Hitler. Stalin. Lenin. Trotsky. Pol Pot. Mao. Tito. Mussolini. Che Guevara. Ho Chi Minh. Deng Xiaoping. Plutarco Elías Calles. Kim Il-sung. Slobodan Milošević. Ataturk. Napoleon. Mohammad. Tamerlane. Genghis Khan. Attila the Hun. Diocletian.

All genocidists. All of whom labored under the delusion that fate, or their interpretation of “God,” and their inflated narcissism blessed their violence against Christians. 

All of them hoped to wipe out the Church.

And now they are all gone. Gone to their final just rewards.

And here we wait. Praying for our persecutors. Steeling ourselves against the next paroxysm of self-righteous, hatred that is similarly destined to fail.

And we remember.

On May 12, 2016, the 21st Canterbury Medal Gala honored Armando Valladares, a former Cuban dissident and political prisoner at New York City's Pierre Hotel. 

The Canterbury Medal is awarded by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty―a non-profit organization started in 1994 and based in Washington, D.C. that is principally concerned with defending Religious Liberty Litigation. 

The foundation is named after St. Thomas Becket (1119-1170) Archbishop of Canterbury―martyred due to his conflict with England's King Henry II over the rights and privileges of the Church and the religious liberties and moral conscience of people of Great Britain.

The black tie affair was coupled with a vernissage reception prior to the award ceremony displaying the artists many works of art some of which were made while he was imprisoned in Cuba.

Armando Valladares, an anticommunist Cuban dissident, was initially a supporter of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution. He even took a job with the Office of the Ministry of Communications for the Revolutionary Government, but he ultimately become disillusioned with how communist principles were being applied in his native Cuba. Valladares was ultimately arrested at 23 for refusing to put a plaque on his desk that read, “I'm with Fidel.”

For his brave defiance, Valladares was arrested on the spurious charge of terrorism and that he had supposedly worked for the secret police of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba's previous dictatorship. Despite his innocence, he spent the next 22 years in Castro's gulag where he was brutally tortured, starved, beaten, threatened with death, and subjected to solitary confinement. He underwent several hunger strikes which resulted in debilitating polyneuritis, which in turn left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for many years.

“My poetry is a weapon,” said Valladares during his acceptance speech. “That is why dictators hate all artists but especially poets!”

Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and good friend of Armando Valladares, was in attendance at this year's Canterbury Medal Gala. He personally presented the Canterbury Award to Mr. Valladares.

Today, Valladares continues to fight for human rights and religious liberty. He speaks through his paintings, lectures, poems and his other writing.

In the 22 years that he spent in internal exile in one of Castro's prison—two more years than Ulysses had in Homer's Odyssey, as Armando often points out—the dissident wrote poetry and painted tiny pictures using any materials he had available—including his medicines, burnt nylon and even his own blood.

While in prison Armando was labeled a plantado—a prisoner who refused to wear a common prison uniform. For this, he remained naked in his wheelchair in solitary confinement for eight years. For refusing to sign a document admitting his guilt and the communist Revolution was right, he was brutally tortured.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, last year's recipient of the Canterbury Medal, was present for this year's ceremony.  

“It's has been a wonderful experience to be here and to witness how Armando Valladares had witnessed to his faith in Castro's prison,” said Archbishop Chaput. “He suffered so long there. What he's done is extremely brave. I'm glad the world has come to learn about him and his sacrifice.”

Valladares met his wife Marta while in prison. She was the daughter of yet another dissident struggling against the Castro regime. She valiantly smuggled the poems out of Cuba and had them published and Valladares ultimately received critical acclaim.

His first published collection of his poems and reflections was published in 1974 and was entitled From My Wheelchair and detailed the prison abuses he experienced there. After the book's publication, PEN France awarded him its Freedom Prize.

This led to Amnesty International acknowledging Valladares as a prisoner of conscience and making his plight known throughout the world. Though AI ultimately dropped their sponsorship of him, leaving the bulk of the hard lifting work in Marta's competent hands, she was able to secure his release in 1982 with the combined assistance of French President François Mitterrand and 83 U.S. Congressmen.

Armando and Marta flew to the United States upon his release where he wrote a New York Times bestselling autobiography, Against All Hope, which detailed his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Castro government.

The book was translated into 18 languages.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan made Valladares the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission―a position he held until 1990. In this position, he vigorously advocated for the release of over 15,000 political prisoners in Cuba.

By drawing international attention to Cuba's human rights violations, a UN investigation was initiated and ultimately led to the release of many political prisoners.

“I was there,” said Valladares. “I was there when my friends and colleagues were executed by firing squad at which all would yell out ‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ (‘Long live Christ the King!’) when they were killed.”

This is the same valiant cry used by the Catholic martyrs of Mexico's bloody Cristero War as they stood before their own firing squads earlier in the century.

The prison executions were personally ordered by Che Guevara who often callously demanded that, “At the smallest of doubt we must execute.”

Valladares spoke with the National Catholic Register at the vernissage.

“My faith was what kept me alive all of those 22 years in Castro's prisons. My faith was built up because of the religious training I had as a Catholic child in Cuba but, of course, this was before Castro and the communists,” explained Valladares. “Catholicism suffered greatly under Castro and there are now lost generations that need to be retrieved. The Faith remained alive in the hearts of those who suffered untold pain there.”

“I didn't hate. I knew enough about my Faith that it didn't teach hatred. And so, I did not hate Castro or those who tortured me. Not even a single atom of hatred in my heart for them,” said Valladares. “Instead, I prayed for them as there was otherwise very little hope left for them. When you sell your soul, what else do you have left?”

“My faith sustained me because I had nothing. Literally nothing there in the dark, naked, starved and beaten. I had my mind, my heart and my Faith in God and His Church. Nothing else,” he said.

“I was in prisons of the communists for 8,000 days. I was hungry, beaten, overworked to the point of exhaustion. All of that time I endured hunger, systematic beatings, total darkness, filth, disease, sweltering heat, hard labor and solitary confinement. 8,000 days of struggling to prove that I was a human being, 8,000 days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain. Those 8,000 days tested my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting against myself to not hate my atheist jailers were trying to make me hate each time they beat me. I had to fight so that that hate wouldn’t flourish in my heart. I struggled for 8,000 to make sure I didn’t become like them.”

“In all honesty, my faith in God was assisted by the real love of my Marta, my wife. She gave me hope each time I saw her,” explained Valladares. “If it wasn't for her supporting me in my faith, I don't know what I would be like now. Probably dead. At least dead interiorly.”

“When President Obama announced his desire to reopen diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, I vehemently disagreed with him. There was no talk about all of the political prisoners in Cuban jails. What about our suffering? No one asked about it.”

“I'm surprised at Pope Francis, a man whom I greatly respect and admire, but I cannot agree with his efforts in engaging Cuba," admitted Valladares painfully, parsing his words. “Again, there was no mention about the all of these 62 years of pain that Cubans had to endure under him and Che Guevara and the rest of those atheists,” he said.

“Instead, it was Raúl Castro who complained about the suffering that Cuba had experienced at America's hands while totaling ignoring the pain his government had inflicted upon Cubans. This is hypocrisy.”

“When both Obama and Pope Francis agreed to meet with Castro, no one mentioned the pain and suffering Cubans experienced under this regime.”

Valladares continues to advocate for human rights especially religious liberty and matters of conscience. He lives with his wife Marta in Florida and continues to write poetry, paint and sculpt. He has three adult children and one granddaughter.

Many Catholics may know the Becket Fund from their stalwart assistance of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who prevailed in their fight against the HHS mandate.

Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and her community member, Sr. Veronica Proffit, were both present at the evening's award ceremony for Valladares and spoke with the Register.

“It's a privilege and an honor to be here for this award ceremony. We are all grateful to Mr. Valladares for his witnessing to Christ while he was in prison in Cuba.”

Sr. Veronica added her gratitude to the Becket Fund for their assistance in defending her community before the Supreme Court.

“Learning about Mr. Valladares gives us courage for our struggles against the Obamacare Mandate. My faith is in God in that He will take of us.”