For at least the last forty years, Columbus has been disingenuously vilified in books such as Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, and this calumny has been repeated by many American academics. For example, in 2020, after the statue of Columbus was toppled outside Minnesota’s capitol, Governor Walz wrote, “As a former social studies teacher, I taught my students that many Minnesotans look at that statue and see a history of genocide.” (Note: for an exposé of Zinn, see Debunking Howard Zinn, by Mary Grabar.)
Genocide? This term is only accurate if one thinks that the diseases that Europeans brought to the New World, and to which the native peoples were highly vulnerable, were knowingly spread by Columbus --- which they were not. One fierce critic of the treatment of Native Americans by the Spanish, Bartolomé de las Casas--- a man who knew Columbus personally --- wrote about him: “…I have wished… that I had Cicero’s gift of eloquence to extol the indescribable service to God and to the whole world which Columbus rendered…”
When Columbus first stepped ashore in San Salvador, he said this prayer: “O Lord, eternal and omnipotent God, Thou hast, by Thy holy word, created heavens and earth and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy name; Praised be thy majesty, who hast deigned that, by means of Thy unworthy servant, Thy sacred name should be acknowledged and made known to this new quarter of the world.”
With the national holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, it behooves us too, like Columbus, to be mindful of and acknowledge those things for which we are grateful. First of those, of course, is God’s love expressed for us in the Incarnation. But there are many lesser things: family, friends, hot water, electricity, etc. Among these are the benefits that accrued to the whole world as a result of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas. One of those was the exchange of foods. For example: potatoes, corn, tomatoes, chocolate, vanilla and blueberries are all foods that were unknown in the Old World. Imagine, tomatoes, which are now virtually synonymous with Italian cooking, weren’t part of their cuisine until about 1550. Now tomatoes are the most consumed fruit in the world. None of the richest people that ever lived in the Old World: Augustus Caesar, King Solomon, or Henry VIII, ever tasted a cup of cocoa or a chocolate confection. The Irish had never eaten a potato, or the French a French fry.
Native Americans also benefited from the introduction of cattle, pigs, sheep, chicken, sugar cane, wheat, onions and so on. Before this exchange, they had never tasted beef, a roasted chicken, a chicken egg, coffee, butter, or a slice of wheat bread. In the book Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk (who is now up for sainthood) tells of how when he was young (late 1800’s in South Dakota) he and his relatives wanted a “feast of aquiapi and paezhuta sapa with chahumpi ska in it,” which means “bread,” and “black medicine” (coffee), with sugar in it. Bread, and coffee with sugar in it, were a “feast.” Now there’s gratitude!
On Thanksgiving Day, the meal often includes turkey, wild rice, corn, cranberries, green beans and squash or pumpkin --- gifts of the New World. If the meal includes wheat dinner rolls, and the corn has butter on it, and pumpkin is served in the form of pumpkin pie, which includes wheat, eggs and sugar, well, these are Old World foods. How blessed we are!
Shortly before he died, the philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand wrote a booklet called Gratitude. He told his wife, Alice, “Don’t forget: it is the key to happiness. Only those who are grateful can be happy.” He asked that the priest pray the Te Deum (prayer of praise and thanksgiving, see below) over him when giving the Last Rites.
So thank you God for, in the words of Bartolomé de las Casas, “the indescribable service to God and to the whole world which Columbus rendered.”
A blessed Thanksgiving to all! To quote Columbus, “Jesu cum Maria sit nobis in via.” “May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way."
N.B. Please consider showing your gratitude for this station through your prayers, by telling others, by offering to volunteer, by placing program guides in your parish’s information rack, and a financial contribution if possible.
O, God, we praise You and acknowledge You to be the supreme Lord. Everlasting Father, all the earth worships You. All the angels, the heavens and all angelic powers, All the cherubim and seraphim, continually cry to you: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Your glory. The glorious choir of the apostles, The wonderful company of prophets, The white-robed army of martyrs, praise You. Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges You: The Father of infinite majesty; Your adorable, true and only Son; Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. O Christ, You are the King of glory! You are the everlasting Son of the Father. When You took it upon Yourself to deliver man, You did not disdain the Virgin's womb. Having overcome the sting of death, You opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. You sit at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father We believe that You will come to be our Judge. We, therefore, beg You to help Your servants whom You have redeemed with Your Precious Blood. Let them be numbered with Your saints in everlasting glory.