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Archive for November 2015

Thanksgiving in Technicolor!

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving.

I am one of those people who cooks too much food, over-cleans the entire house, forgets a key ingredient and must run to the grocery store as it is closing, and then yells at her husband—“unnecessarily,” according to him—about the drill he left in the living room moments before the guests arrive.

We like it loud in our house. We like to hear laughter and music. We like playing host. We love Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving I remember was at my aunt’s house in hot Puerto Rico. In her four-bedroom house lived my five cousins, my aunt and uncle, and my grandparents. My uncle was handy and had transformed the tiny, arid backyard into an oasis of red hibiscus flowers. While the women cooked, my brother, my sister, and I ran outside to look for ladybugs. The men, dressed in light colored, short-sleeved traditional guayaberas, sat in the covered patio, talking about politics.

Our Thanksgiving meal included a turkey—something considered rare in Puerto Rico in the 1970s. I remember the moment it was taken out of the oven and ceremoniously placed on the rectangular dining room table. The kids walked around it, staring at it. We concluded that it was nothing but a big, dry chicken, and wondered why mainland Americans liked it so much!

The main, real meal consisted of roasted pork, rice and black beans, yucca in a garlic olive oil sauce, caramelized sweet potatoes, avocado salad, and my grandmother’s coconut flan. The meal was followed by sugary espresso served in tiny ceramic cups, each decorated with a flower native to the island. In the end, the turkey was eaten out of obligation, served mainly to show how American we had become since we had arrived from Cuba.

Today, many years later, I make all the traditional American dishes for Thanksgiving, including a moist turkey that makes Traci, my good friend and neighbor—who is a much better cook than I will ever be—a little jealous. (And, yes, all year long I look for reasons to mention, casually, that her children like my turkey better. “Humility,” I tell her, “is good for your soul.”)

Amidst all the dishes served on Thanksgiving, though, every year my children’s favorite remains the traditional Cuban rice and black beans. I make this dish often. For them, the scents of garlic and onion, sautéed in olive oil with cumin and oregano, are the smells of home cooking.

From where I stand at the stove sautéing, I see the gallery of black and white photographs that sit on our built-in shelves around the fireplace. In a simple, black frame is a magnificent photograph of my extended family taken in Havana’s ornate Cathedral in the 1950s. My aunt holds her newborn son as he is about to be baptized. Her head is covered with a white lace mantilla, consistent with the tradition of the times. She is surrounded by many relatives, including my uncle and my very young, then-single father. My aunt’s mother and aunt, and her other children (my cousins), stand in front of her. With them are a few other relatives, people I never had the chance to meet.

I look at the faces of my family. Many of them are gone now, taken away by cancer, by Parkinson’s, by heart attacks and old age. But they are so young in this photograph. No one knows what lies ahead. No one knows that, in a few short months, they will all scramble to flee their homeland as a dictator takes over. They don’t know that they will lose everything—even the clothes they wear in this photograph. The women will never wear those lacy white mantillas again. But in this photograph, they stand proudly at a church altar, confidently looking at the camera, their lives ahead of them.

As I look away from that black-and-white photograph, I see my children and husband chatting and laughing. My life is in Technicolor. A deep nostalgia pierces my heart, and I am filled with gratitude for what I have now.

Before we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we will give thanks to God that we live in a country where our life is filled with opportunity and the freedom to pursue our dreams, our beliefs, and our faith. We will thank God that there is no government official standing by our table monitoring what we say or knocking on our front door to arrest us.

Indeed, I know we live in the land of the free and the brave. I am grateful that I have been able to devote my life to defending that freedom, and that I work with wonderful colleagues who do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!

KRISTINA

Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel Called This Man “Heroic.”

A Message from the Executive Director
Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dear Friends,

Armando Valladares spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for refusing to give up his beliefs. He spent 8 of those years in solitary confinement in a mosquito-infested cell, where he lay naked on a concrete floor and was regularly bathed with buckets of human excrement and urine the prison guards flung into the cell. He endured several hunger strikes, which eventually left him paralyzed for a number of years.

All because he refused to give up his faith.

Since his release in 1982 he has spent his life defending religious liberty.

It is my pleasure to introduce you via this 2 minute video to my dear friend with whom I worked for many years, Armando Valladares.

Below I paste a piece I wrote about our Medalist for The Hill:

Honoring courage

Sometimes a letter contains more than the words on it. Sometimes, a piece of paper, wields an unmistakable power to inspire, to heal, to bring us together—even to release a free soul from a captive body.

Inside an old square cookie tin under my bed, I keep the letters my father wrote while I was in college. Most detail the ordinary news of my large family and pleas to remain calm during exams. My father illustrated the envelopes with stick figures of himself, his spindly arms waving and speech bubbles saying “I miss you!” coming out of the tiny “o” mouth.
These letters contain a self-aware humor, a relentless work ethic, kindness, and unfailing love. What makes this remarkable is that I knew, even then, that he was battling paralyzing depression and struggling to make a living in Puerto Rico while exiled from his beloved Cuba.

I keep a separate box in my closet. In it are letters my husband wrote to our then-toddlers when he deployed to Iraq. Although they were incapable of reading them, the letters were full of tall tales about finding flying carpets and befriending magical people. Should anything happen to him, my husband insisted, his children must think of him as humorous and adventurous.

I keep one more box—or, rather, three. These are boxes for each of my children with books they must read as adults. There are three signed copies of Against All Hope, Armando Valladares’ memoir of his 22 years in Castro’s gulags.

Valladares was arrested at 22 years old for refusing to say, “I am with Fidel.”

During his imprisonment, Valladares wrote letters and poetry, which his wife smuggled and had published, to critical acclaim. Since he had nothing to write on or with, he used anything he could find. Sometimes it was a carefully preserved bit of cigarette paper. Sometimes it was a scrap of torn envelope, or a discarded medicine bottle label. At times he used a pencil or, if he was lucky, he found ingredients to make invisible ink to write secret messages to his beloved wife.

Once, when he was in a punishment cell, he wrote a poem on a scrap of paper using his own blood as ink.

Valladares suffered relentless beatings during those 22 years. He spent eight of them in solitary confinement in a mosquito-infested cell, where he lay naked on a concrete floor and was regularly bathed with buckets of human excrement and urine the prison guards flung into the cell. He endured several hunger strikes, which eventually left him paralyzed for a number of years.

Yet, through his poetry and letters, Valladares was free.

Valladares was arrested for refusing to say four words. But he stayed in prison because he refused to sign a piece of paper that would hand moral authority to Castro’s Revolution. He stayed to defend what he later described as his own conscience, his belief in God, his own humanity and that of his fellow political prisoners.

Since his release in 1982, Valladares has continued to globally advocate for human rights, rights of conscience and individual freedom. Recently, Valladares wrote a piece in the New York Post about the Little Sisters of the Poor. The federal government has refused to give these Catholic nuns an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, instead insisting that they sign a piece of paper that will authorize their own health insurance plan to provide drugs they morally oppose.

As Armando Valladares knows well, something as small as a piece of paper can mean the beginning or the end of freedom.

I know this, too. The box of letters under my bed reminds me that our lives are made of seemingly small moments in which we are called to live with valor and dignity. My father was my hero not because of one momentous act of bravery, but because of small, daily acts of courage.

The Sisters’ lives are made heroic by the moments they spend tenderly combing the hair of the dying, whispering encouragement to those who are lonely, in pain, and fearful. Small acts like these are what give them the clarity that each life matters—and the strength to refuse to sign away that conviction.

Valladares, who has led a life of incomparable heroism, understands the critical need to defend people like the Sisters. Each scrap of paper, each word he wrote, each small step he took to preserve his human dignity—this is how he survived, a moment at a time.

Each year, we at Becket award the Canterbury Medal to an individual who has shown courage and strength in the defense of religious freedom. We have chosen Armando Valladares to receive this award in May 2016. After all, it is only fitting that the same year the Supreme Court will consider whether the federal government can force nuns to, among other things, sign away their faith, we honor a man who refused to sign away his because he knew that letters on a piece of paper can and do have power and meaning.
Sincerely,

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

Government Pleads With Supreme Court Not To Take Little Sisters’ Case: Supreme Court Disagrees!

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dear Friends,

The High Court announced it would hear the Little Sisters of the Poor case—along with six other HHS non-profit mandate cases. This means the government—which pleaded with the Supreme Court not to hear the Little Sisters’ case—will have to explain why it is trying to force the Sisters to either pay directly for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs or to surrender their own insurance plan so the government can hijack it and give these drugs out anyway. It has to explain to the Court why it is threatening this order of nuns that cares for the elderly poor with over $60 million in fines per year. It also has to explain why it exempted churches and big companies like ExxonMobile and Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. from having to comply with this mandate but has refused—over the course of 9 different versions of the mandate and over a span of 3 years—to exempt the Sisters.

There has been quite a bit of media coverage on the Court’s announcement. When you have a moment, take a look at two of today’s Wall Street Journal pieces: Bill McGurn’s column, “High Court gets religion,” and the Journal’s editorial, “Little Sisters of the Government.”

To sum up the government’s push against the Sisters, I offer you the words of our President, Bill Mumma: “The administration objected because it knows that the Little Sisters clarify the stakes,” he says. “If the government is willing to put its boot on the neck of an order of nuns, who’s safe?”

Stay tuned. And thanks for your continued support! We could not defend the Sisters without you!

Sincerely,

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

Bundle Up With Coats For Kids And Personal Winter Wear

Bring the gift of warmth to children in need in your community by participating in the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids initiative. If your council hasn’t done so already visit knightsgear.com to order your coats for distribution to needy children during the winter weeks ahead.

The onset of cold weather is also a great time for you to buy a warm winter Knights of Columbus jacket for yourself, and for your family and friends. Visit knightsgear.com to see our full line of K of C-branded, and in some cases personalized, winter wear.

Click here for more information on winter wear at KnightsGear and qualifying for free shipping on orders of $25 or more.

Knights of Columbus Reaches $100 Billion Insurance In Force

Milestone highlights K of C’s financial protection of Catholic families

The Knights of Columbus surpassed $100 billion of life insurance in force this week, marking an important milestone in the Catholic fraternal benefit society’s mission to protect the future of Catholic families.

This milestone was achieved despite continuing adverse conditions affecting the insurance industry.

Established in 1882 by a young Catholic priest, the organization — which offers its line of top-rated products exclusively to its members and their eligible family members — manages $21 billion in assets and ranks 939 on the 2015 Fortune 1000 list, placing it among the largest life insurers in North America.

“The $100 billion milestone is not simply a number,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “It highlights the fact that each year we are protecting the future of more Catholic families, continuing the mission of our founder, Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney.”

The Knights of Columbus offers insurance to its members and their families through a network of more than 1,500 dedicated, professional agents in the United States and Canada — all of whom are members of the Knights of Columbus.

“With each dollar of top-rated insurance in force that our professional agency force adds, additional, meaningful security is provided to the families whose livelihoods we protect,” the Supreme Knight said. To read a full interview with Supreme Knight Anderson on this milestone, please click here.

The $100 billion milestone caps a year in which the Knights of Columbus set a new record for insurance sales with $8 billion sold, earned the top rating of A++ Superior from AM Best for the 40th consecutive year, and was named a “World’s Most Ethical Company” for the second consecutive year by the Ethisphere Institute®.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 1.9 million members worldwide. It is also one of the most active charitable organizations in the United States. The Knights set a new record for charitable giving in 2014 with donations of more than $173.5 million and 71.5 million hours of service to charitable causes.