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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter Novecosky

Judging the past

CBC’s “Cross Country Checkup” on Aug. 20 explored the events of Charlottesville and asked: “Could Charlottesville happen in Canada, and how should it be handled?”

Charlottesville was the scene of a “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 12. It was labelled the largest gathering of white nationalists in a decade. Neo-Nazis, KKK members, skinheads and members of various white nationalist factions clashed with counter-protesters. During the violence, a car rammed the demonstrators, killed a 32-year-old woman and injuring more than two dozen. The rally featured opposing opinions about the legacy of the American Civil War and the removal of statues and plaques honouring Confederate leaders who supported slavery and racism. 

At a subsequent rally in Arizona, President Donald Trump criticized the removal of such memorials. He said, “They’re trying to take away our culture, they’re trying to take away our history.” His comments stirred up further controversy.

Should monuments to heroes of the past be removed or torn down? Ontario’s public elementary school teachers think so. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario passed a motion at its recent annual meeting calling on all school districts in Ontario to rename schools and buildings named after Sir John A. Macdonald. 

They want the name change because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” Macdonald was prime minister when the federal government approved the first residential schools in the country.

The teachers’ motion has also stirred up opposing opinions on how to deal with leaders who were honoured for one cause in the past, but have since become maligned for supporting other ignoble causes. 

This brings up an interesting parallel in church circles.

Many churches, for example, are named after St. Peter and St. Paul. One was an apostle of Jesus, and named “the rock” by Jesus himself. Yet, it was Peter who denied Jesus three times. Can there be anything worse than that?

Paul was a devout Jew who persecuted Christians. On his way to Damascus one day, he had a conversion experience and became a fervent disciple of Jesus. 

Over the course of history, both men have been honoured with monuments and buildings named after them. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome features a prominent statue of him with the keys of the kingdom. St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome likewise features a statue of the apostle with a sword, indicating the manner of his martyrdom.

Both apostles are honoured for the good they eventually accomplished. Paul became an apostle to the gentiles. Peter became head of the church. However, they also had some major flaws from their past. One denied Jesus at a very critical time in his life and the other led a major persecution of Christians.

While we don’t condone the evil people do, we don’t agree people can be fairly judged by the norms of a different age and culture. A hundred years from now, another cultural shift will have happened. Some of today’s heroes will be the villains tomorrow.