Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Discovering Fr. Kino

I'm taking some much needed vacation time this week in Washington, DC, sightseeing with my sister and brother-in-law and my 2 nieces. The heat is oppressively unrelenting. It's much worse than New York, because in New York the tall buildings always provide some shade. Here the uniformly low buildings mean almost no shade at all! In spite of all that, it's great spending time with my family and reconnecting with the major sites of this city where I spent 4 productive seminary years a quarter of a century ago. (Saying it that way really makes it sounds long ago, doesn't it?)

Yesterday, we did the US Capitol tour. I had been there before, of course - the first time in 1961! But there is always something new to be learned, and in any case this was my first visit to the new US Capitol Visitors' Center, which is really very nice (once one gets inside).

The Visitors Center has some of the overflow statues from Statuary Hall. Sometime after the House of Representatives moved out of its original chamber, off from the Rotunda, and into its current quarters, the chamber it had outgrown was converted into National Statuary Hall. Each state was invited to send 2 statues. It has taken quite a long time for all the states to send in their statues. Meanwhile, the growth in the number of states guaranteed that the orignal House Chamber would be too small for its new purpose as well. So statues are now all over the place in the Capitol - and now in the new Visitors' Center as well.

To make a long story short, I had until yesterday believed that there were only 2 Catholic priests in Statuary Hall collection - Bl. Junipero Serra from California and St. Damien from Hawaii. (Needless to say, 2 out of 100 - 2% - would still be an impressive representation!) So it as quite a surprise to discover a third Catholic priest who has received this special honor - the Jesuit missionary Eusebio FranciscoKino (1645-1711) representing the state of Arizona.

Born in northern Italy (in what were then Hapsburg domains), Kino (the German form of Chino) was a Jesuit missionary in Mexico, including the territory which is today Arizona. The base of the statue calls him "Apostle of the Indians," which no doubt summarizes what he would probably have considered his most important accomplishments, although he also apparently had other secular accomplishments as well.

In these days, when the forces of post-modernity are determined to secularize American society, and aspire to rewrite American history to reflect their secularizing bias, it is good to be reminded of the prominent part played by missionaries in the early history of this country and of the essential role of Christianity (and in particular Roman Catholicism) at all stages in our national history.

(Obviously, the photo above is not Fr. Kino, nor even from the Capitol, nor even from yesterday! That's my sister and I posing in front of the North entrance of the White House!)

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