No mall? No problem! Virtual Santa visits bring the jolliness to your home

This year, many of our Christmas plans have dramatically changed, including those of our dear friend from the North Pole, Santa Claus. 

Susen Mesco, parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish in Lafayette and owner of American Events and Promotions, has spent over 36 years bringing a magic touch to the holiday season with her pool talented performers who portray Santa Claus. However, this year’s pandemic has changed the tradition, limiting Santa visits and canceling most of her events. Yet, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: her commitment to bringing joy to the little ones.  

With the aim of doing her part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while bringing joy, magic and Christmas traditions to homes across the country, Mesco and her team came up with the idea of ​​creating virtual Santa visits. 

“The Claus Family at American Events and Santa Visits USA have been working with technology for seven months to transfer the live stage to the small screen presentation with songs, stories, interactive family activities, puppets, magic, props, and special guest stars who pop in,” Mesco said.  

Mesco and her team, which includes 150 of the top holiday performers in the country, worked for months to create children activities, including Christian readings, to help fill children with excitement the same way they do when they visit Santa at the mall.  

“Children are very resilient! They have easily adapted to this new technology of Zoom wonderfully,” she said. “Standing in line at the mall isn’t a lot of fun if you’re five years old. With virtual Santa visits, there is no endless waiting in line exposed to germs. Children will spend 10-15 dedicated virtual personal minutes with Santa instead of 90 seconds at the mall.” 

Her virtual parties include interactive children activities for up to 90 families at once that range from karaoke to storytelling among others. Families can also request personalized Santa messages and visits.  

“We have virtual visits and personalized messages from Santa, Mesco explained. “Santa’s secret Elves provide us with details about the children. Santa spends 10-15 minutes with each family singing, telling stories and discussing events from the year as well as gentle reminders to pick up toys and brush teeth or eat more vegetables.”  

This year, Mesco wants to share the magic of Christmas with Catholic families and make sure that no one is left out by offering a FREE program that includes Christian stories, religious songs and some reading of the bible. Visit SantaVisitsUSA.com and use the code DENCATHOLIC for access to this program. 

“All of our Santa family is heartbroken that we cannot be with the children, but Santa needs to stay healthy at the North Pole so he can make his rounds on Christmas Eve,” Mesco concluded. “We can all be responsible. Virtual is the answer.” 

This program is open from Nov. 1st until January 31st. For more information, visit SantaVisitsUSA.com
 

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”