During the States Dinner, Tuesday evening, of the Knights 128th Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented the order's hightest award, the Gaudium et Spes Award, to Cardinal Ortega of Havana for his tireless witness to the Gospel and his persistent defense of religious freedom.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - At the States Dinner, Tuesday evening, for the Knights of Columbus 128th Supreme Convention, the order awarded its eighth Gaudium et Spes Award to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, Cuba.
Cardinal Ortega, 74, was born in Jaguey Grande, Matanzas, Cuba. After studying at seminaries both in Cuba and Quebec, Canada, he was ordained a priest in 1964. Like many of his fellow-priests, he was arrested and spent a period of time in prison for his faith.
He was appointed as the Bishop of Pinar del Rio and received episcopal consecration in 1979. Appointed Archbishop of Havana, in 1981, he was named to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1994.
The citation read at the dinner stated, "For nearly 30 years as archbishop, our honoree has guided the Cuban Church through often rough waters. But in January 1998, a new era of hope dawned when he welcomed Pope John Paul II to his country. During that apostolic visit, Pope John Paul II asked for Cuba to open itself to the world and for the world to become more open to Cuba, as he underscored the central place that the Catholic faith has played in the lives of the Cuban people."
In his acceptance speech, Cardinal Ortega said it was "a duty to publicly say special words of gratitude for the services rendered by the Knights of Columbus in favor of our Church in Cuba. You, dear Knights of Columbus, have actualized the motto of this year's convention, I am My Brother's Keeper.
"Regardless of the distance and the differences in our social or political systems, you have been brothers to the Cuban Catholics and have shown us your solidarity."
Reflecting on the fact that the Knights of Columbus founded its first Cuban council in 1909, the Cardinal brought an optimistic report concerning the current work among the laity.
"I must say that the laymen of Havana are already organizing groups of men who wish to join the Knights of Columbus in the various parishes. I now convey to you an entreaty on their behalf and a very especial invitation from the Archbishop.
"I can assure you that nowadays the situation is more favorable for the action of charity services characteristic of the Knights of Columbus in the Cuban Church.
"Plenty of social works for the elderly people, for disabled children, parochial workshops to help those with learning difficulties, for youngsters and adults who wish to learn humanities or the Church Social Doctrine, etc., are some of the possibilities for a social presence of the Church in Cuba, which is exceeded by these efforts also carried out by numerous Mission Houses that gather communities of 60, 70 or even 100 people in family homes.
"Many times, these communities are looked after by catechist laymen who prepare the faithful to evolve from evangelized communities to Eucharistic communities. In my Archdiocese several of these communities have turned into parishes. Now we must build parish churches. We have already achieved some permits to build them, but our Church is poor and needs help."
Cardinal Ortega also indicated a new level of cooperation desired by the Cuban government with the Church.
"Lately, the Cuban government, responding to our request, has asked us to mediate between the political prisoners' relatives and the government authorities in order to know their proposals. In this way a process began, which has led to the recent announcement that fifty-two convicts, considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, will be released in a period of three to four months. More than twenty of these prisoners have already traveled to Spain.
"These discussions conducted by the Church have been unprecedented, and they bring about a new situation of social appreciation for our Catholics. We hope that this process of dialogue, in which we are immerged now, ends successfully. We ask you to pray for this cause and for our Church in Cuba."
According to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Headquarters, the Gaudium et Spes ("Joy and Hope") Award was named for the landmark 1965 document that was released as part of Second Vatican Council. It is the highest honor bestowed by order and is awarded only in special circumstances to individuals of exceptional merit. The award recognizes them for exemplary contributions to the realization of the message of faith and service in the spirit of Christ. The Award comes with an honorarium of $100,000.
First given in 1992, when the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta was named as the recipient, the award has only been given eight times. Others who have been honored include Cardinal John O'Connor, former Archbishop of New York; the late Cardinal James Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington DC; Cardinal William Baum, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and Major Penitentiary of the Vatican; and Archbishop Michael Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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