Address at Hispanic Leaders Conference

Author: Carl Anderson


Carl Anderson at Hispanic Leaders Conference

"We owe future generations of immigrants a country where they can practice their faith"

MIAMI, Florida, AUG. 28, 2012 ( Here is the text of an address given Saturday by Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, at the annual conference of CALL (the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders).

* * *

Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you this evening here in Miami.

Miami is a city that makes obvious the fact that our continent includes both cultural diversity and a unity based on faith.

In fact, though we may individually trace our heritage back to different countries, all of us have inherited a place on the Catholic continent. All of us are heirs to the legacy of Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego. And all of us have a role to play in the New Evangelization of our hemisphere.

We are a microcosm of the American continent. Whatever differences any of us may have, they are far surpassed by the unity we find in our common faith.

It has long been this way. Since Columbus landed in 1492, those who followed him from Europe had one thing in common. They were Christian, and a great many were Catholic.

In fact, Christian belief has been something held in common by those who settled every country in North and South America.

And while not all who came were the best examples of Christian practice, Christianity took hold on this continent.  And it continues to be a driving force here at a time when Christianity in Europe is in steep decline.

In Latin America, Catholicism took hold early as a result of the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the United States, Catholicism has grown from one of the smallest Christian populations to the largest.  It now accounts for a quarter of the population of the United States.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was central to that process in the South and Southwest, where Spanish missionaries carried her image and legacy to the people there.

In this country, the Catholic faith was strengthened by the successive waves of immigrants commonly associated with Ellis Island:  the Irish, the Polish, the Germans and the Italians — the latter group being the one that included my own ancestors.

And each of these waves of Catholic immigrants invigorated the Catholic Church in the United States.

Today once again, immigrants are invigorating our Church. Though more immigrants now come from Latin America than from Europe, today’s Catholic immigrants hold great promise for our Church and our country.

Hispanic immigration is driving today’s growth in the Catholic Church, it is reinvigorating our parishes, and it is shaping the future of tomorrow’s Catholic communities.

Hispanics are the single largest group of Catholics in our hemisphere. Something that Blessed John Paul II understood very well.

A little more than a decade ago, in Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II wrote about the future of Catholicism in our hemisphere and he called Our Lady of Guadalupe “the Star of the New Evangelization.”

He also said this, about the importance of the laity in promoting the New Evangelization: “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church.”1

All of us have a leadership role to play in continuing the conversion of our continent — a conversion begun by Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531. We must not be tempted to think that the “event” of Our Lady of Guadalupe was only for a year or a decade or even for a century.

Blessed John Paul II spoke of Our Lady of Guadalupe not in the past tense, but as the “Star of the New Evangelization.”  She remains capable of changing the lives not only of individual believers, but also of the future of our society.

The New Evangelization calls each of us to be like Saint Juan Diego — to be public witnesses to our faith.

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — wrote: “This is why we are in need of a new evangelization — if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science — this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life — he who is the Gospel personified.”2

The layman, Juan Diego, became the Gospel personified and carried his love of the Mother of God and her son to an entire “New World.”

We must continue the work he began.

We must be messengers of the New Evangelization. 

We must witness to the Gospel in our words and deeds.

To begin with, all of us must take care to align our life and our moral compass to “the Star of the New Evangelization.” We must lead by example, and like Juan Diego, we must overcome any fears we may have in standing up for what is right.

In spreading the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego faced an initially skeptical bishop. Today, we are unified with our bishops, but we face both politicians and pundits who are openly skeptical of the Gospel’s moral message.

We must not be discouraged. Nor can we overstate the fact that how we lead and what example we set today, will help determine the future of this continent.

This is especially true of Hispanic Catholics, who make up the largest group of Catholics in our hemisphere and are an increasing force within the United States.

We have a powerful ally in Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was instrumental in converting the indigenous people of America.

But her appearance also came at a time when the Spanish authorities in the New World were at odds with their bishop — Juan de Zumarraga. The colonial authorities limited the religious freedom of the Church and they sought to create an environment that made the Church’s work of evangelizing the Native Americans nearly impossible.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance not only had an effect on the Native Americans, but also on the Spanish — who we might call the first in a long line of immigrants to the New World. Without her, the missionaries work at evangelizing was failing, and many of the Spanish settlers themselves were deviating from their Catholic values.

But with her everything changed.

Before Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance in 1531, the ruling Spanish colonists who were opposing their bishop and mistreating the Native Americans had found a way to simultaneously profess faith in Christ, while breaking with that faith in key areas of their lives.

That inconsistency was the problem. And it threatened Spain’s expansion into the New World as Bartolome de las Casas made clear in his appeals to the Spanish monarchy for better treatment of the indigenous peoples.

Inconsistency does not work today either. A person cannot be Catholic at home or at Church, but not in economic and public life. Then as now, we are called to apply our Catholic principles to every aspect of life.

In speaking of how lay people could lead this continent forward in the New Evangelization, Pope John Paul II said this: “Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the lay person and of lay spirituality, which means that the laity strive to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural and political life. On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values…”3

That means that as business leaders, we must apply Catholic standards to the way we do business. Our business decisions that affect investors, employees, shareholders or customers — all of these must be viewed morally if we seek to have a just and sustainable business model. 

And an authentic Christian witness.

Catholic Social Teaching provides us with a blueprint for managing in an ethical way. And many studies, including the notable ones done by Jim Collins have shown that ethical decision-making doesn’t compromise profits, it enhances them. My experience at the Knights of Columbus has validated these conclusions in a very specific way.

To the contrary, ignoring the moral consequences of individual action is precisely what got us into the current economic crisis.

Look at the largest most successful companies with a long-term history of success.  You will see time and again companies that consciously placed other values above simply seeking profit.   Usually you will find a company that understands the wisdom expressed in John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, that while profit is important to a business enterprise it is important, not for its own sake, but precisely because businesses are more than profit-making machines. They are, he said, “a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society”.4

Part of running a business is investing capital, and where we invest, drives the growth of certain industries. So if we wouldn’t want to be a part of a certain industry, we shouldn’t invest there either. As Catholic leaders with the responsibility of carrying forward the New Evangelization we cannot be morally complicit with evil in our business decisions or our investments.

Similarly, we must approach politics with the same sort of discretion. If we would not invest in companies that seek to profit from products that are intrinsically evil, why would we support politicians whose policies promote intrinsic evils?

Pope John Paul understood well how important it was for Catholics to transform the politics of this continent in order to help further the New Evangelization. In fact, he said this:

America needs lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society. It is urgent to train men and women who, in keeping with their vocation, can influence public life, and direct it to the common good. In political life, understood in its truest and noblest sense as the administration of the common good, they can find the path of their own sanctification. For this, they must be formed in the truths and values of the Church's social teaching, and in the basic notions of a theology of the laity. A deeper knowledge of Christian ethical principles and moral values will enable them to be exponents of these in their own particular setting….”5

So, the question for us is, “How do we as Catholics find a “path” to “influence public life and direct it to the common good” which at the same time is a “path” of our own sanctification? 
For Hispanic Catholics, this question may be presented most starkly today by the issue of immigration.  But it is not a new challenge.

The Knights of Columbus was founded 130 years ago by immigrants and the children of immigrants to protect both the faith and finances of their families. It was founded for another reason as well. 

In the face of massive immigration by Irish and German Catholics in the nineteenth century, the American Party, the “Know Nothings” and other anti-Catholic bigots claimed that these new Catholic immigrants could not be faithful to papal teaching in matters of faith and morals and at the same time loyal to the values of American democratic society. 

The Knights of Columbus sought to show that Catholics coming to the United States could be both faithful to their Church’s teaching and loyal Americans.

Today, we find a new and more sophisticated variation on this theme.

Unfortunately in politics, Catholics — and especially many in the Hispanic community — are too often confronted with a choice between a candidate who claims to be welcoming of immigrants — but supports legal abortion, restrictions on religious freedom, or other policies hostile to immigrants’ values and detrimental to the Catholic understanding of marriage and the family — and one who stands with the Church on these social issues — but holds positions that might be less welcoming of immigrants.

Seemingly on the basis of immigration alone, the president has gone so far as to urge that Latinos should “reward their friends and punish their enemies.”  But the question of immigration for Catholics is too complex historically and morally for it to be reduced to the realm of “single-issue politics.”6

Obviously, the immigration issue is emotional and difficult.  And my purpose is not to propose a legislative solution, though we all want and deserve a real solution.

But the immigration issue is a symptom of the greater problem in our politics. Too often real solutions are ignored and it is the most extreme proposals that get debated.

In the immigration debate, we usually see the issue presented as either amnesty for all immigrants or exclusionary laws like Arizona’s.

Often, politicians on both sides present something less than a comprehensive solution.  But most Americans sense that it shouldn’t be an all or nothing debate precisely because there is a lack of confidence that extreme solutions are sustainable over time.

But some of those same politicians do take decisive action on other issues: issues related to life and religious liberty, for instance, and they enact policies that are fundamentally at odds with Catholic beliefs.

In this Faustian scenario, those who voted on the basis of immigration reform alone find two things today.

First, many of those politicians they voted for are implementing policies increasingly hostile to the core moral beliefs of Hispanic immigrants.

Second, the promised comprehensive immigration solution has never materialized.

What has occurred is an economic and moral environment so hostile to immigrants — and an immigration policy so wholly inadequate — that Mexican immigration is at a standstill. There are now as many or more immigrants actually returning to Mexico — the vast majority of them voluntarily — as there are seeking admission to this country, according to the Pew Foundation.7

How can we bring the New Evangelization to bear on our politics when confronted with the stark reality of a political environment which today seems incapable of reaching solutions?

The surest course is to put aside political ideology, realistically confront society’s values and bring to bear on those values the perennial wisdom of our Catholic faith.

Regarding the immigration issue, our Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll has found that nearly three-quarters of Americans would embrace a solution in which undocumented immigrants in the United States could stay if they paid a fine, learned English and had a job that paid taxes. Eight in ten Americans believe this country’s laws can protect immigrants and our borders too.8

Our polling suggests that a sufficient social consensus exists to achieve a reasonable and sustainable, if not perfect, resolution of this national debate.

And what do Catholics have to contribute in a distinctive way to this discussion?

I would suggest that we follow the advice of Blessed John Paul II and look to the “Star of the New Evangelization” for guidance.

As great as we may think the cultural and social divisions are today in American society or those between Latin America and the United States, they pale in comparison to the divisions and animosities present at the beginning of the 16th century between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples of the New World.

And at precisely this moment in history the young woman on Tepeyac Hill brought a message of unity and reconciliation which began the transformation of an entire hemisphere.

Today, her message is just as important. 

It is a fundamental element of the New Evangelization. 

It is at the core of the “Good News” of the Gospel — our unity and dignity as human beings created in the image of a loving God is greater than any social, political, economic, ethnic or national reality that may divide us.

Without this commitment to fraternal solidarity none of the great problems confronting us today are capable of real solutions. 

With this commitment they all can be. 

And there is no community in the United States today more capable of bringing this message to our nation than our Catholic institutions and Catholic laity.

Blessed John Paul II transformed the face of Europe.  He overcame the political impasse of the Cold War with a call to a new understanding of Christian solidarity.

But John Paul II did not speak of solidarity as part of a political agenda — he spoke of it as a way of living, as a way of transforming society, and yes, as a new way of evangelization.

Blessed John Paul II did not end the Cold War by demonizing those who had inflicted great misery upon his nation.  He did not even demonize those in his country who would close down churches and build new cities such as Nowa Huta without them.

He ended the Cold War by insisting that we are all members of the same family — that we are our brother’s keeper and we all have a responsibility of respect and civility to each other.

And he insisted that there could never be a choice in his own country between being a loyal Catholic and a patriotic citizen.

Today, the United States stands at a crossroads.

For the first time in our lifetime, our Church faces a major threat to its liberty in this country.  

The threat today is based on the coercive attempt by our national government to force Catholic institutions by way of the so-called HHS Mandate to cooperate with the culture of death by providing services and products which we understand to be intrinsically evil.

Let me share with you what I recently said earlier this month to the delegates of our Knights of Columbus international convention.

We have seen two grave threats to our religious liberty in the past year.

The first — an attempt to have the government redefine who can be classified as a minister — lost in the U.S. Supreme Court. The second — the HHS Mandate that would force many Catholic organizations to fund sterilization, abortion inducing drugs and contraception — is unpopular in the court of public opinion.

The HHS mandate may well be reversed or modified.

But there could also be future threats.

The United States bishops conference document Faithful Citizenship makes clear that we have a duty to avoid being complicit with intrinsic evil.

It states this:  “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens … may affect the individual’s salvation.”9

Abortion is one such intrinsic evil.  So too is the attempt by the government to limit the saving mission of our Church and to restrict its liberty by forcing our institutions to become entangled with intrinsic evils.

But this time of challenge can also be a time of opportunity. Faithful citizens can build a new politics, one that is not satisfied with the status quo, but one that is dedicated to building up a new culture of life.

And we can begin by setting a minimum threshold for our national debate based upon the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Both at our convention this month and earlier this summer at the annual Catholic Press Association meeting, I asked whether it is now the time for Catholic voters to say ‘no’ to every candidate of every political party who supports policies which promote intrinsic evils. 

The difficulty is this:  no matter how worthy a candidate’s policies may be on other important issues, they cannot “cure” or in any way “overcome” the intrinsic evil of a policy that, for example, promotes abortion.

If we ignore where our politicians stand on issues of life, family and religious liberty, we may find that the doors to America open, but that the America behind those doors will be morally at odds with those it has invited here.

We must demand compassion for the immigrant.  But we should work to ensure that future generations of immigrants find a country that supports their values and not one that asks them to surrender their religious values at the border as the price of their admission.

Being forced to surrender values at the border is not multiculturalism, it is the opposite of multiculturalism.

When one seeks to remove the very foundation of a culture, he or she does not truly value or honor that culture. Rather, they cheapen it and redefine it so that the culture ultimately becomes unrecognizable to those that hold it so dear.

This hostility is seen not only in the HHS Mandate, but also in the HHS decision to block funding of Catholic outreach to victims of human trafficking through the Bishops’ Migration and Refugee services office.  The administration refused to renew funding precisely because the Church would not offer abortion and contraceptives.

Despite the USCCB’s excellent record of helping thousands of victims of human trafficking, a political decision was made that steered the funding instead to organizations that had been dismissed as unqualified by HHS staff.10

We must take care that in seeking to create a fair and reasonable immigration policy we do not simply allow immigrants to come to a country that will prove destructive of their values and disrespectful of their culture.  

We owe future generations of immigrants a country where they can practice their faith in an environment that supports rather than undermines their religious heritage. 

If 70 million Catholics — among them many of the 50 million Hispanics — stand firm, we can do both.

All Americans with the right to vote should do so in every election. This includes nearly 600,000 newly eligible Hispanic voters each year, whose voice and moral compass can add a great deal to our national conversation and our future.

But what is to be done if for moral reasons we should not vote for a candidate because he promotes an intrinsically evil policy, and if for political reasons we cannot bring ourselves to vote for the other candidate in a particular political race in any given election?

In this circumstance we should cast our vote in all the races we can, and then understand that we have the extraordinary option given to us by Faithful Citizenship of not voting for either candidate in a particular race.  It is a dramatic response and a difficult one in the short-term.  But in the long-term it could transform America’s politics.

For some of us, especially those whose families might be directly affected by changes in immigration law, voting for candidates with a more restrictive stand on immigration — or not voting for either candidate in a particular race — can be nothing short of heroic.

I am reminded of a scene in the film A Man for All Seasons, adapted from Robert Bolt’s play on the life of St. Thomas More. More is imprisoned in the Tower of London for refusing to swear an oath agreeing with the King’s take-over of the Church in England. His daughter pleads with him to take the oath, withholding consent in his heart. The risks to his family could not have been higher. For More not to sign the oath, he risks death with the result that his family would find itself in a precarious position. From a place of respect, security and wealth, they would fall to the lowest social class as the family of a convicted traitor.

In spite of this, and at the cost of his own life, More takes a stand in defense of his conscience and his Church’s freedom. He ends up dying for this, and tells the crowd assembled for his execution: “I die His Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.”

He might well have added: “I die my family’s good servant, but God’s first.”11

Such a stand is nothing short of heroic — made even more so because More was not only the King’s good servant, he had also been the King’s good friend.  But something was more important to More than friendship.  He could not consent to what he knew to be terribly wrong.    
Thomas More was only one man.

But today, what candidate or political party could withstand the loss of millions of Catholic voters?  If we stand together and insist upon greater attention to the Social Doctrine of our Church we could create a new way for Catholics and especially Hispanic Catholics to change America’s politics on our own terms.  This will only be possible if we remain committed to our Catholic identity and heritage. 

If we do so, we can be that “creative minority” of which Pope Benedict XVI has so often spoken.
If we so do so, we can truly become the decisive voice and vote in America’s future.

1 John Paul II, Ecclessia in America, 44.

2 Ratzinger, Joseph, ”Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers.” December 12, 2000. /new_evangelization/Ratzinger.htm

3 Ecclesia in America, 44

4 John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 35.

5 Ecclesia in America, 44

6 Allen, Mike, “John Boehner to hit President Obama on ‘Enemies’” Politico, November 1, 2010.


8 Knights of Columbus and Marist Poll, The American Moral Compass: Immigration.

9 United States Conference on Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, p. 12.,

10 Wagner, Steven. “Trafficking Victims Take a Backseat to Ideology,” National Review. Bolt, Robert. A Man for All Seasons.(Screenplay)

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