Well during the first degree ceremony to initiate my friend into the Knights, I heard one of the other Knights speak about the "Romanian" that would be joining that evening as well. I had the privilege to shake my friend's hand after the ceremony as well as the hand of the "Romanian". I thought little more about it until this last weekend.
You see, we had a short retreat early Saturday morning for the 43 members of RCIA that would be officially joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil Mass later that evening. (The Mass was beautiful and very joyous to watch as these good people glowingly went through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first communion, by the way.) Anyway, after the retreat, I noticed the "Romanian" was helping some other volunteers to prepare the church for the Easter Vigil that evening.
At one point, I went up to him to thank him for his work in helping to prepare the nave for that evening. It was something that I did as a spur of the moment after-thought as I was walking past him. I am so glad that I stopped and took the time to talk to the "Romanian", who goes by the name of John. Our conversation that transpired was amazing and inspiring.
John began to tell me his story of how he came to America. He had grown up and lived in the Transylvania region of Romania for most of his 61 years behind the iron curtain of the cold war.
John lived under the very brutal dictatorship of Nikolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu was one of the very evil rulers of this Soviet Union satellite nation that seemingly delighted in the persecution of his people. In particular, there was no place for God and Christianity in Ceausescu's Romania, just as there was not in any nation trapped behind the iron curtain.
Well, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people of Romania overthrew Nikolai Ceausescu and his wife Elena and executed them both for their crimes perpetrated against the Romanian people; A people that were severely punished or killed for choosing to worship God during Ceausescu's reign.
John said that he always believed in Christ though, even despite the knowledge that should that become public, he would possibly suffer a horrible fate.
Well John relayed how he eventually came to the United States seven years ago. He did his best to tell his story in his broken and poor English. (Unfortunately my Romanian skills are non-existent). John spoke of his faith and the magnificence of God, Christ, and the Church and how lucky we are without even knowing it that we are free to worship God as we please. It is something that seemed to amaze him how many people took this basic tenet of freedom for granted here.
John further told me and showed me pictures of his two stunningly beautiful daughters, who both are professional models in California, and of his beloved twin grand-daughters. He is exceptionally proud of his family and the fact that his daughters have taken advantage of America's blessings and have availed themselves of good college educations as well.
He inspired me with his marveling at our nation's freedoms and blessings. Although I am very aware of the exceptionalism of this last great nation that still is a shining city on the hill, admittedly I too take many of our freedoms for granted. John in his broken English and with emotion in his eyes and his hands clasped as if in prayer reminded me that our freedoms are indeed blessings from God and that they must be fiercely defended. And he is a man that knows of which he speaks. I am grateful to him and to God for this divine reminder!