling me to watch for a little package with a memento from my grandfather that I might want to fit into the chalice.

In due course, the package arrived. It contained a gold cross that had been presented to my grandfather in recognition of his long and dedicated service to the Knights of Columbus. It was about five-eighths of an inch high and wide and cast in the shape of what the Knights of Columbus call "a Formée cross, having arms narrow at the center and expanding toward the ends." It is the cross on which the official emblem of the Knights is mounted to form a coat of arms.

Immediately, I took the cross to Signor Brandizzi and requested that it be attached to the base of my chalice. He reported that this would be costly, since it would require piercing the base, adding a nut and a bolt, changing the plate on the bottom of the chalice, etc., etc. I indicated that I would have trouble with an increased price and wondered if something simpler could not be done. I told him the chalice was a gift from my grandparents and the cross came from my grandfather who had been given it because he was an outstanding "Cavaliere di Colombo." Signor Brandizzi wrinkled his brow, gazed out at the passing parade on the "Via dei Coronari," shrugged his shoulders and announced with a sigh that there would be no change in the price. Grandparents, grandfather and "Cavaliere di Colombo" had turned the tide. "The chalice will be beautiful and worthy of the grandson of a 'Cavaliere'," he told me. And it was. For 50 years I have celebrated Mass with it and always loved it.

On Monday, August 6, at eight o'clock in the morning I flew to Nashville, Tenn., to participate in the annual meeting of the Knights of Columbus, which they have come to call "The Supreme Convention." I have been a fourth-degree Knight for many years and was delighted to join 2,700 Knights and members of their families for a three-day gathering, which was also the 125th anniversary of their founding.

The meeting included an opening Mass with His Eminence, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy Father, as principal celebrant, and a "States Dinner" at which Cardinal Bertone was given the "Gaudium et Spes Award" of the Knights of Columbus, a recognition that had been presented to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, His Eminence, John Cardinal O'Connor, and only three others over the past several years.

Dr. Carl A. Anderson, the Supreme Knight, and Cardinal Bertone both addressed the guests, as did four other very special members of the hierarchy, namely, His Eminence, Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana in Cuba; His Eminence, Juan Cardinal Sandoval Iñiguez, Archbishop of Guadalajara in Mexico; the Most Rev. Antonio J. Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro City in the Philippine Islands; and the Most Rev. Fouad Twal, Coadjutor Archbishop of Jerusalem. The reaction of those in attendance to each presentation was a standing ovation.

The rest of the evening was filled with music as we sang together songs from each of the States of the United States, each of the Provinces of Canada, and many individual nations, including Mexico, the Philippines and Poland. As a familiar beat was introduced by a lively band, the song of the State of New York took hold of the entire crowd. "Start spreadin' the news," it began; and without missing a beat everyone joined in, while 20 New Yorkers appeared in front of the dais, dancing, wearing top hats and waving canes. It was a great evening for all.

Asecond major event of the convention was the "Gala Banquet" in honor of Cardinal Bertone, at the beginning of which His Eminence delivered a stirring address that highlighted key concerns of the Holy Father, among them, the need for a deep faith, a fervent spiritual life and a generous commitment to service in all—clergy and laity alike.

The cardinal's words were especially appropriate, given the record of the Knights of Columbus over the past 125 years. In my invocation before the "States Dinner," I had an opportunity briefly to illustrate at least some of their achievements, as I thanked the Lord "for the zeal of the Knights as they instruct millions in the faith by word and work, as they care for the poorest among us, as they provide the best in academic training and spiritual formation to countless children and young people whose parish and religious schools they support, as they assist in the funding of Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries, as they care for men and women in the armed forces and teach us all the lessons of peace, as they sustain campus ministries, as they champion marriage and family life, and especially as they defend every human life from conception to natural death."

In the midst of all of this and more, Mr. Rob Astorino and I managed to broadcast our weekly program, "A Conversation with the Cardinal," on the Catholic Channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. On this occasion I seized the opportunity to tell the story of the founding of the Knights of Columbus in St. Mary's parish in New Haven, Conn., a century and a quarter ago, by a young diocesan priest, Father Michael J. McGivney. I described how difficult life was for Catholics at that time in New England and throughout the United States and explained that the Knights were established largely to provide basic insurance for the poor, adding that it is now a fraternal order with a membership of over 1,700,000 and an insurance company among the finest in the world. Nor did I fail to emphasize that the process for the beatification and eventual canonization of Father McGivney is well under way in Rome.

On Thursday morning I was back in New York, thanks to an early flight out of Nashville. At my residence I celebrated Mass with a chalice into the base of which a gold cross had been inserted a half-century ago. As I raised it for the Consecration, my thoughts turned to the Knights of Columbus, my grandparents, particularly my grandfather, and—yes—Signor Brandizzi too. For all have a special place in my heart.

Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York

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