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Bending back the sword of fear

With the long-held American tenet of separation of church and state, it would seem that wearing one’s faith on his sleeve in business might be ‘imprudent.’ After all, by the late 19th century, non-Catholic governments became the norm in Europe and in the Americas – and certain principles were instilled to keep Catholics ‘in line’ with dictates of civil authority. Catholicism and its unique teachings were to be granted no special treatment. And so an intolerable intimidation has trickled down to this day.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

It is the sword of fear pointed particularly at Catholics – in business, in government, in education, in everything.

The virtue of fortitude lets an executive act unapologetically and with confidence that God has his back. It’s the grit that lets him follow Divine instinct. It’s what prompts the CEO, judge, university professor, or administrative assistant to state plainly what he or she personifies as a Catholic – whether derided for it or not. High-octane guts trump human respect, and make some of the greatest leaders what they are.

But fear is the great underminer of fortitude, and there are reasons why.

Living in a continual state of moral compromise gives rise to fear – leading to heightened anxiety about others’ opinions or of being exposed. It’s been said the more one runs from God, the greater his unrest.

Next, the Church today is less likely to have her princes and shepherds draw clear boundaries clarifying longstanding right and wrong. Rather, many clerics pursue affirmation of the culture. The perception of losing centuries-old Church support makes Catholics more fearful, and more lax.

Third, among man’s deepest instincts is self-preservation, which kicks into high gear amid fear of loss – of business, income, stature, loved ones, health – even death. It takes supernatural muscle to go beyond the limitations of self-preservation and forge ahead for the selfless purposes of God.

Fourth, many contemporary Catholics recoil from living sacrificially or embracing hardship – errantly perceiving it as a lack of self-sufficiency. This exacerbates their fear of pain or even mild discomfort – making them ‘soft,’ less able to stand immovably firm on the tougher aspects of faith.

Finally, a close ‘relative’ of fear is uncertainty – which makes people queasy about circumstances and imagined outcomes. It keeps them inert, unable to take bold steps. The early 20th-century communists and Nazis exploited uncertainty, and kept people in constant suspicion of each other so they’d remain fearful and easily controlled.

Years ago when I was a legal writer, the attorney who owned the firm hosted Christmas parties at his spectacular country estate. He was devout Greek Orthodox, and one year gave us a special house tour. Matter-of-factly, he led us into a glorious room with a large spotlighted Bible on an ornate brass bookstand, flanked with candles in gilded holders, fresh poinsettias, and a spectacular gold-carved cross. Illuminated paintings of Christ and saints’ icons lined the walls. His wife led us in religious Christmas carols around their piano.

A godly leader, he made his faith evident in every setting. Many of us are still affirmed by his example.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

American dogma in dangerous decline

Dogma has a bad name these days, and that’s bad for the Church and for America.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (DCA) spoke for growing numbers of Americans when, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017, she criticized Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholic faith: “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

The premise is that those who hold dogmas grounded in religion are intolerant and bigoted, and should keep their religious ideas out of public life. That’s an idea both ironic and dangerous. American democracy was founded on dogmas grounded in religion. As our common assent to them diminishes, the duty of Catholics to live publicly as Catholics is increasingly threatened.

Dogmas are principles laid down by an authority as absolute truth. Some are “revealed” truths. While they are subject to reasoning, they are ultimately accepted by faith, by trust in the authority that reveals them. For example, Christians accept, on the authority of the Bible, that Jesus is God.

But Feinstein was not concerned about Barrett’s understanding of revealed dogma. She was targeting the Catholic understanding of moral truths, which for centuries have been accepted by the authority of Scripture and the authority of natural reason. For example, the Ten Commandments teach dogmas that it is always wrong intentionally to kill innocents, or to commit adultery, or to seek sexual gratification outside marriage — an institution defined by Jesus (Mt 19:4-6), and until recently by most societies, as the union of one man and one woman.

Of course, few dogmas have garnered universal assent, let alone been practiced universally by fallible human beings. But religious and non-religious people alike have generally believed that objective truths exist whether or not we apprehend them. Because they are true, we seek to discover and understand them, and to live by them.

Much has changed in recent decades. We are today witnessing the hardening of what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism” — the conviction that there are no absolute truths, that all knowledge and moral principles are the product of history and environment, or that they are constructed by the state, or by each person for himself.

That ‘relativism is itself an absolute truth’ claim is no longer an amusing irony. It has become a coercive barrier to traditional morality in American public life, a driver of judicial decisions and legislation that codify sexual freedom while silencing dissenters.

Recall, for example, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s relativist dictum justifying the abortion license: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This claim provides a constitutional basis for the killing of innocents and underlies the establishment of homosexual acts, same-sex “marriage,” and choosing one’s gender as constitutionally protected rights.

The Equality Act, passed this summer in the House, would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the Civil Rights Act, brand those with traditional moral views as bigots, and open the door to financially ruinous lawsuits against Catholic and other religious institutions. Under this law, no one could claim religious freedom as a defense.

But our founders embraced a radical religious truth claim: “all men are created equal, [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” The first of those rights, codified in the First Amendment, was religious freedom.

Call it the American dogma, the transcendent source of our equality and freedom. If we Catholics are to merit this gift, we must exercise it, in private and in public, as free and equal citizens of this great land.

THOMAS FARR is president of the Religious Freedom Institute, a D.C.-based non-profit that advances religious freedom for all as a source of human dignity, social and political flourishing, and international security. He was founding director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (1999-2003) and of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center (2011-18). He was an associate professor of the Practice of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service from 2007- 2018. He is a member of the Northern Virginia Chapter.

Heroes of 20th Century’s Last Great Tank Battle

John Hillen’s Cavalry Unit was supposed to scout the enemy and relay information back to headquarters. 

But on Feb. 24, 1991, Hillen and his squadron found themselves in the middle of the largest tank battle of operation Desert Storm.

“Because we were moving fast and because of the way the Iraqis were arrayed, we were on top and in the middle of them so quickly,” said Hillen, who at the time was a 25-year-old first lieutenant assigned to the 2nd squadron, 2nd armored cavalry regiment.


Hillen, now 53 and a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, earned a Bronze Star for his role in what is known today as the Battle of The 73 Easting, which took place in the flat desert of southern Iraq. 

In that decisive engagement — the last great tank battle of the 20th century — the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment defeated two brigades of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard, destroying more than 160 Iraqi tanks, 180 personnel carriers, and 12 artillery pieces.

 Hillen, who was his squadron’s assistant operations officer, commanded a Bradley Fighting Vehicle — a cross between a light armored tank and personnel carrier — that used its tow missiles to destroy two Iraqi armored personnel vehicles.

“We used up our entire basic load of ammunition,” said Hillen, adding that his Bradley “took a lot of small arms fire” during the battle, but were otherwise unscathed after several hours of fighting Iraqi forces. One American soldier died in the battle.


“You can try to chalk it up to equipment, but at the end of the day, our training was the thing that made the American military not only victorious, but easily victorious,” Hillen said. “It didn’t have to be that easy, but it was because we were that much better.”

 In the years before Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, invaded Kuwait in 1990, Hillen had been a young Army officer. He commanded a tank platoon in Germany before becoming a scout platoon leader for the Second Squadron’s E Troop, which was then commanded by Capt. H.R. McMaster, who decades later became President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

 In the 1980s and early 1990s, Hillen and the Army officers of his generation trained for a war with the Soviet Union that many expected but hoped would never happen.

“The philosophy was command and control from the rear because everybody was preparing for a defensive battle of Western Europe,” Hillen said. That defensive posture went out the window when his unit was deployed to the Persian Gulf in December 1990.


“All of a sudden, we got thrown into a war where we had to be on the offensive,” Hillen said. “So we took all the things that slowed us down and we burned it all in a big bonfire in the desert. We moved everything we had left onto the most mobile and heavily armored offensive vehicles we could have, in order to ride with the forward surge of troops, and command and control from the front.”

When the aerial bombardment began in Operation Desert Shield, Hillen’s unit started moving across the Saudi Arabian desert toward Iraq. The day before the ground war commenced, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment crossed the border into Iraq. The plan was to get behind the Republican Guard forces and destroy them while preventing them from retreating from Kuwait.

“Our job was the traditional cavalry job,” Hillen said. “We were the reconnaissance element for the entire VII Corps. We were the first ones in, ahead of everybody else. We had 120,000 people behind us.”

As E Troop neared a line on the map called the 70 Easting, Hillen and his troops encountered a large group of Republican Guard tanks that were dug-in and well-hidden.

“All of a sudden there was this field full of Iraqi T-72s, fully manned, with elite crews in them and everything,” said Hillen, who added at that point, the Americans had little choice other than to engage the Iraqis in battle because to retreat would have resulted in large numbers of casualties.


“Those guys knew what they were doing. These weren’t the Iraqis who were just surrendering,” Hillen said. “They fought back, had brand-new equipment. They had elite leaders, they were arrayed in a very professional defensive position and they counter-attacked.”

The Republican Guard may have been the Iraqi military’s elite, but they were no match for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The American forces destroyed the Republican Guard. One Bradley Fighting Vehicle was lost. Not one American tank — the impermeable M1 Abrams — was destroyed.

“If we were all playing baseball, they were playing Single-A ball while we were playing in the big leagues,” said Hillen, who left active duty a year and a half after Desert Storm and went on to have a successful career in the private sector and in public service, even serving from 2005 to 2007 as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

Hillen, who today runs his own consulting firm, speaks fondly of the soldiers he served with in that battle, adding that many of them have seen each other at reunions over the years.

“We were all really lucky to have served with each other,” Hillen said. “That unit in Desert Storm was a real good team. We cared for each other and we had each other’s backs, as all good teams do.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer

Great Catholic Patriots In U.S. History

Although Catholics were a tiny minority at the time of the War for Independence and have suffered bigotry since colonial days, Catholics also have made great contributions to the cause of freedom throughout American history. Here are just a few examples.

Charles, Daniel, and John Carroll were part of a wealthy colonial family in Maryland. Charles Carroll was an early advocate of American separation from Great Britain and was the only Catholic among the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence. His cousin Daniel was one of only five men to have signed both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, while cousin John became the first Catholic bishop in the United States.

Commodore John Barry, an Irishborn Catholic from Philadelphia, has been called the “Father of the American Navy.” He served heroically throughout the Revolutionary War at the helm of Continental Navy warships. When President George Washington established a permanent U.S. Navy in 1794 he appointed Barry its senior captain and commodore.

Capt. André Cailloux was the first black war hero of the Civil War. In 1863, he was killed while leading Company E of the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards in an assault on a Confederate fortress in Port Hudson, LA. His regiment, which was overwhelmingly Catholic, was the first black regiment to be mustered into the U.S. Army and the first to engage in a major battle.

Clara Barton, dubbed the “Angel of the Battlefield,” provided medical supplies and nursing care for wounded soldiers on the frontlines of the Civil War. “I was strong and thought I might go to the rescue of the men who fell. . . . What could I do but go with them, or work for them and my country?” she wrote in her memoirs. “The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.” She later founded the American Red Cross.

Fr. Michael McGivney responded to the financial struggles of immigrant workers and the widespread bigotry against Catholics in the latter 1800s by founding the Knights of Columbus as a mutual aid society. Emphasizing both patriotism and Catholicism, the order showed how one could be both a faithful Catholic and a proud American.

Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated for U.S. president by a major party, lost in a landslide in 1928 to Herbert Hoover due in part to the nation’s prosperity and in part to lingering anti-Catholic prejudice. But he helped pave the way for the election of our first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, 32 years later.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome

Timothy Gordon
Sophia Institute Press, 304 pages


Did America’s founding fathers, nearly all Protestants or Enlightenment Deists, draw inspiration from the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Catholic natural law? Although they wouldn’t admit as much, philosopher Timothy Gordon says it’s so, and America’s moral and social decline is attributable to our gradual drift from those founding principles. “America is wired Catholic, labeled Protestant, and currently functioning as secular,” he writes. The solution: Since Catholic natural law is essential to the success of any republic, we need to get back to it – before it’s too late.

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Making America Patriotic Again

Whatever happened to patriotism? Recent Gallup polls reveal that Americans are feeling less patriotic nowadays.

Last summer, for the first time in the 18 years Gallup has conducted the poll, fewer than half of U.S. adults – just 47 percent – said they are “extremely proud” to be American. That was a 4 percent drop from 2017 and a marked decrease from the 70 percent figure seen in 2003.

Among younger Americans, patriotism seems even weaker. A Pew Research report a few years back found that fewer than half of U.S. millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – would describe themselves as “a patriotic person” at all. And a 2018 YouGov survey found that 46 percent of U.S. young adults ages 14 to 37 did not believe that America is “the greatest country in the world.”

“The millennial generation has earned plenty of labels,” said Gabrielle Bosché, a millennial strategist and author of the 2017 book 5 Millennial Myths. “Patriotic certainly isn’t one of them.”

That perceived lack of love for country has some observers concerned. In a commentary reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion earlier this year, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky wondered: “Would today’s millennials meet the same challenge if faced with a future war, one in which the U.S. and its allies were attacked?” 

Meaning of patriotism

 Yet patriotism means different things to different people. All agree it means love of country, but how much can one disagree with a nation’s laws, government, and leadership and still be considered patriotic?

Although a nation founded upon democratic principles and individual liberties must allow for a “loyal dissent,” gestures such as athletes “taking a knee” during the National Anthem are seen by many as disrespecting the flag and those who defend it. On the other hand, those who show zealous, uncritical support for our country to the point of carving out a “love it or leave it” position are sometimes accused of expressing not patriotism, but rather nationalism.

Nevertheless, “That some have exhibited extremes of patriotism does not remove the truth that patriotism is a virtue and is both commended to us and commanded of us,” writes Monsignor Charles Pope, a pastor in Washington, D.C., and a popular blogger.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the virtue of patriotism, relating it to the Fourth Commandment call to honor one’s father and mother. “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom,” it reads. “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.” (#2239)

That concern for the common good necessarily extends beyond one’s own national borders, however, or risks sliding toward an unhealthy nationalism. As Pope St. John Paul II said in an address to the United Nations in 1995, “True patriotism never seeks to advance the wellbeing of one’s own nation at the expense of others. …

Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.”

Reinvigorating patriotism

How, then, do we instill true patriotism among young Americans?

Some educators debate whether patriotism should be taught at all. Many elementary and high schools across the country today do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In those that do, students are not required to participate. History textbooks present more varied perspectives than they once did. Patriotism, or at least its public expression, is not being taught or practiced as perhaps it was years ago.

Meanwhile, President Trump has called for changes to public-school curricula with the intention of “promoting American pride and patriotism in America’s schools.” Such an initiative likely would involve not only saluting the flag, but also fostering American pride through lessons in history and civics, even if the shadows of history and the controversies of today are taught along with the principles of a democratic republic and the stories of America’s national heroes.

While those at other points on the political spectrum might not endorse such an educational directive, many still understand the need to rouse a patriotic spirit – however it may be defined – among the U.S. citizenry. “One of the core lessons of Trumpian politics is that Americans are starved for a meaningful politics of what it means to be American,” said political author Jefferson Cowie in a New York Times essay a year ago.

Even Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic former mayor of Chicago, acknowledges the need to start with the younger generation. He has called for a restoration of patriotism in our youth through mandatory national service such that all 18-year-olds who do not join the military must volunteer for six months with the Peace Corps or another service organization. “[A] universal national service program will tap into younger Americans’ desire to serve the greater good,” Emanuel explained in an April 2019 essay in The Atlantic.

Millennials and the future 

Amid the alarming polls, there is reason for hope.

Bosché, the millennial researcher, understands why younger Americans don’t sound as patriotic as their elders: they tend to be more independent in their thinking. They hear more discussions involving concerns over privilege and access, inequities in income and opportunity, and broader perspectives on global issues, and are less inclined to take the “my country, right or wrong” approach of generations past. Still, she sees this social awareness as a strength that can benefit America. “In truth, I believe millennials are more equipped to change the world than our predecessors were at our age,” she said.

Bosché said she knows many young people who consider reciting the Pledge “a privilege” rather than a duty

“Not all millennials have lost respect for our country,” she emphasized.

 GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)

Feast Day: July 14
Canonization: October 21, 2012
Patron of Native Americans, ecologists, the environment, people in exile.

The “Lily of the Mohawks” was born in 1656 in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, located in present-day upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk war chief and her mother was a Christian Algonquin Indian.

The young future saint’s parents gave her the name Tekakwitha, which means “she who puts things in order.” When Tekakwitha was 4 years old, smallpox swept through her village, killing many members of the tribe, including her parents and a brother. Tekakwitha also fell ill, but she was nursed back to health, though with weak eyes and a scarred face.

At age 20, Tekakwitha was baptized by a Jesuit missionary priest, who in his writings later said she displayed a deep understanding of the faith and an uncommon mysticism and contemplative spirituality. She experienced persecution from other Mohawk members but held fast to her Christian faith.

At age 24, she fell ill and died on Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680. Her last words were said to be Iesos konoronkwa (“Jesus, I love you”).

Reclaiming the Republic: How Christians and Other Conservatives Can Win Back America

Robert G. Marshall
TAN Books, 268 pages 240 pages

Are the liberals and radical secularists winning the cultural and political wars? They’ve certainly made gains, but the struggle is far from over, says author Robert G. Marshall, who served 13 terms in the Virginia House of Delegates before losing in his 2017 re-election bid to the first openly transgendered candidate to be seated in a U.S. statehouse. He argues that religion does have a place in our nation’s political life, illustrates the alarming errors propagated by secularist movements and rulings in contradiction to the vision of the Founding Fathers, and offers a blueprint by which believers and moral conservatives might begin turning back the tide.

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Columbus – The New World Ambassador

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean seeking a westward trade route to Asia, a land of gold, silk and exotic spices. He failed. Instead, he discovered lands and peoples previously unknown to Europeans — a New World.

October marks 525 years since Columbus’ three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, made landfall in the present-day Bahamas Islands. His discovery has long been celebrated in the United States, where Columbus Day is a federal holiday.

Yet not everyone is a fan of Columbus. Some question whether the explorer is worthy of public honor, claiming he didn’t actually “discover” anything or that he abused, enslaved and exploited the native peoples he encountered. Some boldly blame him for injustices that occurred even centuries after his death.

In recent months, the anti-Columbus movement has made new headlines:

• In late August, the Los Angeles City Council changed the city calendar by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The city thus joined a few dozen municipalities that have suppressed the observance, including Seattle, Portland (OR), Minneapolis and Phoenix.

• That same month, New York City officials provoked controversy by suggesting that Columbus statues in Central Park and Columbus Circle could be among monuments to be evaluated for removal as “symbols of hate on city property.” Meanwhile, in several other cities, Columbus memorials were the object of vandalism or protests, some of which associated the explorer with “white supremacy” — likely in reaction to a violent clash earlier in August involving white nationalists in Charlottesville, VA, over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

A Courageous Journey

A native of Genoa (part of modern Italy), Columbus was a skilled navigator who held that the Indies were a few thousand miles west of Spain. By harnessing the right winds and currents, he believed he could get there and back safely and more quickly than by the long, perilous overland eastbound route. He persuaded the monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, to bankroll his excursion with promises he would acquire wealth and territories for them.

Columbus surely desired to find that trade route and share in the gold and glory that would result. However, he was motivated by something deeper: he wanted to evangelize the people of Asia.

When he made landfall, Columbus thought he was on the outskirts of the Indies.

He befriended the natives he encountered, who would come to be known as “Indians.” Impressed by their meekness, generosity and intelligence, he believed they would be receptive to the Christian faith.

What’s more, he hoped the Spanish monarchs would use the gold they would reap to finance a crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. It was part of an apocalyptic vision shared by many in Columbus’ day. That crusade “was the first step in the series of events that would make possible the return of Christ before the Last Judgment at the end of the world,” anthropologist Carol Delaney wrote in her 2011 book Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem.

Over four voyages, Columbus explored the Caribbean, surveyed the South and Central American coasts, and established the first permanent European settlements in the New World. His voyages initiated the “Columbian Exchange,” a transfer of plants, animals, technology and ideas between the Old and New Worlds that brought immense benefits to both.

Why the hate?

Still, some people seem to detest Columbus.

“Today, Columbus is not a flesh-and-blood person, but a symbol,” said Delaney. “The dominant picture holds him responsible for everything that went wrong in the New World.”

Some things did go wrong. Wherever Europeans encountered Indians, native populations diminished. Some Indians died at the hands of settlers or Spanish conquistadors. However, the majority — 90 percent, according to researcher Jared Diamond — died from communicable diseases inadvertently transmitted by the Europeans for which the Indians had no immunity, such as smallpox.

Columbus was no conquistador. While some mistreatment took place in lands Columbus governed, much of it was perpetrated by his men against his orders or during his absences. “Columbus strictly told the crew not to do things like maraud, or rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect,” Delaney said in a 2014 interview. “There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect…. A lot of the crewmembers didn’t like all of the restrictions and rebelled.” Under duress, Columbus — a weak, indecisive governor — acceded to the rebels’ demands and allowed them to force natives to work and, in some instances, to take slaves.

On his second voyage, after finding his first settlers were massacred, Columbus and his men enslaved several hundred hostile Caribs as prisoners-ofwar, then an accepted practice in both European and Indian cultures. Believing they were cannibals, he shipped them to Spain hoping they could become “civilized” and accept Christianity. The Spanish monarchs refused to accept the Caribs as slaves because they considered them subjects of the crown.

While governing the Indies, Columbus attempted harsh punitive measures to control unruly Spaniards and defend the Indians. For this he was arrested and returned to Spain in chains, later to be acquitted. His successors as governor allowed abuses against Indians to multiply.

Faced with extraordinary, difficult situations, Columbus made some poor judgments. Some of his ideas seem unenlightened through 21st-century eyes. Critics, however, blame Columbus “for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse,” Delaney wrote. “Judging Columbus from a contemporary perspective rather than from the values and practices of his own time misjudges his motivations and his accomplishment.”

Columbus and Bigotry

Columbus became an icon for America early in U.S. history, and his discovery was first celebrated in New York in 1792. As waves of immigrants entered America from predominantly Catholic countries, Italian Catholic immigrants began celebrating Columbus in the latter 19th century. Unsurprisingly, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry among the Protestant majority likewise increased. Many viewed Catholics suspiciously, believing obedience to the Pope compromised allegiance to the flag. It was amid such bigotry that Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, designating Columbus — a model of both American patriotism and Catholicism — as patron.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called for a holiday to mark the 400thanniversary of Columbus’ arrival. In 1907, Colorado established an annual state holiday. Other states followed.

Although some protesters equate Columbus with white supremacy, the whitesupremacist Ku Klux Klan actually led the anti-Columbus movement in the 1920s and 1930s, disrupting celebrations and opposing all state or local efforts to honor Columbus.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally proclaimed a Columbus federal holiday, designating Oct. 12, 1937 for its first observance. “Each recurrence of Columbus Day brings to all of us a greater appreciation of the heritage we have received as a result of the faith and courage and fortitude of the Genoese navigator and his brave companions,” Roosevelt said in 1938.

New Challenges

Protests and criticisms increased around the 1992 quincentenary. NativeAmerican activists staged demonstrations and vandalized statues; in 1990, South Dakota changed Columbus Day to Native Americans Day. Such dissent continues.

But Columbus Day is not about Columbus so much as his positive achievements.

“The holiday marks the event, not the person,” wrote William J. Connell, history professor at Seton Hall University, in a 2012 essay. His landing in the Bahamas “was a momentous, world-changing occasion such as has rarely happened in human history.”

Columbus “was the first in a continuous tradition of transatlantic navigation which has continued to our time,” wrote historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto in his 1991 biography. “He is therefore our discoverer of America.”

Despite his flaws, Columbus exemplifies the kind of courage, faith, and spirit of adventure that led to American independence and our nation’s founding. That’s something worth remembering — and celebrating.

Honoring Columbus in America: A Brief History

1697: Chief Justice Samuel Sewall of the Massachusetts Bay Colony writes a poem suggesting American colonies be called “Columbina,” a feminine form of Columbus’ name.

1775: Former slave Phillis Wheatley sends George Washington a poem heralding “Miss Columbia.” The figure soon becomes a symbol for America.

1790: The nation’s capital is founded as the District of Columbia.

1792: In New York, the Tammany Society political organization marks the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival. The city of Baltimore dedicates a 44-foot brick obelisk in his honor.

1798: “Hail, Columbia” is composed and becomes the unofficial national anthem for more than a century.

1828: Washington Irving writes a fictionalized biography of Columbus that hails his accomplishments but perpetuates the “flat earth” myth.

1866: Italian-Americans in New York begin an annual public Columbus Day observance. Other cities soon follow.

1882: Father Michael McGinley founds The Knights of Columbus, adopting Columbus as patron symbolizing both Catholicism and American patriotism.

1882: President Benjamin Harrison issues a proclamation marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery. The World’s Columbian Exhibition is held in Chicago. Pope Leo XIII issues an encyclical extolling Columbus’ achievements.

1892: Colorado becomes the first state to establish a Columbus Day holiday. New York does likewise two years later; other states follow.

1934: With congressional approval, President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes Columbus Day as a federal holiday, setting the first annual observance for Oct. 12, 1937.

1968: Congress moves Columbus Day to the second Monday in October, effective 1970. By then, 45 states have already designated it a state holiday.

1990: South Dakota changes Columbus Day to Native Americans Day.

1992: Americans across the nation celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America.

2014: Minneapolis and Seattle switch the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. Some two dozen U.S. cities do likewise over the next three years.

2017: Activists in several cities stage anti-Columbus protests, demanding the removal of Columbus monuments and committing acts of vandalism. Los Angeles eliminates Columbus Day from its city calendar

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Taking America by storm

Pope Francis’ historic first visit to the United States transcends politics

Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States was historic on many fronts: the first pope to address congress, the first world meeting of families in America, and the first canonization on U.S. soil.

cover-nov15The Sept. 22-27 visit was also the first time that secular cable news networks aired non-stop live Catholic content for six days straight – which, in our day and age, is nothing short of miraculous.

In New York, Philadelphia and Washington, people lined up patiently for hours just to see Pope Francis pass by.

“There is still something unique about the papacy and the church,” said Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press and a member of Legatus’ Philadelphia Chapter. “I actually think humanity is hard-wired for the church, whether they know it or not. What other religious figure would draw the kind of crowds we saw, waiting in some cases for six or seven hours?”


For many observers, the Pope’s Sept. 24 address to Congress stands out as the most important speech of his visit.

Pope Francis discussed the sacredness of human life and the need to respect immigrants. In unison with his predecessors — Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — he called for the abolition of the death penalty and the arms trade.

And Legatus members worldwide were happy to hear the Holy Father laud business and the free market.


Pope Francis at Ground Zero

“Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world,” he told members of Congress. “It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”

In the speech, Pope Francis recalled four Americans who stood out for their contributions to the nation: Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Merton — two Catholics and two non-Catholics.

The Pope also alluded to the redefinition of marriage as a major challenge.

“Fundamental relationships are being called into question — as is the very basis of marriage and the family,” he said. “I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

United Nations

Pope Francis addressed the 193-member United Nations in a wideranging 48-minute speech in Spanish on Sept. 25. His talk touched on the environment, the sanctity of human life, the unborn, human trafficking, slave labor, the drug trade and nuclear proliferation.

With regard to the environment, the pontiff carefully connected the reasons for safeguarding the earth’s natural resources to safeguarding human dignity.

“First, it must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist, for two reasons,” he explained. “First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value — in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the difference between men and women, and parents’ primary right to their children.


John Garvey

John Garvey

Another historic first was Pope Francis’ canonization of Junípero Serra — the first Hispanic saint for the U.S. and the first canonization on American soil. Serra evangelized Native Americans over 200 years ago, founding the first nine missions in California. The Sept. 23 canonization Mass took place at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

While there had been some controversy, with certain Native American groups claiming that Serra had mistreated Indians, Pope Francis set the record straight.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” he said.

Pope Francis used his homily to explain what the nature of mission is — not just for missionaries and priests, but for all baptized Catholics. “Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.”

Matthew Pinto

Matthew Pinto

For John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America and a member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C., Chapter, the canonization was a high point.

“It was a beautiful day,” Garvey told Legatus magazine. “I agreed with the Holy Father that he thinks of Serra as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of America. The Catholic part of America in the West and South is much older than most people realize.”

World meeting of families

The World Meeting of Families brought tens of thousands to Philadelphia for an Adult Congress, a Youth Congress and a family film festival from Sept. 22-25.

The Adult Congress, which featured renowned speakers like Bishop Robert Barron, Helen Alvaré and Pastor Rick Warren, consisted of 20 speakers and 12 panel discussions. Many of these speeches were standing room only.

The Youth Congress featured 17 talks and 10 musical performances, organized by Legate Matthew Pinto’s Ascension Press.

Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin

“It was like a mini-World Youth Day,” said Pinto, who presented a talk on balancing family life at the Adult Congress. “It was an extraordinary event, probably life-changing for my family. We brought five of our six kids. I was deeply moved by Pope Francis’ love for broken humanity, which at the end of the day, is all of us.”

Curtis Martin — founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter — spoke to a crowd about the New Evangelization.

“Pope Francis is a remarkably engaging person,” Martin explained. “Everyone sees his radiance and his hunger to see the world transformed from consumerism to being Christ-centered.”

Toward the end of the World Meeting of Families on Saturday evening, Pope Francis put down his notes and spoke from his heart about the family.

“This was the high point for me, when the Pope spoke extemporaneously,” Martin said. “My wife turned to me and said, ‘This is spectacular!’ When you put down your notes, you get a sense of the man. He shared his heart — which is the heart of a father — when speaking to us.”

Politics and the church

Timothy O'Donnell

Timothy O’Donnell

The vast majority of people who encountered Pope Francis either in person — or simply by watching on TV — felt elated and energized by his visit.

Still, there were naysayers on the political Left and Right.

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College and presenter of two talks at the World Meeting of Families, noted the tension for Pope Francis’ critics.

“You have people on the Left who were really upset that he didn’t say ‘yes’ to same-sex unions,” explained O’Donnell, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter. “One theologian from Fordham University was incensed by the comment Pope Francis made about mothers-in-law. Then you have traditional Catholics who don’t trust the media. He did speak about abortion to the U.S. bishops. Some wanted him to speak about it more.”

Ultimately, O’Donnell said, those who learned something from the papal visit were those who truly listened and read the Holy Father’s speeches thoughtfully and with an open heart.

“Some conservatives feel that Pope Francis should have said specific things, but this is arrogant,” said O’Donnell. “Every time he spoke about the family, he was speaking about the normal understanding of men, women and their children.”

Michael Warsaw

Michael Warsaw

O’Donnell underscored the fact that while the secular media tends to paint the Catholic Church as always saying “no,” Pope Francis underscored that Catholicism is a “yes” to Jesus. Michael Warsaw, president of EWTN, concurs.

“The problem in America is that we tend to impose political constructs of the Left and Right on the Church and the Pope,” said Warsaw, a member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C., Chapter. “It doesn’t work and leads to incorrect conclusions.

“Pope Francis is a Pope of gestures more than words. He has a different style than the past two popes, but that doesn’t mean he is less Catholic or less committed to the Gospel.”

In fact, people will remember Pope Francis’ gestures on this trip more often than his words — blessing handicapped children, visiting the homeless and prisoners, visiting the Little Sisters of the Poor and meeting with Kim Davis.

“As someone on the front-lines of the HHS battle,” Warsaw continued, “these gestures were very meaningful to me and encouraging. He told journalists on the plane back to Rome that conscientious objection is a human right — and we have a right to live out our faith in the public square.”

Living out the Catholic faith in the public square during this papal visit became a “super reality.” The Catholic pride that came through was, perhaps, the biggest miracle of all.

“Our young students at Catholic University are taken by Pope Francis,” said Garvey. “He is an unlikely media celebrity. He wears clunky shoes, speaks bad English and uses a small Fiat. But he speaks volumes through his gestures. And our young people are just drawn to him.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Legatus writer’s joy-Filled papal experience

I had a surreal moment on Sept. 27 at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on my way home from covering the papal visit.

First, the TV screen at my gate was showing the World Meeting of Families closing Mass, uninterrupted by commercials. At one point, my daughter was thirsty and I walked around the airport to find her a bottle of juice. At every restaurant, there were multiple TV screens on — all airing the Holy Father’s homily. At every newsstand, every newspaper and magazine cover featured Pope Francis.

pope-2Everyone at the airport was listening intently to the Holy Father.

“They can’t all be Catholic,” I thought. “What’s going on?”

Something was going on because I saw Pope Francis capture people’s hearts on this trip.

I saw it everywhere: When I had to catch a cab and tell the driver I was going to cover a papal event, the driver would wish me well. When I had to pass through police barricades to get to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one policeman gushed about how lucky I was. The doormen at my parents’ apartment could not wait to hear what it was like for me to have seen the Pope. My friends waited six hours in Central Park to see the Pope drive by for five seconds.

Everyone said it was worth it.

Security had us journalists go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral seven hours ahead of time. We waited patiently for the Pope to arrive. The hours flew by and nobody complained. Not even me!

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

When Pope Francis finally did walk into the Cathedral, it was as though an electric force had suddenly permeated the atmosphere. Something was different and everyone could feel it in the air.

Some of the journalists near me were practicing Catholics. But not everyone. One woman in particular who wrote for a business magazine started weeping openly when the Holy Father walked in. When I looked at her, she said, “I’m supposed to be a jaded journalist, so why am I crying?”

Perhaps it was the way Pope Francis sweetly waved at everyone — or the way he went to bless every person bound in a wheelchair. Perhaps it was the simple words he spoke during the vespers service, telling us the importance of counting our blessings.

“There is something unique about the papacy,” Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press, told me. “There is something going on beneath the surface when people encounter the Pope. It’s a movement of theSpirit and a deep resonance, whether people know it or not.”

That’s why even jaded journalists, tired policemen and Indian taxi drivers felt something when Pope Francis came to town. New York City became an extremely difficult place to get around — and people could not have been more pleased.


Learn more:

USCCB: Papal Visit