by Stephen M. Cohen, State Deputy 2015-2018
As Knights of Columbus, we are constantly asked, what do you do? Our answer should always be – We change lives and we save lives. In doing both of these things we bring joy to many. Joy is defined as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. This is certainly true, but is there more?
This Fraternal Year, the jurisdiction of Maryland partnered with Cross Catholic Outreach on a new charitable endeavor. Cross Catholic met with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, namely Bishop Emeritus Denis Madden. Bishop Madden was introduced to the “Box of Joy” program. From the outset he said that this would be a great project for the Knights. The rest is history.
Cross Catholic Outreach is a group which mobilizes the global Catholic Church to transform the poor and their communities materially and spiritually for the glory of Jesus Christ.
From our initial meeting we were all in. This is truly a great project, inexpensive, and something that we could involve many groups. We knew this would fit into our Domestic Church Initiative; especially if councils involved their parish with this project. They did; councils, auxiliaries, schools and groups outside of the council contributed to this effort. The first year totals for Maryland were 1400 boxes completed.
The process is simple. Sign up, get your box, fill it with items from the Dollar Store, attach nine dollars for shipping and send to Cross Catholic which handles the rest. They pick up the boxes at the drop off centers, they inspect each one and add religious items such as rosaries and then ship them.
Maryland was the first donor group ever asked to go and distribute the Boxes of Joy. This was part of a Vision Trip to Guatemala. State Secretary Dale Trott, his wife Linda, State Deputy Steve Cohen and his wife Vicki were accompanied by members of the Cross Catholic team on the trip. We were hosted by Jim Cavnar – Executive Director, Sandi Pino - Senior Director, Fernando Marquez – International Vision and Mission Director, and Jeff Recker – Development Officer and a Brother Knight from Tennessee.
The trip was a fast paced and eye opening experience. So many of us think we have seen poor, however, even in a city like Baltimore I have never seen anything of this magnitude. Day one took us to a home for abused women and their children. This home receives no funding from the government. They are funded by Cross Catholic Outreach. These women are here in hiding because their abusers have threatened to kill them and their children. One of the women had been abused so badly, resulting in amnesia. She does not know her name and no one has been able to identify her. The women remain here until they can find work and go out on their own. Turn over at the house is high because abused women are always being dropped off. We had lunch with these ladies and learned their stories. The woman who runs the house was abused for eighteen years by her pastor husband. Finally, she was able to get out and felt that she needed to give back. Thus, her ministry to help these women. Upon leaving, in their native language, these women asked that we not forget them.
Day two took us to the Diocese of Santa Rosa. First, we visited a school run by nuns. The parents send their children here because they cannot afford to feed them. The nuns, whose order from its beginning, begged for food for the poor. These nuns still once per week, go to the market and beg for food for the students. They do come back with food but only after being spat upon and called numerous names. Again there is no funding for this school. Cross Catholic provides funding.
From here we were met by the Bishop of Santa Rosa, Bishop Sagustume, and Father Raul. We shared lunch together and learned about the Diocese. We were then taken on a tour of the Caritas (Catholic Charities) facilities. We were introduced to the staff and toured the offices. A new large warehouse had been constructed by Cross Catholic, in order to house the Boxes of Joy when they arrive. We also learned that Father Raul recently had received word that he would have to lay off his entire staff here due to no funding. Cross Catholic now covers the wages for these employees so that they may take care of the people of the Diocese.
Day three took us into the poorest of areas in the Diocese. First, we went to a village where bamboo and leaves and mud make up most of the houses and the church. A few of the families have received cinder block homes from Cross Catholic. These homes are about $4,000.00 each and have one light inside. The others know that eventually theirs will come and just continue to pray until the house is built. We prayed with these people in their make shift church and also heard their stories. The Eucharistic Minister for the village walks miles each day to pick up the Eucharist to bring back to the village. There is no clean water here. Our next stop was a village that was a recipient of a well project, in addition to new cinder block homes. Women walk for miles to get the water needed for their families each day. Cross Catholic has also established a scholarship for the children of this village based certainly on need but also academics.
Both nights we attended Mass at the Cathedral where Father Raul is the Rector. We were introduced to the congregation and after Mass many came up and hugged and thanked us.
Day four brings us to the orphanage where we will distribute the Boxes of Joy. This orphanage is for Special Needs children. When we arrived they were in prayer in the chapel. They asked our names and then did not forget them. After having lunch with the children it was time to distribute their boxes. These children sat so quietly and waited until all received a box and then opened them together. The smiles on these children’s faces were indescribable. They were just so elated because these were probably the only gifts they would receive all year. They played with their toys, held their rosaries and hugged us so many times.
In the beginning of this article, I asked if there was more; and there truly is. It is Christian Joy. More than an emotion, it is a feeling, a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in word and in the world.
The people that we met on this journey were a faith filled people, a people that pray and know that one day God will provide. The hymn begins – Where Charity and Love Prevail, but goes on – There God is ever found. We found him in these villages and in the school and in the orphanage. We will never forget these people. They are remembered each day, when we drink clean water, when it rains and our roof doesn’t leak and when we pray for them.