For those of us who affirm the Christian Faith the veneration of Christopher Columbus (anglicized version ) is somewhat of an anathema. This is because Columbus represents something totally adverse to Christianity. He was and represents a form of colonialism which was repressive and exploitative. He sought out a shorter route to the Indies and ended up in the Americas and rather than admit a mistake he simply denominated the native tribes he encountered as indios which has come down to us as “Indians”. As one article put it : Columbus spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade and has been accused by several historians of initiating the genocide of the Hispaniola natives.
Even my own city “Columbia. South Carolina” serves as a namesake for this great explorer. And, even though we may lament Columbus exploitative motives we must celebrate his courage as a navigator.
It has been suggested by a dear friend, who happens to be a priest of the Episcopal Chruch. that a more suitable candidate for our veneration today is Bartoleme de las Caas. He was a bishop of the Chruch who even though granted an “encomienda “(roughly equivalent to the Elizabethan “plantation land grant”) steadfastly espoused and advocated for the rights of the native Americans in what we now call South America. His actions showed him to be a tireless advocate for the oppressed.
What better representative of a land who, despite recent political sentiment, had always prided itself on taking in the huddled masses as stated in the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the statue of liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Unlike Christopher Columbus America has always taken in those “corner-stones whom the builders have rejected” in imitation of Christian doctrine , And, those stones have formed a mighty nation stronger than anything imagined by European princes or Oriental potentates. You, I, and our neighbors, descendants of these outcasts, continue to bear the burden of extending our hospitality to those who are poor, and oppressed, yearning to breathe free. Let us never shrink from that duty. For our strength lies in diversity and not in rigid uniformity.
I pray this day that the United States might return to an awareness of the fact that it has always been an immigrant nation and that there is no one who does not deserve to be here no matter how poor, how oppressed, of how disenfranchised they may be, Amen