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Pass it on - Fr. Bens Letter 1/29/2023

Pass it on

One of my early assignments in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was as curate at Holy Angel’s Church, Sidney, Ohio. A beautiful and picturesque old church but not the first and not in its original location. The first church built in Sidney was just a simple building to care for the small number of Catholics who lived in the town. As the Catholic population grew, in 1855 a new church and school was built to accommodate the parishioners and their children. Almost immediately the new church was destroyed in an explosion perpetrated by the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant association known as the Know-Nothings. From the 1920’s through the 1970’s Catholics in Sidney, and the surrounding counties, had to face the prejudice, discrimination, and intimidation, brought about by the KKK, which was strongly supported in that part of the State.

St. John Neumann was born in Bohemia, 1811, and came to the United States in 1836. It was a time of great immigration and there was tremendous nativist tension and violence directed at immigrants, and especially Catholic immigrants. Throughout his life as a priest, and later as the Archbishop of Philadelphia, he had great compassion and concern for the welfare of the many poor Irish immigrants. St. John learned the Irish language so that he could speak to them, preach to them, and hear their confessions. As an immigrant himself, and as a Catholic priest, and bishop, he personally experienced prejudice, discrimination, violence and had to face dangerous rioters on many occasions intent on burning churches, convents, schools and even orphanages. Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, born in County Tyrone, Ireland, knew firsthand poverty, prejudice, racial discrimination, and anti-Catholic bigotry, both in his native land and then in his adopted country. Throughout the 1840’s he faced down similar prejudice, discrimination, intimidation, and violence, in his own peculiar Irish fashion. He told the mayor of New York that if any Catholic church or institution was burned, he would make New York look like Moscow after the French invasion and destruction.

We don’t have to go back to the past to see anti-Catholic, or anti-Christian, discrimination, prejudice, and violence. In our own day, and in our own country, Catholics are being attacked for our values and our beliefs. Churches are being desecrated, images of saints, Jesus and the Blessed Mother, are vandalized, anti-Catholic, abhorrent and even satanic slogans have been painted on our buildings and even within our sacred spaces, religious services have been disrupted with vile protests. Pro-life centers are being burned to the ground. Everywhere, in every place, in every time, our values, our faith, our beliefs, have been and are under attack.

While all of this is true it is not the only truth, and it is not the most important truth. Jesus told us that all this would happen. It would happen, not just once, but over and over again. And yet, as bad as things have been, here we are, here we stand, and here we go. John Hughes stood with the poor Catholics of New York, out in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and faced down a mob. St. Patrick’s is still standing. John Neumann started the parochial school system and before he died, with St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, opened over one hundred schools. The people of Sidney saw their church burn to the ground, so, they built a bigger church. I guess some things are worth suffering for, and some things are worth fighting for, and some things are even worth dying for, and some values and beliefs are worth holding onto and passing on. The shallow values of this world pass away but the message of Jesus is for everyone and is forever. For many generations, Catholics have suffered persecution for our faith, our values, our way of life, our beliefs. Persecution and prejudice are nothing new to us. We know, deep in our very being, that some things are worth sacrificing and suffering for, and the message of Jesus is the most important thing we possess, and it is definitely worth passing on.

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