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Friday’s New York Times offered a bit of local history courtesy of Father Kevin V. Madigan, the pastor of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in lower Manhattan. When St. Peter’s was founded at the intersection of present-day Barclay and Church Streets, roughly two blocks from the site of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center at 51 Park Place, it battled for survival:
[Madigan] said he was startled by how closely the arguments and parries of the opponents [of the Park 51 project] mirrored those brought against St. Peter’s in 1785.
Father Madigan detailed those similarities in a letter to parishioners over the summer, in two sermons at an interfaith gathering last month and at a special Mass last Sunday marking the church’s anniversary. For starters, he said, there was the effort to move the planned church somewhere else.
City officials in 18th-century New York urged project organizers to change the church’s initial location, on Broad Street, in what was then the heart of the city, to a site outside the city limits, at Barclay and Church. Unlike the organizers of Park 51, who have resisted suggestions they move the project to avoid having a mosque so close to the killing field of ground zero, the Catholics complied, although they had no choice. Then there were fears about nefarious foreign backers. Just as some opponents of Park 51 have said that the $100 million-plus project will be financed by the same Saudi sheiks who bankroll terrorists, many early Protestants in the United States saw the pope as the enemy of democracy, and feared that the little church would be the bridgehead of a papal assault on the new American government. The Park 51 organizers say they will not accept any foreign backing. But with about only 200 Catholics in New York in the late 1700s, most of them poor, St. Peter’s Church would not have been built without a handsome gift from a foreigner — and a papist at that — $1,000 from King Charles III of Spain.
The angry eruptions at some of the demonstrations this summer against the Muslim center — with signs and slogans attacking Islam — were not as vehement as those staged against St. Peter’s, Father Madigan said. On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed. “We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion,” Father Madigan wrote in his letter to parishioners, adding, “Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears.”
This is long repressed history. In England of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholics were viewed as terrorists and terrorist sympathizers, and suffered brutal repression. When the government moved to emancipate the Catholics–restoring a measure of civil rights to them–this provoked violent mass demonstrations in 1780 that shook the monarchy. Across the Atlantic in America, anti-Catholic sentiment was if anything even more virulent, and it extended for many more decades, spurred by Catholic immigration.
Father Madigan’s view of the Park 51 project? “We were just pleased to have a new neighbor,” he said.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”