For Italian Americans and Catholics of all ethnic stripes of a certain age, Christopher Columbus was as much a part of their daily lives as fish on Fridays. Well, almost.
Still, Catholic schoolkids across America celebrated Columbus Day on Oct. 12 (usually by having a day off from classes). Their fathers would march in the Columbus Day parade, usually as members of the Knights of Columbus, a national (now intercontinental) fraternal organization started by a humble young priest named Father Michael McGivney, whose cause is now en route to sainthood. Simply put, Columbus, as accepted discoverer of America and disseminator of the faith, was one of history’s fixed stars.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. Historians have questioned whether he should bear the mantle of Founder of the Americas. There’s room for honest debate there, perhaps. But, to disparage the character and historical record of Columbus, as even some Catholics now do — witness the recent decision by Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins to permanently cover the famous murals at this school of Columbus meeting the Americas’ indigenous people — stretches credulity in its assertion that Columbus had a “dark record” not accurately portrayed in the artwork.
So what are the Jenkinses of this world trying to pin on Columbus? Murder and genocide whether by weapon or disease. As Peruvian-American newsman Alejandro Bermudez says, the facts do not add up to much of this. Boston University anthropologist Carol Delaney, a long-time defender of Columbus, goes even further, stating that the explorer’s relationships with Native Americans tended toward the “benign” — a view largely shared by Native American apologist Bartolome de las Casas, who lends credence to Mrs. Delaney’s interpretation of Columbus’ intentions and motivations, especially his determination to bring many of the first Catholic missionaries to the New World.
At best, we have a man worthy of great admiration; at worst, a man, flawed like us all, trying to navigate as best he could a new and oft-violent world. Whatever the case, he deserves not the Jenkins Treatment.