Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson called the number of attendees at the Knights of Columbus 130th supreme convention in Anaheim "a testament to the growth and development" of the international fraternal organization.
More than 2,000 Knights from around the world -- many of them with their wives and children -- along with 12 cardinals and more than 70 bishops attended the Aug. 6-8 convention.
Anderson made the comments at the States Dinner, a high point of the convention that brings Knights together in a celebration of patriotism.
The bishops, archbishops and cardinals attending the dinner processed through a massive exhibit hall in the Anaheim Convention Center, each waving a flag and smiling at the Knights cheering from either side of the aisle. After the clergy reached their seats on the dais, the assembly joined in the national anthems of countries in which the Knights are represented.
Later, as dinner was served, an orchestra performed the anthems of each U.S. state, as well as Canadian provinces.
The celebratory tone carried through the keynote speech of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York -- a member of the Knights of Columbus for more than 30 years -- who got a big laugh after thanking Anderson for booking him into the honeymoon suite of the hotel where the convention took place.
He went on to say he wanted to turn his audience's attention away from "the crimson tide" of bishops and cardinals seated before them and focus instead on the Knights and their wives, and the sacrament of marriage.
"We Catholics are hopeless romantics, you know, when it comes to married love," he said, recalling something a staff member had said to him when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee. In striving to increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life, Jan Ruidl told him, he was not thinking along the right lines.
"The greatest vocation crisis today is to lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving marriage," she said. "You take care of that one, and you'll have all the priests and sisters you need."
"'For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and the sacrament of marriage' should perhaps become the new phrasing for a prayer of the faithful at every Mass," Cardinal Dolan went on, referring not to high divorce rates -- but to low sacramental marriage rates.
Other speakers focused on the issue of religious liberty -- a hot topic at a convention with "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land" as its theme.
Pointing out that the clergy and the faithful of the United States had launched a robust defense of the fundamental right of religious freedom, Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, -- the newly elected president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops -- noted that their neighbors to the north are also facing many challenges to their religious freedom.
"Freedom of religion is not merely the right to freedom of worship -- it's the right to live out our beliefs in the public square," he said. "On an issue of such fundamental importance, we must be vocal."
In his homily during the opening Mass, celebrated earlier that day, Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown also touched on the issue of religious liberty.
"We face a growing secularism, attacks on the value and gift of human life, attempts to redefine traditional marriage, and serious curtailment of our religious rights," said Bishop Brown, a Knight of Columbus for 40 years. "Certainly, there is a clear and demanding need today for the new evangelization called for by Blessed John Paul II and, now, Pope Benedict XVI."
These are difficult times -- just as St. Juan Diego lived in difficult times, he said. "In those tumultuous times in Mexico, Our Lady (of Guadalupe) brought a message of love and peace. Millions of native peoples embraced Christianity in the years that followed," Bishop Brown said.
As the patroness of the Americas, and of the Knights of Columbus, Mary provides a model of how to respond to the Lord's call, a model that will be all the more important as clergy and laypeople around the world begin to respond to the call to the new evangelization.
"I'm confident," Bishop Brown said, that the Knights "will be in the front ranks of the evangelizers."