The Knights of the Southern Cross New Zealand can trace their origins a century ago to a time characterised by anti-Catholic prejudice in some quarters of society – and there are similarities in today’s society.
Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe made this point in his keynote address at the centenary dinner for the Knights of the Southern Cross New Zealand held at St Francis’ Friary in Hillsborough, on August 12.
Bishop Lowe said that the times in which we are living are characterised by “revolution and reformation”.
“Society has changed so much from when we were kids,” he said. A real revolution has taken place.
The Church has been dismissed, silenced, maligned, and society has moved towards atheism, he said.
“We have become almost an atheist country. And when you live in an atheist country, you look at the likes of fascist governments, communist governments, death prevails.
“And so we have an indifference to the unborn. We have an indifference to the dying. They become expendable.”
Bishop Lowe added that this is an age in which secularisation is really taking over, and spirituality is becoming more and more personal and individualistic, as religion is dismissed.
Among the risks of such a trend are the relegation of truth, and that people create God in their own image and likeness, “rather than really being humble before our God, in whose image we are made and in whose light we are called into”.
Another trend is that the whole sense of community is at risk of disappearing.
Even the family is a very different institution from what it was a few decades ago.
“When I was a kid at St Mary’s in Hokitika, there was no one in our school who came from a single parent family,” the bishop said. “There was no one whose parents were divorced and remarried.
“Now that’s not to say that some of those marriages should [not] have broken up,” he added. “We look back now, and we find out about the abuse going on in those families.”
“But we have gone from one extreme to the other.
“When I started [on the staff] of the seminary [15 years ago] I went over to Waiheke Island, where the deputy principal of the high school said that 85 per cent of the kids at the high school were not living with both natural parents. That was 15 years ago.”
But the Church didn’t have it “all right” in some ways in the decades when it seemed to be at its zenith, Bishop Lowe added, citing the example of a deceased family member who was deemed “illegitimate”.
“Catholics couldn’t go into other churches without permission from bishop,” and there were taunts between schoolchildren from state and Catholic schools.
Bishop Lowe also pointed to the “horrific history of abuse in the Church. And we have to atone for our sins. I have got no problem about the Church being called to atone for its sins, as long as we change the cycle of sexual abuse”.
He said that sexual abuse in not confined to the Church, although “media would have us believe that it only exists in the Catholic Church”. It is widespread in society, with some statistics stating that one in four people in society have suffered abuse.
“This is something that the Church has to find a way to be able to speak about, and it is really difficult at the moment because we have got a media that wants to sensationalise and doesn’t know how to report,” Bishop Lowe said.
But with all the problems in society, “it is not as simple as saying that everything out there in the world is evil. And people are evil. . . “.
“Particularly with sexual ethics at the moment, I think there is a real danger of that in the Church. That we can demonise people too easily.”
“People might be misguided, they might be going through all sorts of struggles. And we have got to meet them where they are, because that is what Christ did.”
“We can’t say the world is all evil and the Church is all good. And we have been getting that right from the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes – the Church in the Modern World). . . . We can’t separate the Church from the world, because the Church’s mission is to the world. And the people of the Church are the people of the world. And they are influenced by” all the trends in the world.
But among the challenges of meeting people where they are at, is that society is in the middle of a “reformation”, in which personal opinion is almost divinised.
“Everyone can publish their ideas on the phone . . . . It is everything about what I think, and my truth is the only truth.”
Bishop Lowe sees a “divided and angry community”, in which “charity has gone out the window”.
“I find it really distressing when I see it in the Church,” he added. “When I see Pope Francis just absolutely slammed by supposedly good and upright Catholics, who think he is the devil incarnate and who actively pray for his early death.
“I think we have been blessed with the Popes that we have had in our lifetime. They are each a Pope for their own age, a different story.”
The Church has “all sorts of challenges that we have to face. And I think the big one we have to face is about sexuality. But the Church has never steered away from debate. It takes its time, but eventually, it gets there”. Bishop Lowe cited examples of Galileo and liberation theology, and in the latter instance, “we took the best of it, we embraced it, and we moved on”.
“The Church has got to engage with the world – but we don’t need to buy into all the reformations of the world.”
“We have to keep our eyes fixed on the Gospel, fixed on Christ.”
Bishop Lowe offered a note of hope, amid the revolutions and reformations.
He noted the great names of the early days of the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand – Pompallier, Aubert and others – were, in a sense, children of the French Revolution, which had sought to destroy the Church.
“But the faithful people who stood firm were the ones who allowed a new spring that came out after the revolutions. And that is what we have to be – those faithful people.”
To the Knights of the Southern Cross, Bishop Lowe offered the example of Caleb in the Book of Numbers.
When faced with seemingly impossible odds, Caleb advocated positive action.
Bishop Lowe said that there is a need to raise up other young men to be the Knights of the future.
“We need to raise up Calebs – who are willing to stand up against the forces against us, are not afraid to be Catholic, speak their faith, and are united in a body like the knights . . . so they have strength in numbers so they can be a voice for the Church that is struggling in the midst of a world that is very confused and broken.”
Bishop Lowe asked the knights to repeat their own foundation story in their parishes today.
“Invite eight men, sit them down, have a conversation, maybe have some material prepared about the knights, sit down and have the conversation, talk about what the knights have done for you, the importance of this work, and inspire other men to carry on this work.”
Supreme Knight Neil Rutherford told those at the dinner that, “as we reflect on the last 100 years, we are reminded of the countless lives touched by the Knights of the Southern Cross. Our mission, rooted in the values of faith, unity and charity, has been a guiding light for generations of members who have selflessly devoted themselves to helping those in need”.
“Tonight’s celebration is not just about the Knights of the Southern Cross – it is about the people we serve, and the communities we have uplifted and continue to do so. Together, we have become a beacon of hope, a force for good, and a source of comfort for those who face hardship and adversity,” Mr Rutherford added.
“Let us stand united to make a positive impact, to lend a helping hand, and to be a voice for the voiceless.”
The weekend centenary celebration included a retreat guided by KSCNZ Auckland chaplain Fr Ezio Blasoni, SM, two Masses, including a centenary Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a whakatau delivered by Auckland diocese vicar for Maori Manuel Beazley, and presentations to several knights.
Among the knights honoured were three life memberships – Patrick Heaphy (Worthy Knight Nelson Branch and Past Supreme Knight), Norman McPhee (Past Worthy Knight Napier Branch and Past Diocesan Knight) and Brian McCloy (Treasurer Auckland Branch and Past National Treasurer).
There was an award made to Brian Lynch for 60 Years’ Testimony of Service.
Among the dignitaries present at the celebration were Supreme Knight of the Knights of the Southern Cross Australia, Vincent Granahan, Immediate past-president of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights, Colin Walsh, executive secretary of the Knights of the Southern Cross Australia, David Jefferies, and Ken Bland, Past Grand Knight of the Knights of Da Gama in South Africa.