Posted by: Fr Chris | November 9, 2017

Never Again? Kristallnacht in 2017

On the night of November 9-10, 1938, the Nazi regime unleashed a wave of “spontaneous” violence across the entire Third Reich, including newly annexed Austria.  The name basically can be translated as Night of Broken Glass from all the windows smashed in Jewish businesses, homes, and temples.

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Broken shop windows of Jewish business

Thousands of Jewish businesses were looted, Jewish synagogues burned while firemen poured water on adjacent buildings so as to prevent the fires from spreading, and Jewish men and boys sent off to the concentration camps built in the previous five years to hold the Nazis’ political opponents and undesirables.

Synagogue ablaze 

With this carefully managed nation-wide assault, the Nazis’ planned to drive out all of the Jews remaining in Germany and former Austria – except since they refused to let them leave with any real wealth, and due to anti-Jewish diplomats in Canada, the United States, Latin America, and much of Europe, there were few refuges left for Jews in 1938.

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Stepping from the murderous Night of Broken Glass to the organized mass slaughter proposed at the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, was a very short step indeed.

From that Conference came the ideas of mass executions in the conquered regions of the Soviet Union by the dreaded Einsatzgruppen  of the SS and locally recruited henchmen (carefully recording how many Jews, Communists, and presumed partisans were shot), then the gas chambers of death camps, and starving the inmates of the ghettos to death. This documentary details the work of the Einsatzgruppen, with interviews of survivors, but be aware there are photographs taken by the executioners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLUgou38QGo

Be aware that the German film showing happy residents of Lemberg (Polish Lwow, L’viv today) at being delivered from two years of Soviet terror is accurate – but they would quickly learn that they were sub-humans in Nazi ideology. The mass killings of Jewish neighbors and townsfolk  has left many of the local Christians who witnessed it emotionally numb and damaged to this day, as Father Patrick Desbois has learned in his mission to uncover all of the mass graves of the region. This was worsened by the Soviets’ forbidding them to ever speak of it, as the emphasis was on commemorating the Soviet liberation of 1944-45, not Jewish deaths. 

As awareness of the scope of the Holocaust grew after 1945, the slogan “Never Again” became associated with it. Initially it referred to “never again” would there be a mass slaughter of Jews, later it grew to encompass all genocides. Unfortunately, genocides have taken place since, in full view of the entire world thanks to mass media, in former Yugoslavia, the Great Lakes region of Africa, Cambodia, Communist China, Nubia and Darfur in Sudan. However, while killings of Jews continued in different nations, especially in Israel and the occupied West Bank, it seemed that at least that lesson had stuck.

Now I wonder. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel over the Palestinian issue has steadily degenerated into hatred of Israel and the Jewish people, as repeated demonstrations on university campuses often show. Equating Israel’s mistakes regarding the Palestinians with Nazism and calling Jewish Israelis Nazis is beyond offensive, yet it continues to spread in Europe and North America.

The Netherlands saw 75% of its Jews deported to death camps under Nazi rule, often with the help of Dutch collaborators: over 102,000 innocent people slaughtered because of their identity as Jews, be they Christian, religious Jews, or secular. Yet today’s observance of Kristallnacht in Holland was marked with presentations that frankly are anti-Semitic: cf. https://www.timesofisrael.com/dutch-anti-semitism-watchdog-outraged-by-anti-israel-kristallnacht-speakers.

Watch this interview with a survivor of Kristallnacht – https://www.timesofisrael.com/dutch-anti-semitism-watchdog-outraged-by-anti-israel-kristallnacht-speakers/.  How in the world can there be people who think commemorating the atrocities of 1938 by condemning Israel and Jews?

Bad enough that in Berlin, commemorative Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones” ,which are put in front of the houses or on streets with  the names of Jews taken from their homes and murdered, have been dug up before Kristallnacht this year.

The site where the Stolpersteine were stolen in Neukölln, Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken)

On Long Island, a local mother took a photograph of a car with the bumper sticker “Proud Anti-Semite” on it driving on Route 110! Proud? How can that be?

'Proud Anti-Semite' bumper sticker a sign of the times, ADL says

How can any American ever carry a Nazi flag? Or shout “Away with the Jews!”?

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Hatred of “others” never brings about any good results. The Soviet Communists did it to their opponents, lumping them into categories: bourgeois middle-class; believers; clergy, monks and nuns; supposedly wealthy peasants (kulaks); people from the wrong ethnic groups (Germans, Chechen, Ingush, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Karakai, Karakalpaks, Jews, Balkars, Turks, Finns and Estonians who lived near Leningrad). Chinese Communists did it to intellectuals, monks, nuns, believers, engineers, anyone who could be considered an “enemy”, a category that continues to shift to this day. Racism gets us nowhere. Ditto for class hatred, anti-Semitism, sexism, anti-Catholicism, and all the other anti’s floating around today in our enlightened world.

That news stories for Kristallnacht today contain stories of anti-Israel BDS activists and Holocaust deniers stuns me. That the internet is filled with Holocaust denial is tragic: too many young people do not have a critical sense when surfing the Net and think that if someone took the time to publish it, it must be true. Talk about fake news!

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On this Kristallnacht anniversary, may all people of good will step up and dotheir best to counter hatred, and remind Americans and others that God made everyone in His image and likeness, male and female, and He saw that it was good. Deliver us, O Lord, from  hatred. Lead us, O Lord, to peace.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | November 8, 2017

100 Years of Communism

A recent study showed that 32% of Millennials believe more people died under President George W. Bush than under Josef Stalin! 44% would prefer life in a Socialist country than a capitalist one; 7% would even WANT to live in a communist state. That is the legacy of American education. check it out here: http://victimsofcommunism.org/annual-poll-release-shows-americans-still-have-a-lot-to-learn-about-communism/

This article from Catholic World Report by Filip Mazurczak gives a good overview of books and movies that would help those poor students of history – and other Americans – learn more about what Communism has brought to the world. You can access the original at http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/11/06/a-catholic-guide-to-great-books-and-films-about-communism/

Tuesday, November 7th marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which began the expansion of communism across the world. Whether in Russia or Eastern Europe, Cuba or Ethiopia, everywhere communism was implemented it led to a staggering loss in human life through mass shootings, manmade famines, or concentration camps. French historian Stéphane Courtois, himself a onetime believer in Marxist-Leninism, has estimated the number of victims of communist rule at 100 million, which means that the hammer and sickle has killed many more people than the swastika. And yet not only do most young people not learn about this horror and evil at high schools or universities, but it’s not uncommon to hear seemingly well-informed academics, politicians, or journalists to naively romanticize communism. Note, for example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who rather than being grateful for never having to live under communist rule has only praised Cuba’s butcher Fidel Castro. On today’s solemn anniversary I have compiled a list of some of the best books and films on the subject so that you can learn more about the tragic fruits of Marxism-Leninism.

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Soldiers plunder an Orthodox church in Russia, 192s

A helpful, quick introduction to the history of communist oppression is Communism: A History by Richard Pipes, one of the most accomplished historians of Russia in the West. Prof. Pipes served as President Reagan’s advisor on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Pipes publicly sparred with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, easily the best known dissident from behind the Iron Curtain, on the relationship between Russia’s political culture and the nature of the Soviet regime. Regardless, both Pipes and Solzhenitsyn are worth reading. A good introduction to the latter is the novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, set amidst the cold, hungry misery of the gulags where inmates anxiously await their ten-year sentences to end, only to have more ten-year sentences slapped on them. One Day’s significance extends far beyond its Soviet setting and is a reflection on man’s cruelty under extreme conditions.

Another canonical novel about Stalinism is Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. It tells the story of Rubashov, an old Bolshevik unfailing in his belief in communism who is unexpectedly imprisoned and tortured in the lead up to a show trial. While Rubashov is a fictional character, there were many real life Rubashovs whose orthodox belief in the Soviet state did not save them from falling victim to Stalin’s paranoia.

Communism as an ideology was based on anthropological lies, and it forced people into lying to survive. Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel’s classic essay The Power of the Powerless is the best known take on this theme, using the memorable image of the green grocer who places a placard reading Workers of the World, Unite! in his window. The green grocer does not believe in this slogan; whether he does or not is irrelevant, because he has to display a slogan he potentially rejects in order to not be harassed by the state. A much less known, but equally powerful work dealing with communism’s inherent dishonesty is Leopold Tyrmand’s The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Collective: A Primer on Communist Civilization. Tyrmand left his native Poland in the 1960s and arrived in the United States, where he was shocked to see a large part of the intellectual elites harbor naïve illusions about communism. He wrote this book to explain communism from an insider’s perspective to Americans blessed to live in a free country.

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Starving Ukrainian Children, 1933

While the number of infamous crimes wrought by communism is too long to be listed in this article, one that undoubtedly deserves mention is the Holodomor. In 1932-1933, Stalin starved to death at least four million (some estimates go much higher) Ukrainian peasants in order to wipe out political dissent after they resisted the collectivization of agriculture. Ukraine’s Black Earth region boasts of the most fertile soil in Europe, which would make a famine unlikely under natural circumstances, but Stalin deliberately starved millions of Ukrainians by sending officials to seize their wheat. The fact that Microsoft Word underlines “Holodomor” in red as I write this shows how relatively little known this tragedy, undoubtedly one of the biggest mass murders in European history, is. A good primer on the Holodomor is Harvest of Sorrow by the late British Sovietologist Robert Conquest.

No communist leader has enjoyed such a positive image in the mainstream media (one that many democratically elected officials would likely envy) as Fidel Castro. Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova has written a fine book that deconstructs the myth of Fidel as a cool ladies’ man and ardent critic of American imperialism whose heart is always on the side of the poor. Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant engagingly shows how prior to 1959 Cuba, despite all its troubles, was one of the most prosperous societies in the Americas, yet as a result of Castro’s destructive rule, marked by death squads, growing poverty, and prison camps with appalling conditions, thousands of Cubans risk their lives floating on inner tubes in shark-infested waters to escape to Florida each year and Cuban political prisoners inject themselves with the HIV virus to shorten their misery. Fontova’s book is impossible to put down and, despite the grim subject matter, is replete with sarcastic humor that will have you laughing out loud. Fontova’s Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him is equally enthralling.

Chairman Mao, who was the de facto ruler of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1976, holds the unenviable record of being the twentieth century’s biggest butcher. Historians estimate that he killed up to 70 million of mostly his own people, far more than Stalin and Hitler combined, during peacetime. And yet there was a time when Mao’s Little Red Book was a trendy fashion accessory at Berkeley and in many Left Bank Parisian cafes. A fascinating chronicle of Mao’s rise to power from an undistinguished, eccentric schoolteacher to becoming history’s biggest psychopathic mass murderer thanks to the Kremlin’s support is Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story.

In addition to these books, there are also many excellent films about communism. Latvian director Edvins Snore’s documentary The Soviet Story, which includes interviews with many esteemed historians and former Soviet dissidents such as Vladimir Bukovsky, begins by showing young, clueless hipsters parading around in T-shirts with the hammer and sickle. By the end of the film, anyone who ever entertained the idea of buying such a shirt will undoubtedly be burning with embarrassment.

One of the best dramas about communism is the 2006 German film The Lives of Others, which received a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Lives of Others depicts the Stasi, East Germany’s secret intelligence agency. The film painfully and memorably depicts the humiliating tortures of the Stasi.

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The Berlin Wall, built to keep East Germans inside their informant-filled society 

The late Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda directed numerous films about communism. Two deserve special note. One is 2007’s Oscar-nominated Katyn, about the Soviet massacre of 22,000 Polish reserve officers (among them Wajda’s father). The Soviets falsely blamed the Germans for this crime for almost half a century. The film is less about the murder of the Polish officers itself and more about how totalitarian regimes function on the basis of blatant lies. Wajda’s last film, last year’s Afterimage, depicts the real-life story of Polish modernist painter Władysław Strzemiński, a lifelong communist who fell out of favor with Poland’s Stalinist government for believing that art should depict one’s subjective sensory experience rather than have an obligatory political undertone. Afterimage is a sad film, showing how Strzemiński’s resistance to socialist realism led the regime to throw him out of the artists’ union and prohibit him from buying paint and eventually food. Hungry and abandoned, Strzemiński died of untreated tuberculosis.

More lighthearted is Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball. While Forman later gained fame in the United States for directing such masterpieces as Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he was one of the leading stars of Czechoslovak New Wave in his native country. The sardonic Firemen’s Ball shows the party firefighters throw for their colleague’s eighty-sixth birthday. The party is a disaster and a microcosm showing the absurdity of communism, a political system that forces people to steal, that presents ugliness as beauty, and that ultimately brings about its own destruction.

Many great books and films have been made about communism, which in terms of absolute numbers is the most murderous ideology in human history. Hopefully, this reading and viewing list will show you its dark side, which most liberal arts professors conveniently ignore.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 13, 2017

International Community Looks on While Christian Persecution Worsens
By John Newton
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The persecution of Christians is worse than at any time in history — but it is being largely ignored by the UN and the international community, according to a report launched today (Thursday, 12th Oct).

The new Persecuted and Forgotten? report, launched at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament this afternoon, concludes that the persecution of Christians reached a high water mark in 2015-17 — with growing attacks on the faithful by Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram, and other fundamentalist groups.

According to the report, produced by the UK office of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the international community has failed to adequately respond to the needs of Christians attacked by militant extremists.

Persecuted and Forgotten? states: “Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway.

“If Christian organisations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The report also identified growing problems in certain majority Islamic countries and authoritarian states such as Eritrea and North Korea.

Report editor John Pontifex said: “In terms of the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history.

“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”

Although the report found in the countries under examination that many faith communities have suffered at the hands of extremists and authoritarian regimes, it concluded Christians have experienced the most hostility and violence.

The report supports this claim with a series of examples showing the extent of the problems facing Christians in each of the 13 core countries it assesses in depth — as well as providing an overview of the state of religious freedom for the country’s various denominations.

Persecuted and Forgotten? found that members of China’s 127 million-strong Christian population have suffered increased persecution following new attempts to bring Christianity in line with Communist ideals.

More than 2,000 churches and crosses have been pulled down in China’s coastal Province of Zhejiang — and clergy are still being routinely detained by authorities.

During the campaign of genocide by Daesh and other Islamist militant groups in the Middle East, Christians were disproportionately affected by the extremists.

In Iraq, more than half of the country’s Christian population became internal refugees and Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which until 2011 was home to the largest Christian community, saw numbers dropping from 150,000 to barely 35,000 by spring 2017 — a fall of more than 75 percent.

Despite national governments and international organisations having determined that a genocide has taken place, local Church leaders in the Middle East have repeatedly said that they feel forgotten by the international community.

A number of bishops in the region have accused the UN of overlooking the needs of displaced Christians, despite pledging to deliver aid “neutrally and impartially”.

Extremism has been a growing problem in Africa — particularly in Nigeria where Daesh affiliates Boko Haram have displaced more than 1.8 million.

In one diocese alone — Kafanchan — within five years, 988 people had been killed, and 71 Christian-majority villages had been destroyed, as well as 2,712 homes and 20 churches.

At the launch in the House of Lords, to be chaired by Lord Alton, Archbishop John Darwish — who has overseen the care of Syrian Christian refugees denied UN aid — will give a first-hand report about the crisis that has faced Christians and ACN’s John Pontifex will present the findings of Persecuted and Forgotten?

Other speakers are to address various aspects of the report.

Bishop Matthew Kukah from northern Nigeria will speak about Christians living with violence from Boko Haram and other extremist militants.

Work resettling displaced Christians in the towns and villages they were driven out of by Daesh in northern Iraq will be described by Father Salar Kajo, who helps oversee the programme returning displaced families to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

ONCE THE TARGET OF ANTI-CATHOLIC SENTIMENT, COLUMBUS IS OFTEN SLANDERED BY THOSE WHO MISREPRESENT HIS LEGACY

An 1846 painting depicts Christopher Columbus and members of his crew on a beach in the West Indies after arriving on his flagship Santa Maria Oct. 12, 1492. The work was commissioned by the U.S. Congress and installed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1847. Landing of Columbus, 1846, by John Vanderlyn

Driven in large part by political correctness and partisan academics and activists, it has become fashionable in recent years to criticize Christopher Columbus and the holiday named in his honor. A closer look, however, reveals the famed explorer to be a man of faith and courage, not a monster.

Many of Columbus’ modern critics rely on a warped and politicized reading of history, and it is not the first time the explorer has endured such attacks. When a resurgence of anti-Catholic bigotry erupted in early 20th-century America, Columbus was a favorite target then as well.

Despite animus among some groups today, the majority of Americans view the explorer positively and with pride. In a K of C-Marist poll from December 2016, 62 percent of Americans expressed a favorable opinion of the explorer and 55 percent said they were in favor of Columbus Day, the holiday named for him. By contrast, fewer than 3 in 10 view Columbus unfavorably and only 37 percent oppose the holiday named for him.

Nonetheless, there have been political efforts to strip Columbus of honor, and the question of whether to continue to recognize Columbus Day is under review in many places. Some states and municipalities have removed the explorer’s name from the holiday or eliminated the observance entirely.

A COURAGEOUS JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

Unfair attacks on Columbus, past and present, should not be allowed to obscure the truth about the man, his voyage and his motives. Born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus was a deeply Catholic explorer who was willing to go against the grain. He believed he could reach the shores of Asia by sailing a mere 3,000 miles west across the Atlantic. Such a passage would establish faster and easier trade routes than were possible through overland travel or by sailing south and east around Africa.

Scholars of his day calculated the distance to the Orient across the Atlantic at well over 7,000 miles, out of practical range for ships of the day. Those who were skeptical of the admiral’s proposal did not hold that the earth was flat, as popular myth has suggested, but rather that it was much larger than Columbus believed. Despite his miscalculation, after 10 weeks Columbus did indeed find land — not the outskirts of the Orient, as he went to his grave believing, but an entirely new continent.

Later, as a nation began to coalesce out of the American colonies, its leaders recognized the admiral’s legacy. “Columbia” served as an informal name for what would become the United States of America. The eventual designation of the nation’s capital reflects the esteem the founders had for the Genoese explorer.

Beginning in the 1840s, waves of European immigrants swelled the ranks of Catholics in the United States, and along with that came an increasingly anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant backlash from the Protestant majority. Catholics were subject to discrimination, slander, ridicule, anti-Catholic propaganda and sometimes mob violence.

It was within this hostile climate that Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. He and the founding Knights chose as the Order’s patron Christopher Columbus — one of the few Catholics considered a hero of American history. Father McGivney believed the explorer represented both Catholicism and patriotism at the very root of America’s heritage, thereby symbolizing that faithful Catholics also can be solid American citizens.

A decade later, as the Order celebrated its patron on the 400th anniversary of his discovery, President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed a national Columbus holiday. He called for “expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer, and for the Divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.”

Colorado became the first state to establish Columbus Day in 1907, and others soon followed. In 1934, with strong urging and support by the Knights, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress made Columbus Day a federal holiday, mandating its first annual observance on Oct. 12, 1937.

This statue of Christopher Columbus, dedicated by Italian-American residents in New Haven, Conn., was erected in 1892 in Wooster Square Park. In 2004, restoration of the statue was partially funded by the Knights of Columbus. Vandalized 2017. 

ATTACKS OLD AND NEW

As the 1992 quincentenary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World approached, vocal opposition to Columbus was heard from partisan and revisionist historians and activists who were often critical of Western civilization as a whole. That year, the city of Berkeley, Calif., changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, and several other municipalities have made similar moves, often explicitly as a means of dishonoring Columbus. These now include Austin and Los Angeles – FCZ 

In response to one such initiative in Baltimore, Eugene F. Rivers III, founder and president of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, published an op-ed article Dec. 2, 2016.

To celebrate one cultural group does not require that we denigrate another,” he wrote. “Rather than renaming Columbus Day, why not add another holiday, Indigenous Peoples Day, to Baltimore’s calendar in honor of Native Americans?”

The 20th century ended with criticism of Columbus and Columbus Day in certain quarters, just as the early 20th century had seen similar opposition.

When the Ku Klux Klan was revived in 1915 and targeted Catholics, Jews and minority groups whom they considered a threat to the nation’s “Native, White, Protestant” identity, one of their targets was Columbus.

The Klan opposed the observance of Columbus Day, trying to suppress celebrations of the holiday at the state level. Klan members published articles calling Columbus Day a “papal fraud” and even burned a cross at a Knights of Columbus observance in Pennsylvania.

Today, one can still hear echoes of anti-Catholic prejudice in the modern attacks. For some, Columbus’ sponsorship by Spain and introduction of Christianity and Western culture to the lands he discovered make him immediately suspect. The new wave of anti-Columbus attacks go so far as to say that Columbus intended nothing good.

“These criticisms primarily charge Columbus with perpetrating acts of genocide, slavery, ‘ecocide,’ and oppression,” explained Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute and author of 1492 and All That: Political Manipulations of History (1992).

Nonetheless, a closer examination of the record reveals a different picture.

The dominant picture holds him responsible for everything that went wrong in the New World,” wrote Carol Delaney, a former professor at Stanford and Brown universities, in her book Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (2011). In her opinion, “we must consider his world and how the cultural and religious beliefs of his time colored the way he thought and acted.”

In a 2012 Columbia interview, Delaney further explained that Columbus found the native peoples to be “very intelligent” and his relations with them “tended to be benign.” He gave strict instructions to the settlers to “treat the native people with respect,” though some of his men rebelled and disobeyed his orders, particularly during his long absences, Delaney added.

Columbus’ voyage made the Old and New Worlds aware of each other for the first time, eventually leading to the founding of new countries in the Western Hemisphere. Diseases inadvertently carried to the New World by the Europeans caused the greatest number of casualties by far, killing some 90 percent of native populations according to some estimates.

“There were terrible diseases that got communicated to the natives,” Delaney said, “but he can’t be blamed for that.”

A RENEWED DEFENSE

According to Royal, arguments against Columbus by modern critics often constitute a “new, contemporary form of the ‘Black Legend’” — anti-Spanish propaganda dating back to the 16th-century that stereotypes Spanish explorers as uniquely cruel and abusive.

The writings of Bartolomé de las Casas — a 16th-century Spanish Dominican priest, historian and missionary — exposing the abuse of the native peoples are often cited in an effort to impugn Columbus. But while de las Casas lamented the suffering of indigenous people, he also admired and respected Columbus for his “sweetness and benignity” of character, his deep faith and his accomplishments.

“He was the first to open the doors to the ocean sea, where he entered the remote lands and kingdoms which until then had not known our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his blessed name,” de las Casas wrote in his History of the Indies. While cognizant that Columbus was human and made mistakes, de las Casas never doubted the explorer’s good intentions, writing: “Truly, I would not dare blame the admiral’s intentions, for I knew him well and I know his intentions are good.”

According to Delaney, Columbus “fervently believed it was the duty of every Christian to try to save the souls of non- Christians,” and it was this passion that “led him on a great adventure, an encounter such as the world has never seen.”

Not surprisingly, popes since the late 19th century have praised Columbus’ mission of evangelization. Pope John Paul II, while celebrating Mass at a Columbus monument in the Dominican Republic near the 1992 quincentenary, said the crossshaped memorial “means to symbolize the cross of Christ planted in this land in 1492.”

In a speech to the young people of Genoa in May, Pope Francis talked about how a disciple of Christ needs the “virtue of a navigator,” and he pointed to the example of Columbus who faced “a great challenge” and showed “courage,” a trait he indicated was essential to becoming a “good missionary.”

As it did a century ago, the Order is defending Columbus today. When Colorado lawmakers weighed a bill to repeal Columbus Day as a state holiday earlier this year, the Knights of Columbus helped lead the opposition. Recalling the Klan’s earlier efforts to oppose Columbus Day, the K of C noted that the measure was not a progressive step but rather “regressive as it takes us back to what the Klan outlined in the 1920s in order to promote ethnic and religious resentment.”

The Knights of Columbus has defended its patron from unfair attacks, urging that he continue to receive official recognition as a man of faith and bravery. Columbus represents the kind of heroic courage and religious faith that inspired the establishment of the United States. Although he surely holds special meaning for Catholics and for Italian Americans, Columbus is a figure all citizens of the New World can celebrate.

For this reason, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in his annual report this year, “We will continue to defend the truth about Columbus and Columbus Day.”


GERALD KORSON writes from Fort Wayne, Ind.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 6, 2017

A Catholic Native American on Columbus Day

Blaming Columbus Misses the Lessons of History

Given that political correctness is soaring to new idiocies, I thought it appropriate to post this before the holiday on Monday. Some “brilliant” group will probably want to do as Los Angeles did and declare  the holiday “Indigenous Day” – they all seem to forget that nobody in the US would be here if not for Columbus’ impact on history!

As a proud member of both the Osage Nation (the Ni-U-Kon-Ska, “People of the Middle Waters”), and the Knights of Columbus, I am disgusted and terrified by the ever louder calls for the cancelation of Columbus Day, and the tearing down of monuments dedicated to the great maritime explorer, Christopher Columbus.

I am disgusted because the attacks are unfair to the man, who was far better than most for his time.

Today’s protestors–with great vigor but little historical sense–seem ever ready to look for scapegoats. They want to cast all blame for the atrocities committed against American Indians at the feet of Columbus. Such efforts only serve to literally white-wash and revise the true history of the Americas.

As American citizens, we need to remember our history, both the good and the bad, so that we are not set up to repeat history’s mistakes. We need to take an honest look at all our fore-fathers. We need to give them the credit they deserve for what they did well, while being mindful of the things that they should have been done differently or better. 

 We should not tear-up the Declaration of Independence on the grounds that Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owner. We should not tear down the statutes and memory of Christopher Columbus on the grounds that some people in the New World committed heinous acts, or on the grounds that, with little evidence, Francisco de Bobadilla, a man with suspect motivations, accused Christopher Columbus of brutality as a governor–especially since that “brutality” was manifested in Columbus’ execution of several Spaniards for their mistreatment of the Indians.

Bartolome de las Casas – Columbus’ contemporary and renowned “Defender of the Indians” –defended both the explorer’s motives and his character.

Recent scholarship has come to the same conclusion. His biographer and professor emerita of Stanford University Carol Delaney points out that Columbus’ core motivation was religious. She laments that he is so often blamed for the actions of others. Delaney also notes that his relations with Native Americans tended to be “benign.”Columbus was a man ahead of his time. There were many who were not.

 Yet the latter get a pass, and Columbus, the proto-immigrant, gets blamed. Perhaps that is easier than discussing the complexities of America’s historical and present circumstances.

What we lose in the rush to blame Columbus is perspective on how America has come to the present moment in its troubled relations with Native Americans.

Spain had outlawed almost all enslavement of indigenous people by 1500. Yet, two hundred years later, enslavement of Indians thrived in British Connecticut. Three hundred and fifty years later, the state of California would allow what can only be called Indian enslavement in 1850.

In Connecticut and California the wars of attrition against the Indians were Anglo-American, not Spanish. Peter Hardeman Burnett, the Gold Rush governor of California, summed up the Anglo-American perspective when he said: “It is inevitable that the Indian must go.”

By contrast, Columbus and the Spanish sought coexistence, however complicated that sometimes became.  The problematic reservation system was not Columbus’ idea–nor was it the idea of the Spanish. It was an Anglo-American invention.

Columbus Day is a day for us to remember that bold and courageous voyage in 1492 that lead to the first sustained contact between two very different worlds. It is a day to remember the many good things that have come out of that contact, such as the founding of the United States, the first lasting democratic-republic.

It is also a day to remember our failings as a country, such as the trail of tears and the forced removal and re-education of native children in the twentieth century–episodes centuries after Columbus that the explorer neither caused nor condoned.

Each day, I see the continued hardships facing the first people of the Americas. I see the poverty, the alcoholism, the lack of quality education options, and the constant interference in Indian tribes’ right to self-determination.

While activists are quick to unfairly blame Columbus for all of this, I have yet to see a group of protestors from the city get their boots dirty while trying to make a difference for those in need on the reservations. I do, however, see the constant presence of committed groups, like the Knights of Columbus, providing quality coats for children in winter, boxes upon boxes of food every fall, and love and friendship every day.

This Columbus Day, instead of spreading a hateful and misleading history from the comfort of our easy-chairs, I would call on all Americans to follow the example of groups like the Knights of Columbus.

Donate your time, effort and money to the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston. Reach out to the peripheries in your own neighborhood. Bring companionship to your lonely elderly neighbor. Form friendships with those who are suffering.

Rather than dubiously assigning blame to one man, together we can truly help make the United States a better place for all of us, and achieve a harmony and understanding between native and immigrant peoples that has too often eluded us in our history.

Patrick T. Mason is past state deputy of the Knights of Columbus in New Mexico and a member of the organization’s board of directors.

From CRUX – the United Nations supposedly rebuilt schools for use in Christian villages and towns, but the returnees found weeds, debris, and no equipment. And in a formerly Christian town there are now Sunni Muslim squatters. Given how the Sunni turned on their Christian neighbors in Mosul and other places, the Catholics, Orthodox and Church of the East faithful are afraid to try and go back to Tel Kaif under such circumstances. Without Christians, Iraq will slide back into fundamentalism, as we have seen in other Muslim states that expel non-Muslims and push them aside.

Plus, UN camps for refugees remain dangerous for Christians – Muslim residents still attack, threaten and terrorize any Christian who lives in a UN camp – they have to live in church-run camps and unfinished buildings, deprived of any UN funding. How long before the brilliant  progressives of the West figure this out??

Christian organizations in Iraq voice “frustration” over UN reconstruction

Christian organizations in Iraq voice “frustration” over UN reconstruction

The exterior of a school that was ‘reconstructed’ in the town of Teleskof, Iraq. People on the ground describe the work done as just applying a thin layer of paint and adding the UN logo. (Credit: Archdiocese of Erbil.)

According to Christian organizations on the ground in Iraq, “there’s no power, there’s no water, and there’s no furniture” in the schools set up by the United Nations for Christian children in the Nineveh valley, the area destroyed three years ago during the ISIS occupation. Christians also stated “frustration” with the lack of “meaningful work” done by the UN to help Christian minorities in the territory.

ROME – Christian organizations on the ground in the Nineveh valley, a heavily Christian area in Iraq devastated by the 2014 ISIS occupation, have expressed “frustration” with the lack of meaningful work done by the United Nations to help religious minorities and especially Christians in the territory.

The interior of a school that was reconstructed by the UN in the town of Teleskof, Iraq. The school currently has no power, water or electricity. (Credit: Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.)

According to one representative, the children of Christian families in the town of Teleskof, Iraq, who survived and endured the ethnic cleansing brought forth by Islamic extremists, returned to a school this week allegedly repaired by the UN, only to find it filled with rubble and weeds and lacking the primary necessities.

“The interior of these buildings… there’s nothing done on them!” Steve Rasche, the legal counsel and director of IDP resettlement programs for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq told Crux in an interview. “There’s no power, there’s no water, and there’s no furniture. After three years of disrepair they are filled with all sorts of debris.”

Rasche, who plays a crucial role in the reconstruction efforts for the fewer than 100,000 Christians remaining in the Nineveh Valley, added that the school rehabilitation projects conducted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) consist “of one thin layer of paint on the outside surfaces of the buildings facing the road.

“The most prominent work appears to be the ensuring that the UN logo got on this work,” he said.

The UNDP is the primary instrument through which the pooled funding from the major donor countries, such as the U.S., the UK and the EU, implement their aid toward the restoration of the Nineveh valley and Mosul in Iraq. But Rasche explained that while reports state that the UNDP has been doing significant work in the Nineveh valley, “we simply don’t see it on the ground in any meaningful way.”

In its 2014 National Human Development Report, ‘Youth: Challenges and Opportunities,’ the UNDP had stated that education and unemployment represented one of the greatest challenges for young people in Iraq and indicated that the youth illiteracy rate was alarmingly high at 13 percent.

Crux reached out to the UNDP, which confirmed that the Ministry of Education in Iraq opened the schools in Telesqof on October 3 and that additional supplies will be sent during the week.

“Getting children back into school is a top priority which is why a number of humanitarian organizations have been rushing to help communities in newly liberated areas get ready for the new year,” said Lisa Grande, UNDP humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.

“It’s terrific to know that children are back at their desks and learning. They’ve been through so much. Schools are the best hope. Children are able to play, learn and aspire to a future.”

Crux has so far been unable to verify whether the conditions of the school have actually improved.

Rasche reported that during the weekend, members of the Christian community in Iraq had been working to clear the building in time for the school opening on Oct. 3. He also underlined that these are Iraqi government schools and thoroughly identified in the restoration process as priority projects, even though no formal support has been offered to get the structures ready for the children.

Weeds and bushes have taken over the yard of a school that was supposedly rebuilt by the UN in the town of Teleskof, Iraq. Rasche reported that during the weekend, members of the Christian community in Iraq had been working to clear the building in time for the school opening on Monday Oct. 2. (Credit: Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.)

Rasche listed as one of the most cogent examples of the “disconnect” the fact that in the July 2017 UNDP fact sheet on the Support for Minority Areas, the organization listed the town of Tel Kaif as a place where the “stabilization work is accelerating.”

“Tel Kaif is an historically Christian town that has been ethnically cleansed by ISIS and is empty of Christians,” Rasche said. “They have a large Sunni population there and the Christians are terrified to go back because of what happened.”

“How disconnected do the people publishing these reports have to be that they don’t even know that that town has been ethnically cleansed of Christians?” he asked.

There have been media reports that since the Chaldean church in Tel Kaif was reopened, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako, expressed hope that its displaced population might return. So far, the Christian population of the town remains very low.

To make matters worse, Rasche stated that Tel Kaif has been officially recognized as a safe haven for family members of slain ISIS fighters. “The women and children who have been fully indoctrinated in the ISIS mentality are now there in this town that has been ethnically cleansed of Christians,” Rasche said.

In the same document, the UNDP stated that in November 2016 the organization had opened a “special window” aimed at supporting the Chaldean and Assyrian Christians as well as other religious minorities so that they may have “confidence in their future in Iraq.” But of the 12 towns listed in the fact sheet where reconstruction projects are being implemented, only one, Batnaya, is 100 percent Christian, while the others all have majority non-Christian populations.

Representatives on the ground working on the reconstruction of Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains voiced frustration with the lack of ‘meaningful work’ being done by the UN in the area. (Credit: Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.)

Rasche insists that foreign donors “don’t have to take our word for it,” and stated that they should send their own representatives to see the reality of the situation.

“What we are continually faced with is a situation where the people on the ground report back to the UNDP, or the U.S. government or whomever and say ‘there is no work being done here.’ And the response is ‘sure, there is! Look here at this report, it says here there’s work being done. There must be work being done’,” Rasche said.

“One can imagine the frustration from that.”

Christians risk disappearing completely from Iraq unless their precarious situation is improved. The U.S. Senate is currently sitting on a bill, HR 390, which would determine the funding and intervention that will be directed toward improving the communities of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.

If those funds are issued, Christians in the areas can only hope that they will be used for projects and infrastructure that actually improve their already impoverished quality of life.

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2017

Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sept 14

We make the sign of the cross constantly in the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Catholic Church. Sometimes we can do it casually, and rush through it.

St John the Baptist School 

When I was in 6th grade at St John the Baptist School in Kenmore, New York, the Mother General of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur who taught at our school came from Belgium. she began her talk to us by making the sign of the cross, saying out loud: In the Name of the Father and of … and she stopped. “Children, how can you already be done with this blessing and I have just started?”

group

Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, 1960

She then explained to us the power of the cross and what lies behind that simple action of blessing ourselves. Then she started again, deliberately, and all 1,430 children gathered for the assembly followed her in slow motion – quite an achievement, and one that I still remember. The gift of the cross is what we celebrate today, and St John Chrysostom’s sermon on the mystery of the cross sums it all up very well:

A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death con- demned those who were born after it; this second death gives life again to those who were born before it. Who can tell the Lord’s mighty deeds? By death we were made immortal: these are the glorious deeds of the Cross. Have you understood the victory? Have you grasped how it was wrought? Learn now, how this victory was gained without any sweat or toil of ours. No weapons of ours were stained with blood; our feet did not stand in the front line of battle; we suffered no wounds; witnessed no tumults; and yet we obtained the victory. The battle was the Lord’s, the crown is ours. Since then victory is ours, let us imitate the soldiers, and with joyful voices sing the songs of victory. Let us praise the Lord and say, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The Cross did all these wonderful things for us: the Cross is a war memorial erected against the demons, a sword against sin, the sword with which Christ slew the serpent. The Cross is the Father’s will, the glory of the Only-begotten, the Spirit’s exultation, the beauty of the angels, the guardian of the Church. Paul glories in the Cross; it is the rampart of the saints, it is the light of the whole world.

Enjoy this glorious feast tonight and tomorrow! 

Below: Hail O Cross, our only hope! (Ave Crux, spes unica!)

From Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2017

PS from Fr. Zugger: I recommend readers check out https://couragerc.org/ for help and support on this topic! 

The Catholic Church has been criticized by many, including some of its own followers, for its pastoral response to the LGBT community. This criticism deserves a reply—not to defend the Church’s practices reflexively, but to determine whether we, as the Lord’s disciples, are reaching out effectively to a group in need. Christians must always strive to follow the new commandment Jesus gave at the Last Supper: “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”

To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth. “For this I was born,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “to bear witness to the truth.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects this insistence on honesty, stating that the church’s message to the world must “reveal in all clarity the joy and demands of the way of Christ.”

Those who speak on behalf of the church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ, because only through living in harmony with God’s creative design do people find deep and lasting fulfillment. Jesus described his own message in these terms, saying in the Gospel of John: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Catholics believe that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church draws its teachings upon the truths of Christ’s message.

Among Catholic priests, one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality is Father James Martin, an American Jesuit. In his book “Building a Bridge,” published earlier this year, he repeats the common criticism that Catholics have been harshly critical of homosexuality while neglecting the importance of sexual integrity among all of its followers.

Father Martin is correct to argue that there should not be any double standard with regard to the virtue of chastity, which, challenging as it may be, is part of the good news of Jesus Christ for all Christians. For the unmarried—no matter their attractions—faithful chastity requires abstention from sex.

This might seem a high standard, especially today. Yet it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of Christ to require something that cannot be achieved. Jesus calls us to this virtue because he has made our hearts for purity, just as he has made our minds for truth. With God’s grace and our perseverance, chastity is not only possible, but it will also become the source for true freedom.

We do not need to look far to see the sad consequences of the rejection of God’s plan for human intimacy and love. The sexual liberation the world promotes does not deliver its promise. Rather, promiscuity is the cause of so much needless suffering, of broken hearts, of loneliness, and of treatment of others as means for sexual gratification. As a mother, the church seeks to protect her children from the harm of sin, as an expression of her pastoral charity.

In her teaching about homosexuality, the church guides her followers by distinguishing their identities from their attractions and actions. First there are the people themselves, who are always good because they are children of God. Then there are same-sex attractions, which are not sinful if not willed or acted upon but are nevertheless at odds with human nature. And finally there are same-sex relations, which are gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them. People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church about this complex and difficult topic.

It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. I wrote the foreword to one such testimony, Daniel Mattson’s book, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace,” with the hope of making his and similar voices better heard.

These men and women testify to the power of grace, the nobility and resilience of the human heart, and the truth of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. In many cases, they have lived apart from the Gospel for a period but have been reconciled to Christ and his church. Their lives are not easy or without sacrifice. Their same-sex inclinations have not been vanquished. But they have discovered the beauty of chastity and of chaste friendships. Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.

Cardinal Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Appeared in the September 1, 2017, print edition.

From Inside EWTN – https://insideewtn.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/ewtns-called-and-chosen-fr-vincent-r-capodanno-showcases-military-chaplains-heroics-on-and-off-the-battlefield/

James Huston portrays Staten Island native Father Vincent Capodanno, of the Maryknoll Fathers, who died while helping his Marines during a battle in Vietnam. His Cause for beatification is now open in Rome. 

In these days when the world is in so much need of real heroes, Father Vincent R. Capodanno stands out as a man of God, who is worthy of emulation. If you want your teenagers to understand what it means to live for more than yourself, and how to set an example without preaching, then gather the family around the television at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 30 for the premiere of “Called and Chosen – Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.” (Encores at 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.)

This EWTN original docudrama depicts the life of a former Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan, a young man who would eventually die – at the age of 38 — on the killing fields of Vietnam as he was administering the sacraments and pulling others to safety. This extraordinary priest died, not because he cared about the politics of war, but because he cared about the men who were dying on those fields; men who needed God and the sacraments; men who needed what only a Catholic priest who was unafraid to die could give them.

The film will be preceded by a special “EWTN Live” with Writer/Director James Kelty (“Kateri”); George J. Phillips, Chairman of the Board of the Father Capodanno Guild (who served with the priest and whose testimony is also in the film); and Mary Preece, Vice-Postulator of Cause of Father Vincent R. Capodanno.

“Not only was Father Capodanno a hero, he was one of those people who had charisma while still being a very humble person,” says Kelty. “People just wanted to be around him — everyone who knew him told me that.”

The docudrama begins by depicting the priest’s idyllic early life as the son of Italian-American immigrants in Staten Island, N.Y.  Young Vincent was born into a family of faith in 1929, and was captivated early on by stories of brave missionary priests whose martyrdom was portrayed in the stories and films of his day. Little did anyone know that this little boy would one day join the ranks of these martyrs.

“Called and Chosen” is most riveting in the last hour of the 90-minute film, which intersperses the testimonies of those Marines with whom Fr. Capodanno served with realistic battle scenes that put viewers into the heart of the action. We see a Military Chaplain who went into battle – even though it wasn’t required of him — armed only with the weapon of his faith.

Writer/Director Kelty is clearly an admirer. “He had a quiet strength, a way of mixing his ministry, the heart of which was to bring Christ to people,  in a way that made people feel that he wasn’t just pushing something on them, that he cared about them. When he was stateside (on leave), he would go to the hospital to visit someone he didn’t even know. He was that kind of person. He just never said no. Some of us, our basket is full. We have to withdraw. But he didn’t seem to do that. He was always there, available to everybody.”

As this film explains, this was a priest who received 120 to 150 letters a day from former Marines who had returned home – letters he always did his best to answer. This was a priest who handed out St. Christopher medals and rosaries – including his own when he ran out – and who asked the recipients to pray for the enemy.

The men who served with Father Capodanno depict a priest who was fearless, who lived and prayed with the troops, who had a tremendous ability to listen, who could somehow tell what a Marine wasn’t saying, who had a sense of humor, and who almost always allowed others to decide when a conversation had ended.

Father Capodanno died exactly where he wanted to be, where he knew God willed him to be. As one Marine who served with him said upon seeing Father’s body: “Every other American I had seen killed had a very terrified look on their face. He was at peace.”

Kelty says the hand of God was on the film from start to finish. He managed to connect with John Paul the Great University in San Diego, Calif., which directed him to five recent graduates who Kelty said did a phenomenal job of lighting and shooting the film.

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. connected Kelty with 15 students who do a superb job of playing Marines in the film. The actor who plays Father Capodanno even looks like the priest he portrays. The young actors were thrilled to meet a number of the Marines when the veterans visited the set during the filming, something Kelty called a great grace. “Hollywood extras wouldn’t have felt it the way these [Catholic student actors] did. The grace came from the vets that knew him and from these young guys who wanted so much to connect with that kind of heroism and courage and faith.”

Viewers will want to listen closely to the opening montage. Kelty was able to obtain two short snippets of Father Capodanno’s voice. In the first snippet, the priest calls upon God to grant absolution of sins. In the second snippet, part of a sermon Father gave to the Marines in Vietnam, you can hear him tell them: “God chooses the moment to call us back.”

God called Father Capodanno home as he was administering the sacraments and saving the life of a fellow soldier. As Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This film will not only make you proud to be Catholic, it will make you want to be a better Catholic and, whatever you are facing, it will give you courage. After watching the heroism of this young priest, viewers will want to take to heart the message that Father Capodanno imparted to his men before they went into what would be this priest’s final battle: “Do not be afraid this day, for God is with us.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 28, 2017

Beheading of St John the Baptist – Sermon

Because of his importance, John the Baptist is the only saint other than Mary, the Mother of God, whose conception (Sept 23), birth (June 4) and death (Aug 29) are all commemorated on the Christian calendar. Along with those dates are the commemorations of finding of his head (Feb 24: First and Second times, and May 25 the Third); and the Synaxis on January 7, the day after the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany, January 6) on the Byzantine calendar. We hold him in such reverence because:

– he is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament;

– he is the first to announce the coming of the Messiah to people on earth;

-in his preaching, he fulfilled the role of Elijah and is the forerunner of the Messiah;

– he fearlessly preached the truth, even to the court of Herod, and was killed because of this;

-he preached to the dead in Sheol to announce that their deliverance was at hand in Jesus.

August 28, the vigil of the Beheading,  in the Latin rite happens to be the feast of St Edmund Arrowsmith, an English priest who was executed on this date in 1628 after 16 years of successful ministry to Catholics by offering Mass and sacraments in people’s homes and hidden chapels. He had been raised illegally in the faith in Lancashire county and was well-loved by the people he served, as John was loved by most of the Jews of his time for his preaching and offering God’s forgiveness. Like John, he was killed for upholding the marriage laws of God. He told a Catholic man and his mother that the man’s marriage to his first cousin and blessed by a minister was wrong, and that he had to get himself straightened out with the Catholic faith. Instead, the man and his mother were angry at being corrected and betrayed their pastor to the authorities, knowing it would mean that the young priest would be brutally tortured and executed in a truly barbaric manner: hanged, cut down while alive, disemboweled, dismembered and his heart cut out. This horrible torture was reserved for traitors, which, by law since Queen Elizabeth I, all Catholic priests were considered to be. That man and his mother gave over their priest to such a death because he called them to an accounting because of the man’s sin!

Herod’s court was incredibly corrupt and wicked – the provocative dance by a princess in front of male guests shows that, as such a thing was simply not done in the ancient world – or ours today. Herod was king – he did not have to stick to his oath – but he had no spine when it came to his illegal wife, and so he had John silenced and thus neither he nor his illicit wife had to be disturbed any longer.

In this story icon, the emaciated prophet humbly submits to the tyrant’s sword; in the left rear a steward carries his head to the waiting princess, while in Heaven the angels encourage John in his suffering.

A prophet is not someone telling the future, but someone who God uses to call a society or a church to repentance and conversion. Being a prophet is not easy. Prophets are often not honored in their lifetimes. And in these times where being politically correct is enforced more and more by law or public pressure, someone who takes the prophetic stance can not only lose their job but also be harassed by opponents who claim that their truth is the only truth – thus we have seen bishops charged in Canada with hate crimes for preaching against gay marriage, people in the US heavily fined for not providing cakes or photographs to customers engaged in activities which they reject. Persecution or violence becomes the answer all too often – John was not the first prophet to die at the hands of a ruler for upholding God’s law, and Edmund Arrowsmith was not the last.

Image result for st john the baptist kenmore

My home parish, St John the Baptist, in Kenmore, New York 

John is a witness – and being a witness to what God’s law is, and what the Church teaches, was not even always popular in medieval Europe when everyone belonged to one Church. It’s hard, and scary, and it’s easier to just melt into the background. We all face challenges in daily life – being a prophet may mean picking the unpopular student to be on my team, or it may mean something life-threatening. Whatever the challenge, God will guide us, if we only let Him do so. John answered the presence of God even in his mother’s womb when he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Jesus – let us ask him tonight to strengthen  us in our daily lives and to be God’s faithful servants above all else.

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