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Lucky Exodus View Comments
By Alicia von Stamwitz

OUR FAMILY WAS LUCKY. Or at least that’s what my parents told me, over and over again.

“We got out of Cuba just in time.”

First my mother, with my two siblings and me, in 1960. Then my father, shortly before the revolutionaries appropriated the family business. My grandmother waited the longest, emigrating the following summer. She left her husband behind, forever as it turned out. He stayed in Havana to take care of a younger brother who had been imprisoned by Fidel Castro’s regime for “collaborating with the CIA.”

After I married and had children of my own, I began dreaming of returning to Cuba. My situation was complicated, though. First, because I am a U.S. citizen now. Second, because both sides of our family had been part of the hated bourgeois before the Cuban revolution and had openly opposed Castro.

I called my uncle in Washington, D.C., for advice. He’d been the mayor of Havana and ambassador to the United States under former president Ramón Grau. He discouraged me from going, warning that it would not be safe for any member of our family to return. My father agreed. He knew Fidel well—he had crossed paths with him every day in the hallways of their private Jesuit high school.

“He was a bully then,” he said, his face darkening, “and he is a paranoid bully now. You might get in, but you might not get out.”

Still, one afternoon, he drew a map of Havana with an engineer’s precision and carefully marked a half-dozen places of interest in red pencil: the family business, our home in Havana, my grandparents’ houses.

My maternal grandmother lived with us in New Jersey after she emigrated. One summer morning, she patted a spot beside her and told me a secret. Just before she fled Cuba, she whispered conspiratorially, she had hired a master carpenter to hide a few precious belongings under the staircase of her home—a box of photographs, a bundle of letters, family heirlooms nestled in velvet and gold brocade drawstring pouches.

Si regresas a La Habana,” my grandmother concluded, squeezing my hands too tightly. “If you make it back to Havana . . . promise me, Ali, that you will go to my house and get my things.”

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Alicia von Stamwitz was born Alicia Ramirez de Arellano. She lives in St. Louis, where she is an independent consultant and freelance author.


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James of the Marche: Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop! 
<p>James was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances. </p><p>James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. This extremely popular preacher converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence. </p><p>With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the "four pillars" of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching. </p><p>To combat extremely high interest rates, James established <i>montes pietatis</i> (literally, mountains of charity)--nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects. </p><p>Not everyone was happy with the work James did. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. James died in 1476 and was canonized in 1726.</p> American Catholic Blog We all have fears, but we don’t have to be afraid. Jesus is always with us to protect us and give us courage. We only have to remember that the battle is the Lord’s. When Jesus gives us the victory, let’s be sure to thank Him and praise Him for what He has done.

 
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