One of the founding principles of the Knights of Columbus, (established in 1882 as a fraternal benefit society) charity has always been an important part of life for Knights. But since joining the global mission of delivering wheelchairs in 2003, Knights are extending their charitable efforts across international borders and changing lives with the gift of mobility.
In late 2008 the first ever joint humanitarian mission between Knights from Canada, the United States and Mexico took place in Mexico City. Funds were raised by the California and Iowa Knights, the Ontario, Canada and Mexico City Knights to help sponsor the distribution of hundreds of wheelchairs to children, teens and adults in and around the most populous city on Earth.
The delegation from California was led by State Deputy Bob Villalobos, his wife Carol and KofC California State Wheelchair Chairman Dan Moberg. Joining them were Msgr. James Loughnane of St. Denis in Diamond Bar and Fr. Nestor Rebong of St. Christopher in West Covina. These two pastors were instrumental in helping the Knights of their parishes raise the funds to sponsor the wheelchairs. Their churches hosted “Wheelchair Sunday” parish drives where Knights spoke during the homily at each mass and showed a video of the wheelchair mission to the parishioners. The second collections funded the wheelchairs from California. The presentations allowed the Knights to connect their humanitarian outreach with the members of their communities and resulted in dozens of men joining the Knights to do more for those in need.
The group from Canada led by Ontario State Advocate Dan Heffernan and his wife Rita, included participants from throughout the province. Per capita the Canadian Knights have raised more funds for wheelchairs than any group around the world, and their dedication to charity is a blessing to all who are in need of mobility.
Mexican Knights participating in the wheelchair mission were led by the Supreme Coordinator for Mexico William Olivera. William brought together Knights from many areas in and around Mexico City to participate in the distributions and to work hand in hand with their brothers from Canada and the United States.
On Thursday the group traveled by bus from Mexico City to towns surrounding the famous pyramids of Teotihuacán. During one home visit in the area, 68 year old Cirina Palmas was so excited to receive her new wheelchair that she could not stop smiling, hugging and thanking everyone for the gift of mobility that will allow her to once again go to church. The Canadian, U.S. and Mexican Knights were all extremely touched by her tears of happiness.
On Friday, an extra gift was received when Fr. Nestor and Msgr. Loughnane were invited to say a mass at the cathedral in Texcoco for all Knights and wheelchair recipients. The distribution of some 80 wheelchairs took place in the courtyard after mass, and many wonderful connections were made between the recipients, their families and the visiting Knights.
Saturday morning was a dream come true for first time visitors to Mexico City. There was a mass celebrated at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and then a wheelchair distribution on the Basilica grounds. Several children, including 7 year old Jesus Mendoza, were so happy to get their wheelchairs that they were screaming with delight as they took off racing across the spacious courtyard. The Knight’s council at the Basilica was formed as a result of the wheelchair distributions there by the California Knights starting in 2006. This is now one of the most active councils in Mexico, helping with the formation of new councils around the city.
Sunday revolved around the 16th century Metropolitan Cathedral at the center of the city. There were tours of the cathedral before mass and then the wheelchair distribution in the courtyard. A 42 year old man named Jose spent 25 years using a metal skateboard for his means of mobility. When we gave him his first wheelchair, his smile could almost outshine the sun. His gratitude and happiness were infectious.
The impact of this first effort between Knights from three countries was magnified by the unity felt by all who participated. Some of the discussions over the course of the four days included the following: The gift of mobility we give to the needy is equaled by the joy we give to ourselves. The fraternal bond between Knights is similar to the feeling of brother and sisterhood felt by all participants when we tangibly change people’s lives and answer their prayers. And, the tears of joy that are shed by the wheelchair recipients and their families inspire everyone to want to do more for more people.
Knights are truly united in a bond of charity that is touching the world, and changing their own lives forever.