Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day

If I were still living in New York, it’s quite likely that I would be beginning this day by concelebrating at the Archbishop’s annual bi-lingual (Italian-English) Columbus Day Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick.

Columbus Day has long been an occasion for Italian-Americans to focus on their ethnic heritage and show pride in their role in the history and life of our country. Of course, Christopher Columbus crossed the ocean as Cristobal Colón, sailing in the service of Their Most Catholic Majesties, King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabela of Castille. So this holiday is also rightly observed by Spanish-speakers around the world as el Día de la Hispanidad. (Thus, in New York, there are now two parades – the Italian parade on the legal holiday, and the Hispanic parade on the previous Sunday.)

The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States was in New York in 1792 to mark the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ first landing in the New World. In the aftermath of the American Revolution, perhaps this may been one way to connect with the broader (not just British) story of the exploration and settlement of the American continent. In any event, Catholic (and especially Italian) immigrant communities quickly adopted it as an occasion for celebrations. (In the 19th century, opposition to Catholicism caused some anti-immigrant groups to oppose Columbus Day). Eventually, after effective lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, President Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937. It remains a federal holiday today (although, like so many of our other American holidays, now no longer on its proper day).

Columbus Day, however, for all the Italian-American pride appropriately connected with it, is much more than just another ethnic holiday and an occasion for yet another ethnic parade. What happened on October 12, 1492, in the definitive meeting of the eastern and western hemispheres, was surely one of the most significantly transformative events in human history, the beginning of the globalized one world which we now know today.

At the same time, that first planting of the Cross on the beach at San Salvador (appropriately on the Spanish feast of Nuestra Señora del Pilar) also marked the effective beginning of the evangelization of this American continent. Heroic missionaries from many different nations eventually came to this new land to share the Good News with the native populations and to minister to the continually increasing numbers of immigrants from the Old World. As a result, almost half of the world’s Catholics now live in North and South America.

This annual remembrance of the Catholic faith’s arrival on these shores should stimulate us to concentrate our efforts on behalf of the continued evangelization both of our own country and of this entire continent – the “new evangelization” to which Pope John Paul II repeatedly challenged us throughout his 26-year pontificate. In his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America in 1999, the late Pope wrote: “The greatness of the incarnation and gratitude for the gift of the first proclamation of the Gospel in America are an invitation to respond readily to Christ with a more decisive personal conversion and a stimulus to ever more generous fidelity to the Gospel. … Conversion leads to fraternal communion, because it enables us to understand that Christ is the head of the church, his mystical body; it urges solidarity, because it makes us aware that whatever we do for others, especially for the poorest, we do for Christ himself. Conversion, therefore, fosters a new life, in which there is no separation between faith and works in our daily response to the universal call for holiness.”

No comments:

Post a Comment