Bishop Kevin Vann ordains Khoi Tran and James Wilcox as transitional deacons

By Michele Baker

Correspondent

Correspondent

Newly ordained transitional deacons Khoi Tran and James Wilcox process from Viietnamese Martyrs Church following the ordination Mass May 22.

Growing up a Catholic youngster in San Antonio, Albert Saenz was impressed with the group of men at the hub of his favorite parish activities.

“Every year they put on the annual Easter Egg Hunt for kids and were known for their barbecue dinners. They cook the best barbecue plates around,” the 17-year-old enthused describing two popular fundraisers at his parish hosted by Knights of Columbus Council 6641. “They were good role models for the Church. I always told myself I wanted to be just like them.”

As a member of the Columbian Squires, the Knights of Columbus international youth organization for boys 10 to 18, Saenz is learning the leadership skills that will help him become a man of faith, commitment, and service.

“This year, I assisted with the Easter Egg Hunt,” Saenz beamed. “And I love when the Knights do their pro-life marches. It’s a chance for everyone to become involved and stand up for a worthy cause.”

The high school senior was one of 80 boys and chaperones attending the biannual State Squire Convention held June 22-24 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller. Hosted by the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council 759 and Columbian Squires Circle 2040, youths from across Texas spent the weekend electing new officers and building friendships through sporting activities and worship. Together with their adult counselors, the Squires also participated in a Saturday evening Mass celebrated by Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann.

The bishop used the occasion to explain the significance of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign to defend religious liberty organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To show their support for the American heritage of religious freedom, parishioners across the country were asked to engage in prayer, study, and public action from June 21 to July 4. The campaign is in part a response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring all health care plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of an employer’s moral or religious objections.

It’s not the first time Catholics have faced prejudice or restrictions because of their faith, the bishop pointed out. Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in the early 1880s largely because of the discrimination facing Irish Catholic immigrants in the U.S.

“He saw Catholics who came to this country to freely practice their religion weren’t really free in many ways,” Bishop Vann explained. “There was anti-Catholic prejudice, and society tried to restrict Catholic families, especially the poor and widows who lost their husbands during the Industrial Revolution.”

The Knights of Columbus were organized Catholic laymen who proclaimed the Gospel and lived their faith openly and freely. They demonstrated that Catholics, coming to this country, had a right to practice their faith.

Dcn. Trans receives the Book of Gospels from Bishop Vann.

Bishop Vann told the congregation of Squires, Knights, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners that religious freedom is being tested once again.

“In recent years, there’s been an encroachment on religious freedom. Government restrictions are making it very difficult for us to practice our faith and carry out our mission,” the bishop insisted.

Freedom of religion is not just about worship.

“It’s about the freedom to be the people God asks us to be,” he continued. “Our mission is to proclaim the Gospel and help anyone who comes our way in need. We don’t just serve or hire other Catholics.”

Last year, some Catholic Charities chapters were denied funds to help the poor because of religious practices.

“And we cannot be forced to buy or pay for services that are ostensibly immoral and violate human life,” the bishop cautioned, referring to the HHS mandate. “It’s not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of the freedoms this country was founded on.”

In closing, the bishop encouraged his listeners to pray and contact elected officials.

“We have to make who we are as Catholics known at every level,” he urged. “We have to say this (assault on religious freedom) cannot stand.”

Following the Mass, the Squires installed new state officers during a dinner inside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Formation Center. Groups from Wylie, San Antonio, Richardson, and Fort Worth elected Michael Powell of Humble as the state chief squire. He replaces Jason Allen from St. Elizabeth Circle 2040 who served in the post previously. Allen, a graduate of Keller High School who plans to enter Holy Trinity Seminary in August, was also named Squire of the Year for his dedication to the organization.

Newly-ordained Deacon James Wilcox is vested with a deacon’s stole.

The 18-year-old St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner credits his interest in the priesthood  to his involvement with the Squires.

“It influenced my decision to enter the seminary,” said Allen, who joined the circle as a way to earn community service hours during middle school. “Becoming a Squire brought me closer to my faith.”

With 60 boys on the rolls, Circle 2040 is one of the largest, most active Squire groups in Texas and has received national recognition. Members of Circle 5473 from St. Maria Goretti Church in Arlington and Circle 5360 St. Peter the Apostle Church in White Settlement also attended the state convention.

Stefan Puente, a Nolan Catholic High School senior, became a Squire in the eighth grade after listening to his brother praise the adult leaders of the group.

“I fell in love with it and learned a lot,” says the 17-year-old. “I’ve made good friends and built relationships.”

Sunday meetings at the church offer a time to relax and “get away from it all.” Young men talk about life, religion, and everything else in a non-judgmental setting. Knights of Columbus members, called counselors, mentor the group.

“We can express ourselves and ask questions. I think that’s really important,” Puente adds.

The Squires also “serve without being seen” and spearhead community-oriented projects. For example, Circle 2040 sponsors a seminarian and purchased two refrigerators for the Keller Community Storehouse.

“The projects are fulfilling and our counselors are great,” explains Circle 2040 Chief Onassis Puente, who was elected the Squire’s state notary. “They help us become better young men.”

Growing up a Catholic youngster in San Antonio, Albert Saenz was impressed with the group of men at the hub of his favorite parish activities. “Every year they put on the annual Easter Egg Hunt for kids and were known for their barbecue dinners. They cook the best barbecue plates around,” the 17-year-old enthused describing two popular fundraisers at his parish hosted by Knights of Columbus Council 6641. “They were good role models for the Church. I always told myself I wanted to be just like them.”

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