The Omar Effect

Will I be the only American to sense the insult that may lurk behind Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.? While Ross Douthat considers the Francis effect, let’s not forget about Omar Little who worked the streets of Baltimore, the city that was the capital of American Roman Catholicism for its first 125 years at least. (Can you say Baltimore Catechism? Sure you can.)

Rorate Caeli has a set of images of the churches that Pope Francis will visit while in the U.S. But what about this one, the original Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S.:
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Of course, a visit like this has lots of symbolism. I was relieved to see that discussion of Pope Francis arriving in the U.S. by way of a Mexican-border crossing fizzled. I imagine that photo-op went no where once adults in the room figured out how much security it would take for the pope to identify with Mexicans seeking entry to the U.S. How strange might it have appeared to have 8 to 10 black SUVs along side the pope’s little white Fiat crossing from Mexico into Texas from the town of Sarita (just north of Laredo)? Would the SUV’s have to put the papal Fiat on a flatbed to cross the river? Some are not convinced, though, that the pope is immune to posing for cameras.

Still, imagine the two-fer that Pope Francis could have executed had he spent one more day in the United States and visited a city rich in Roman Catholic history. After all, Baltimore is only 40 miles north of D.C., and only 100 south of Philadelphia. He could have honored those Roman Catholics of English descent, like John Carroll, the first American archbishop who organized Roman Catholicism in the new nation. And he could have scored points by identifying with the mourners of Freddie Gray’s death and the many others who have protested the brutality of urban police against African-Americans.

Missing an opportunity like that suggests a pontiff that knows not life in the United States. We get our first Bishop of Rome from the Americas and he turns out to be — well — European.

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7 thoughts on “The Omar Effect

  1. Yea, Rome never has thought much of the U.S. and by and large the american rc’s have returned the favor. I paid little attention as an RC and I pay even less attention now.

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  2. What’s that pic? I thought of the church just south of JHU on Charles, which also has a round cupola/done, but interwebs shows that’s not it.

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  3. Maybe Mencken knew more about Roman Catholicism in Baltimore than Pope Francis does:

    The one Baltimorean whom every other Baltimorean recognizes at sight is Cardinal Gibbons. He has been a familiar figure in our good old town for more than a generation. His tall hat is as much a part of Charles street as the Washington monument. Every one of us has met him at some time or other, intimately or distantly, and heard the sound of his voice. Born on Gay street, near Fayette, in 1834, he has lived here for 50 of his 77 years, and continuously since 1877. No man could be more the Baltimorean.

    And yet he remains–to most of us, at any rate–a rather vague and mysterious figure. We know that he is the ranking ecclesiastic in the New World, and yet we are a bit uncertain as to the nature and prerogatives of his rank. We know that he has played an important role in his day, not only in the drama of church politics and in the national affairs of the United States, but also in the dealings of nation with nation–and yet not many of us could describe that role. We recall, somewhat dimly, that he had to do with the great Knights of Labor dispute of 1887, that he once startled Rome with a patriotic speech, that Cleveland, Harrison and McKinley sought his counsel, that he fought and vanquished the A. P. A., that Leo XIII trusted him and depended upon his judgment in matters of vast moment–and yet many of these things grow shadowy, for years have passed since they engaged the world, and the memory of facts tends to become the mere memory of memories.

    So the need has arisen for a serious biography of the Cardinal–a book telling the story of his life and work in detail, a book explaining clearly all of the great events in which he has taken a hand–and out of that need the book itself now emerges. It is “The Life of Cardinal Gibbons,” by Allen S. Will, just issued by the Catholic publishing house of Murphy–a painstaking and excellent piece of writing, in which the accurate presentation of facts is joined to a style of great clarity and charm.

    Mr. Will, himself a Protestant, has been a friend to the Cardinal for years, and his collection and examination of materials has been long in progress. The result is a biography which leaves nothing to be desired, for it not only presents an exact chronicle of the man’s public career, but it also offers a lifelike and attractive picture of the man. Rising from it, one carries away a definite image of a great churchman and a greater American–a leader who has brought church and state out of the shadow of conflict and made each the stronger for it.

    That service is described is detail in Mr. Will’s book, and every step is clearly traced. The Cardinal’s work began when he was sent to North Carolina in 1868, the youngest bishop in the hierarchy. The church there was weak and under suspicion. The people of the State regarded it as an invader, anti-American, even anti-repubitcan. It was the young bishop’s task to destroy that prejudice, to show that a man might be a Catholic and yet a sound American, to prove that the separation or church and State was real.

    And ever since then that has been the the chief effort of his life. Not only here among the American people, but also at Rome, he has engaged in an unceasing campaign of pacification and enlightenment. His influence at the Vatican, indeed, has done even more than his influence at home. If today no more is heard of the Know-Nothings and other such crusaders of day before yesterday–if organized labor is the friend of the church instead of its sworn foe–if the old, un-American agitation for a church divided along racial lines is dead–if the public school question is out of politics–then the patriotism and good sense of Cardinal Gibbons may be given much of the credit for these releases from old conflicts.

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  4. Is Baltimore chopped liver?

    And coming by way of Cuba, his travels might remind us of the shared historical experience of the United States and those Spanish-speaking lands south of the border, lest our attention to those borders only be fixed on making them more rigid.

    Centuries before, in 1674-5, another bishop, Gabriel Diaz Vara Calderon, Bishop of Cuba, came to our territory to visit some outlying regions of his province—in lands we now call Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. That’s right: spiritual leadership for many souls in Alabama came from Cuba. Those Franciscan missions followed upon the first Jesuit proselytizing in Spanish North America, in Florida in the 1560s. From the 1570s on Spanish Franciscans established missions around the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, even one near to what became Jamestown, Virginia. The seventeenth-century bishop came to serve his flock in those North American outposts, peripheries to a center in Havana, by his own estimate administering confirmation to over 13,000 Indians.

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