United States

The First Papal Visit to America–Sort Of


To one who turns the pages of your history and reflects upon the causes of what has been accomplished it is apparent that the triumphal progress of Divine religion has contributed in no small degree to the glory and prosperity which your country now enjoys. It is indeed true that religion has its laws and institutions for eternal happiness but It is also undeniable that it dowers life here below with so many benefits that it could do no more even if the principal reason for its existence were to make men happy during the brief span of their earthly life.


The first papal visit to the United States is usually thought to be that of Pope Paul VI in 1965.  However, Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, visited the United States in October-November 1936, becoming the first man who served as pope to set foot in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  As Papal Secretary of State, foreign travel came as part of the job, but the purpose behind his visit is still something of a mystery.  Some historians have claimed that he struck a deal with FDR by which the United States would establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican in exchange for the Church silencing radio priest Father Coughlin, initially a supporter of FDR but by 1936 a fierce critic.

It was usual for Pacelli to take an annual vacation and he changed plans to visit Switzerland for the United States on short notice.  He met with FDR on November 5, the day after his re-election.  He did secure a promise that he would appoint a personal representative from him to the Vatican, although this promise was not fulfilled until 1939, after Pacelli was elected Pope.

Pacelli never met with Father Coughlin.  During his tour of the US, Pacelli  brushed aside questions about Coughlin from newspaper reporters, although he made it clear that the Vatican did not agree with his criticisms of Roosevelt.

After the election Coughlin did cease broadcasting briefly, although he returned to the radio in 1937.  As for Pacelli, he came away with a keen perception of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Church in the US.  His comments in Sertum Laetitiae, issued in 1939 on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the US hierarchy, now seem prophetic:

12. Among the associations of the laity – the list is too long to allow of a complete enumeration – there are those which have won for themselves laurels of unfading glory – Catholic Action, the Marian Congregation, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; their fruits are the cause of joy and they bear the promise of still more joyful harvest in the future. Likewise the Holy Name Society, an excellent leader in the promotion of Christian worship and piety.

13. Over a manifold activity of the laity, carried on in various localities according to the needs of the times, is placed the National Catholic Welfare Conference, an organization which supplies a ready and well-adapted instrument for your Episcopal ministry.

14. The more important of these institutions We were able to view briefly during the month of October, 1936, when We journeyed across the ocean and had the joy of knowing personally you and the field of your activities. The memory of what We then admired with Our own eyes will always remain indelible and a source of joy in Our heart.

15. It is proper then that, with sentiments of adoration, We offer with you thanks to God and that We raise to Him a canticle of thanksgiving: “Give glory to the God of heaven; for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalms cxxxv: 26). The Lord Whose goodness knows no limits, having filled your land with the bounty of His gifts, has likewise granted to your churches energy and power and has brought to fruition the results of their tireless labors. Having paid the tribute of Our gratitude to God, from Whom every good thing takes its origin, We recognize, dearly beloved, that this rich harvest which We joyfully admire with you today is due also to the spirit of initiative and to the persistent activity of the pastors and of the faithful; We recognize that it is due also to your clergy who are inclined to decisive action and who execute your orders with zeal; to the members of all the religious Orders and congregations of men who, distinguished in virtue, vie with each other in cultivating the vineyard of the Lord: to the innumerable religious women who, often in silence and unknown to men, consecrate themselves with exemplary devotion to the cause of the Gospel, veritable lilies in the Garden of Christ and delight of the Saints.

16. We desire, however, that this Our praise be salutary. The consideration of the good which has been done must not lead to slackening which might degenerate into sluggishness; it must not issue in a vainglorious pleasure which flatters the mind; it should stimulate renewed energies so that evils may be avoided and those enterprises which are useful, prudent and worthy of praise may more surely and more solidly mature. The Christian, if he does honor to the name he bears, is always an apostle; it is not permitted to the Soldier of Christ that he quit the battlefield, because only death puts an end to his military service.

17. You well know where it is necessary that you exercise a more discerning vigilance and what program of action should be marked out for priests and faithful in order that the religion of Christ may overcome the obstacles in its path and be a luminous guide to the minds of men, govern their morals and, for the sole purpose of salvation, permeate the marrow and the arteries of human society. The progress of exterior and material possessions, even though it is to be considered of no little account, because of the manifold and appreciable utility which it gives to life, is nonetheless not enough for man who is born for higher and brighter destinies. Created indeed to the image and likeness of God, he seeks God with a yearning that will not be repressed and always groans and weeps if he places the object of his love where Supreme Truth and the Infinite Good cannot be found.

18. Not with the conquest of material space does one approach to God, separation from Whom is death, conversion to Whom is life, to be established in Whom is glory; but under the guidance of Christ with the fullness of sincere faith, with unsullied conscience and upright will, with holy works, with the achievement and the employment of that genuine liberty whose sacred rules are found proclaimed in the Gospel. If, instead, the Commandments of God are spurned, not only is it impossible to attain that happiness which has place beyond the brief span of time which is allotted to earthly existence, but the very basis upon which rests true civilization is shaken and naught is to be expected but ruins over which belated tears must be shed. How, in fact, can the public weal and the glory of civilized life have any guarantee of stability when right is subverted and virtue despised and decried? Is not God the Source and the Giver of law? Is He not the inspiration and the reward of virtue with none like unto Him among lawgivers (Cf. Job XXXVI:22)? This, according to the admission of all reasonable men, is everywhere the bitter and prolific root of evils: the refusal to recognize the Divine Majesty, the neglect of the moral law, the origin of which is from Heaven, or that regrettable inconstancy which makes its victims waver between the lawful and the forbidden, between justice and iniquity. Continue reading

Two Nations Under Red, White and Blue

We will wait for the Americans and the tanks.

General Philippe Petain, 1917


Today is Bastille Day.  Our relationship with our oldest ally has been frequently rocky over the years, in spite of the aid France gave us in winning our independence and the fact that the US was instrumental in saving France in two World Wars.  As we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, it is good to recall a time when French and Americans fought so closely together that at times they seemed to be one army.

By 1917 the French Army was in a mutinous state.  Millions of Frenchmen were wounded and dead with little to show for it.  Petain, the victor of Verdun, was made commander in chief of the French army.  He constantly visited units and told them that wasteful, ill-prepared offensives were a thing of the past.  Petain had enjoyed a great deal of success with intensively prepared small scale offensives where he could mass overwhelming force against a small enemy section of the immense line of trenches that stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea.  He had these type of offensives on a grand scale in mind for a rejuvenated French army in 1918.  He also knew two other things:  Allied factories were beginning to produce massive amounts of tanks that could spearhead future offensives and America had entered the War:  the Yanks were coming!  At the conclusion of most of his speeches in 1917 he told his men that they would wait for the Americans and the tanks, a line that never failed to receive thunderous applause from the troops.  The average poilu was a brave man and he was willing to die, if need be, to win the War.  He was no longer willing to die in useless offensives that accomplished nothing, and Petain understood that.

American troops trickled in during 1917 and received a tumultuous reception from the French.  When Colonel Charles E. Stanton, nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, said at the tomb of Lafayette on July 4, 1917:  “Lafayette we are here!” both nations were electrified.

America sent over endless amounts of food in 1917 and 1918 that kept the French from starving.  The American Navy helped to master the U-boat threat.

By October 1917 four American divisions were deployed to France.  French combat veterans acted as instructors for the troops and much of the artillery was provided by the French.  This of course was only the first wave of millions of Americans training in the US to be shipped across the Atlantic in 1918. Continue reading

Jihad, U. S. Branch

Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, suggests that if you are not nervous about Jihad, you probably should be:

You might want to look into the idea:

Columbus [Indiana] Police said they’ve never had anything like it – three churches vandalized in the same night.

Someone spray painted them on the outside. It’s the words used, though, that have some people asking if this was more than a prank.

“It was just one word. It said ‘Infidels!’” Father Doug Marcotte said of what was spray painted on Saint Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Columbus overnight Saturday.

Parishioners saw that, along with the word “Qur’an 3:151″ on their way into mass Sunday morning.

“It’s certainly not a warm and fuzzy verse. It talks about the infidels, their refuge being the fire,” explained Father Marcotte.

Specifically, that passage of the Qur’an reads: “We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.”

Saint Bartholomew’s wasn’t the only Columbus church vandalized.

“It’s really bizarre and the fact that they hit two other Christian Churches. It’s not like we’re all in a line. So why did they pick the three of us?” asked Father Marcotte.

Outside East Columbus Christian Church and Lakeview Church of Christ, members there found the same kind of graffiti Sunday morning. Continue reading

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