Word for Word 8/14/19

Fr. Mark Osterhaus
Fr. Mark Osterhaus

In late July, Dr. Michael Luick-Thrams gave a presentation at St. Patrick Church in Waukon.  He covered two themes:  anti-German hysteria during World War I, and Ku Klux Klan activities in Northeast Iowa during the 1920’s. Dr. Luick-Thrams had given other presentations in our community over the summer, including a Memorial Day presentation on POWs from the Midwest in German POW camps during WWII, as well as their German counterparts held at camps near Clarinda and Algona, Iowa. Dr. Luick-Thrams gave example after example of how easy it is to pick a race, an ethnic group, or religious group and use them as scapegoats for what ever we think is wrong with our society. The presentation reminded me of when I was in high school, we told “Polack” jokes. While the dominant group can say this is all “in good fun”, the wounds delivered by our comments and actions can last a long time.

During World War I, people of German descent were suspected by many in the Midwest of having stronger loyalty to the German Kaiser than they did to the USA. Some officials even advocated putting a fence around Wisconsin, because so many people of German descent lived there.  The town of New Berlin, Wisconsin had to change the way their town’s name was pronounced, lest they be accused of favoring the Germans during the war. In another example of bias, the Ku Klux Klan published cartoons depicting American Catholics as disloyal to the USA, and ready to replace the President with the Pope.

We might regard these attitudes today as very much in the past, but after the shootings a few days ago in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, we realize again how prejudice and bias can erupt into violence.   Mental illness plays a role in these attacks, but cultural acceptance of the superiority of one ethnic community over another provides the incubator for such violence. As a Catholic priest, I realize that my own faith has historically had a culture of a “superiority complex” which has resulted in all kinds of injustice, violence, and sin. It is good to remember the inclusive and welcoming teachings of Jesus, who said that “people will come from the east and the west, the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Fr. Mark Osterhaus
Catholic Parish Pastor
Waukon, Hanover, Dorchester


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