The founder fled Cuba under Castro, which meant this organization was able to take roots in the United States.
A little known organization for Catholic men that started in Cuba is working to reignite people’s love for their faith in the United States.
The “Caballeros Catolicos,” or Catholic Knights, was founded in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, in 1926 by Valentin Arenas y Armiñan. The group’s main mission is to help Catholic men deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith and support their communities. (The Catholic Knights are distinct from a larger men’s organization founded in the United States, the Knights of Columbus.)
The Jesuit-educated Arenas y Armiñan had studied canon and civil law in Spain. During his time in Europe he encountered many men’s groups dedicated to the service of the Church. When he returned to Cuba the idea stayed with him until February 24, 1926, when the events of that day prompted him to make his move.
February 24 is the day Cubans celebrate “El Grito de Baire” — the 1895 uprising against the Spanish that led to the war of independence.
In 1926 this day coincided with a religious feast day. When church bells rang out to call the faithful to Mass for the religious feast, Masons misinterpreted what was going on. They believed the church was calling the faithful together to pray for the “wrong side” in the Grito de Baire and they attacked the churches.
Catholics, especially Arenas y Armiñan, realized they needed to protect the church by making sure all Catholics had a deep knowledge of their faith. Thus was born the Catholic Knights.
The organization started with 70 men in Sagua la Grande. By the time of the Castro revolution there were 176 groups in parishes across the island nation.
The knights were active, holding a “social week,” promoting works of solidarity and providing ways to deepen member’s faith formation.
When Fidel Castro took power in the 1950s the Church’s position in the country changed. One by one the parish groups were shut down and slowly the members of the Catholic Knights left Cuba, including Arenas y Armiñan.
In Miami, he and other expat knights re-founded the Catholic Knights with the help of local Jesuits.
Today there are 300 Catholic Knights across Florida’s Dade County, according to Frank Diaz, the president of the Florida-Dade association of Catholic Knights.
Worldwide the organization has grown to include 75 members in Nicaragua. The Knights also have parish groups in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. The different regions of the Knights’ global association operate independently but are in contact and work together to help each other with various initiatives.
Besides ensuring the ongoing spiritual and faith formation of their members, in Dade county the organization also focuses on providing physical support to members when they need it.
Diaz told Aleteia the group provides practical help to members going through health problems, “[We] visit them, and take them to and from medical appointments.” The organization also provides financial assistance to members going through economic difficulties, and provides end of life support to the member’s families. “We bury [deceased members] in the Catholic cemetery, and [make a plot available to] their wives, if they want it,” Diaz said.
The chaplain for the Catholic Knights in the U.S. is Fr. Fernando Hernandez Arenas — the grandson of Valentina Arenas y Armiñan.