Hey Coach, Immigrants Made America Great

Last Tuesday at the RNC, the Daily Beast reported that former University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz went on an anti-immigrant tirade. In his speech, Holtz lamented the “invasion” of immigrants into the United States, harped on the differences between the immigrant “you” and the American “me”, and demanded immigrants attempt to better assimilate. He also noted that he would not be cheering for their soccer teams, implying that in this country, there is only one type of “football” that matters.

Like anyone else in this country, Lou Holtz has a right to speak his mind, and as a proud alumnus of the University of Notre Dame, I listened with respect.

Nonetheless, I do wonder what would have happened to our shared loves—Notre Dame, football, and this country—if anyone listened to the rhetoric he presented on Tuesday 100 years ago.

In many ways, the University of Notre Dame can be seen as a microcosm of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Founded in 1842, immigrants, predominately of Irish, German and Italian origin, but also by a good number of settled American citizens, built the university. They hauled mud from the nearby lakes to create the iconic yellow brick buildings that speckle Notre Dame’s campus in the same way that the immigrants in the rest of the country built our roads and buildings.

In exchange for their work at Notre Dame, these immigrant laborers could send their sons to Notre Dame to receive an education. In this way, Notre Dame became more than an old boys’ club; it came to embody the promise of American opportunity. These dirty, oftentimes illiterate immigrants are the true founders of this university, and, indeed, of this country.

By the 1920s, Notre Dame’s football team began to gain national attention. Traditionally a gentleman’s game, athletic conferences across the country hesitated to let Notre Dame join them because of the school’s Catholic and immigrant identity.  As a result, Notre Dame traveled nationally, happily picking up misfit fans along the way.

Around this same time, Notre Dame took on a Norwegian immigrant coach named Knute Rockne, who assembled a bunch of “Fighting Irish”. Rockne embraced the name and refused to assimilate to the traditional game of football—he instead transformed the entire sport with the forward pass.

Rockne loved the idea of a fight (in fact he boxed on the side from time to time). After the death of a young promising star player, it was Rockne who demanded his team come back from a large deficit to “win one for the Gipper.” On that day, Rockne the immigrant taught all Americans how to fight.

In many ways, immigrants around the country were doing the same thing: inventing, innovating, contributing, building, fighting for their place and for a place for their children. They were making America the country it is today—making America great.

Therefore, I admit I shuddered when I heard a coach of the Fighting Irish critique the modern versions of the men and women who have done so much for the University of Notre Dame and this country.

Had these men and women assimilated by only playing by the pre-established rules, had they been prevented from “invading” our country, we might still be playing football without the forward pass and be missing out on countless other innovations that impact our lives far beyond the football field.

I’ll close with this: A poor Jew from Nazareth once reminded us to love the stranger, for we were once him. Today His statue sits squarely in the center of the University of Notre Dame’s campus with arms open. And another statue sits in welcome off the coast of New York City.

We must never forget our identity, as strangers, as Americans, as fighting Irish. “They” are not them—we are “they,” those who made this university and country great and who will make them greater still.

Madelyn Lugli is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

It is Time for Europe’s “Pope Francis Moment”

Yesterday, Pope Francis was presented with the Charlemagne Prize by the City of Aachen, or Aix-La-Chapelle, an honor given annually to individuals for their extraordinary commitment to European unity and solidarity.

In honoring a Pope who has been very vocal and outspoken in his criticism of the European Union, the award committee reminds us that European unity and solidarity are values that cannot be defined and rewritten by bureaucrats in Brussels.

When Pope Francis asks, “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?”, he is challenging all of us, regardless of which European nation we call home, to resist the Westphalian temptation of misplaced nationalism and to practice at home what we preach so well overseas.

Reminding us of the vision that bore the European project after the apocalypse of World War II, creating “an edifice made up of states united not by force but by free commitment to the common good,” the Pope offered a scathing indictment of European politics in the 21st century. It is a clear and unequivocal message in a year where EU member states have started closing and securing their borders to the south, European leaders have called for strict caps to the admission of refugees and asylum seekers, and far-right politicians have been able to garner popular support by asserting that we “cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed by children’s eyes.

It is not the first time that Pope Francis has called out European leaders on their lack of solidarity, not only in regards to refugee and migration policy. In 2014, the Pontiff traveled to Strasbourg, France, to address 700 members of the European Parliament. Strongly criticizing the Union’s internal and external social policies, he decried the erosion of “transcendent human dignity” in societies that place the pursuit of opulence over the pursuit of happiness. The centrality of the human person, an essential component of the European idea, has been replaced with numerical identifiers and mainstream indifference, he offered, stating:

In addressing you today, I would like, as a pastor, to offer a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe.

It is a message of encouragement to return to the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent. At the heart of this ambitious political project was confidence in man, not so much as a citizen or an economic agent, but in man, in men and women as persons endowed with transcendent dignity.

Two years after this famous address to the European Parliament, it is time for our “Pope Francis moment”, for a “memory transfusion”, as he called it, referencing Elie Wiesel. It is time for us to put the brakes on Europe’s humanist disintegration and reclaim “a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all.”

Matthias Witt works in international development and humanitarian emergencies. A German native, he is currently based at the World Bank in Washington, DC. You can follow him on twitter @msbcw.

The Easter Rising at 100: What Role Did the Church Play?

A recent article published in Crux laments what the author considers a lack of adequate attention given to the Catholic Church in centenary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland. In spite of the presence of the Head Chaplain for the Irish Defense Forces during the centenary celebrations, a planned centenary Requiem Mass hosted by the Minister for Defense in Ireland, a publically sponsored discussion of the role of the Church in the Rising, and media coverage regarding the Church’s role in the Rising in RTÉ and The Irish Times, the coverage could appear relatively sparse for those who still envision Ireland as a distinctly and singularly Catholic nation.

No doubt, the Church’s somewhat diminished role in celebrations in part derives from Ireland’s complex relationship with the Church. After revelations of widespread clerical abuse and increasing discomfort with the power structure which gave the Church great influence over 20th century Irish politics and polices, average Irish citizens may be less inclined to include the Church in state celebrations as openly as perhaps they would have in past decades. The swinging pendulum of the status of the Church in Ireland has greatly influenced how the nation choses to remember, or indeed, not remember, the significance of the Church’s contributions to the Rising. However, if one examines first-hand accounts of the Rising alongside contemporary historical sources, one finds that the role of the Church in the Rising was neither paramount nor negligible; rather it’s significance lies somewhere in the middle. Read More

On “The Name of God is Mercy”


The Name of God is Mercy is an extended interview with Pope Francis, turned into a book, exploring his reflections on and experiences of God’s heavenly mercy. In it, he elaborates on the reasons he called for this Jubilee Year of Mercy that we are now celebrating. The book came out earlier this year, and I’ve just finished reading it. I encourage everyone else to read it as well. At only 100 short pages in length, it is accessible, encouraging, and challenging all at the same time.

Throughout the questions and responses contained in this book, Pope Francis turns again and again to themes we have heard him emphasize since the beginning of his pontificate. He talks about how important it is for us to recognize and be conscious of our own sinfulness, because doing so helps draw us closer to God. He talks about the merciful nature of God, who seeks to heal and forgive over and over again. He explores the ways in which we can open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness and the Lord’s insistent openness to be forgiving, to the point that he seeks out any tiny crack where he can enter in and reach us. Francis emphasizes that this message of mercy is at the core of the Gospel and the heart of the Church, and he speaks to the ways the Church can (and does) reach actively outward with mercy. He speaks extensively about the Sacrament of Confession. He brings up the experience of the family. And he offers guidance on living the Holy Year of Mercy.

A Few Quotes from The Name of God Is Mercy

Answering the question, “What is mercy for you?”

Etymologically, “mercy derives from misericordis, which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive. (pp. 8-9)

On Confession:

We are social beings, and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, and society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus. (pp. 21-22)

On recognizing our need:

The Church Fathers teach us that a shattered heart is the most pleasing gift to God. It is the sign that we are conscious of our sins, of the evil we have done, of our wretchedness, and of our need for forgiveness and mercy. (p. 32)

On God’s desire to encounter us:

God waits; he waits for us to concede him only the smaller glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us. Only he who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin. (p. 34)

At one point, Francis offers a beautiful testimony from Blessed Pope Paul VI:

“For me it has always been a great mystery of God to be in wretchedness and to be in the presence of the mercy of God. I am nothing. I am wretched. God the Father loves me, he wants to save me, he wants to remove me from the wretchedness in which I find myself, but I am incapable of doing it myself. And so he sends his Son, a Son who brings the mercy of God translated into an act of love toward me…. But you need a special grace for this, the grace of a conversion. Once I recognize this, God works in me through his Son.” (Bl. Paul VI, quoted pp. 39-40)

On the Church during the Jubilee Year of Mercy:

I hope that the Jubilee will serve to reveal the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded,” who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love. (p. 53)

On the possibility of starting over:

The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over. He loves me for what I am, he wants to raise me up, and he extends his hand to me. This is one of the tasks of the Church: to help people perceive that there are no situations that they cannot get out of. For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us. (p. 60)

On being a disciple:

Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or as masters of a law. He sends them forth into the world asking them to live in the logic of love and selflessness. (p. 93)

On the most important things a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy:

He should open up to the Mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. (p. 97)

On giving what we have received:

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. (p. 98)

Index of Themes

I compiled this index while reading through the book. The page numbers point back to quotes or passages exploring each theme.

  • Consciousness of our sinfulness – x, 8, 32, 35, 39, 51, 58, 59, 67, 70, 81, 84
  • Opening to receive forgiveness/God’s openness to forgive – x, 10, 25, 31-35, 32, 33-34, 51, 70, 86
  • The merciful nature of God – xi, xv, 5, 8, 10, 25, 51, 52, 59, 65, 70
  • Church reaching outward – xi, 6, 17, 33, 52, 53, 67, 80
  • Healing wounds/woundedness – xi, 6, 15, 53, 59, 67
  • Guidance for disciples – 5, 67, 87, 93, 97, 98, 99
  • Mercy as core of Gospel, Church – 7, 51, 52, 59
  • The love of God is for sinners – 7, 8, 10, 17, 51, 59
  • Receiving mercy to give it – 13, 67, 98
  • Sacrament of Confession – 13, 17, 21-28, 22, 23, 33, 59
  • “Apostolate of the ear” (merciful listening) – 17, 99
  • Social implication of sin – 21, 80
  • Quote – Testimony from Bl. Paul VI – 39
  • Holy Year – 53, 97, 97-99
  • Mercy in the Family – 87

Michael Owens is the Coordinator of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Washington.

A Spotlight on Abuse: Healing the Wounds of the World through Truth, Justice, and Solidarity

Spotlight is not, at its heart, a movie about the Church. It is a movie about people doing their jobs for the sake of honesty and justice. The reporters at the Boston Globe, committed to truth and bringing that truth into the light, are doing the practical work of the Word without knowing it.

The parable of the light under the bushel gets brushed into a children’s song most of the time, but in the gospels, Jesus is clear: the work of God is meant to illuminate the world. When the Church is engaged in secrecy, cover-ups, and darkness, She turns away from Her call to be the light of the world, the city set on a mountain.

Institutional corruption decays trust in the Church and harms the integrity of our shared mission. Pharisaical attitudes prioritizing hierarchy over justice diminish the Body of Christ for the sake of earthly systems. By failing to care for the vulnerable in our community, we fail to recognize the Eucharistic truth of unity and dignity. We need to remember that our work begins at home — in our own communities — with honesty, vulnerability, and transparency. Read More

Don’t Be an Observer: Our Generation’s Call to Defend Life

“Continue to overcome apathy, offering a Christian response to the social and political anxieties, which are arising in various parts of the world. I ask you to be builders of the world, to work for a better world. Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.” –Pope Francis July 27, 2013

Last week, despite the threat and arrival of Snowzilla, thousands of Americans took to the streets of Washington DC to take a stand against the lethal Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade and to raise their voices in support of women and unborn children. A majority of those who marched for life were millennials. I was among them and as I marched, Pope Francis’ words to young people came to mind. The Holy Father reminded us in a 2013 homily that Jesus was not an observer, but rather he immersed himself in the reality of life. We too are called to immerse ourselves, to be advocates, and to stand up and offer “a Christian response to the social and political anxieties” which we face in our civilization.

The greatest civil rights abuse of our time is abortion. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we must, as Pope Francis exhorts us, face this reality of life. We know the statistics—around a million children lose their lives to abortion each year. Each number included in this statistic is a child that has lost his or her life. And with each child that has lost his or her life to abortion, there is a mother and a father that is hurting. Grandparents, friends, and extended family suffer as well.

In addition to being a horrific reality at a human level, abortion is also one of the most controversial political issues of our day. It can be difficult to engage with others on such a heated topic. Trust me, as someone who works in the pro-life movement, it isn’t always easy to tell the person next to me on the plane what I do for a living. Yet God has chosen us to live in this time and so we must trust in Christ’s invitation to “be not afraid.” We, the JPII Generation, have been given incredible leaders to guide us as we strive to answer Pope Francis’ call “to be builders of the world, to work for a better world.” We look to saints, civil rights leaders, and Christ himself as models of those who engage and do not merely observe. Read More

“I Wasn’t Home for Christmas”: Reconciling Family and the Kingdom

The suggestion that we should hate our families seems repellent, like smelling food you intuitively know has passed. Even in my most wrathful moments of adolescence, in the midst of injustice at the hands of the oppressive regime of Mom and Dad, I would never, truly, hate my parents. I came closer with my twin brothers, but since I exercised power as the oldest, I showed mercy and still rarely would engage hatred.

But can Jesus be clearer? “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” I’ve never been able to find a way around this passage. And hating my own life…forget it!

I have taught the gospels to adolescent girls for four years. This is one of those passages that I cunningly sidestep; I’m afraid it will turn the girls off Jesus. I would wimp out and opt for the let’s-not-take-Jesus-too-literally getaway car:

Student: “So, does Jesus really want us to hate our parents?”

Me: “Well, maybe not hate…

But it says hate. The Greek verb is μισέω, (miseo), to hate or detest, from the noun μῖσος, (misos) which means hatred. It’s hard to make a case for a softer translation. Some biblical concordances suggest that in application it can mean to love less, relative to something else. It’s still a challenge, though: “Love me more than your family or turn around and go home.” Read More


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