Christian history: ‘Fighting Chaplain’ killed, John XXIII born, Orthodox-Catholic dialogue

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    (Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile

    Christianity is a faith with a long and detailed history, with numerous events of lasting significance occurring throughout the ages.

    Each week brings the anniversaries of great milestones, horrid tragedies, amazing triumphs, telling tribulations, inspirational progress, and everything in between.

    Here are just a few things that happened this week, Nov. 24-30, in Church history. They include the death of a chaplain who fought in the American Revolution, the birth of an influential pope, and increased efforts of dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

    This week marks the anniversary of when the Reverend James Caldwell, known as the “Fighting Chaplain” for his service in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was killed.

    Caldwell had garnered a reputation in 1780 at the battle of Springfield, New Jersey. During the fight, the Continental Army was running low on the paper wadding necessary to fire muskets.

    The Reverend showed up with a load of hymnals, urging the soldiers to use the pages for wadding and famously shouting “Give em Watts, boys” in reference to the noted hymn writer Isaac Watts.

    However, Caldwell met his end not on the field of battle, but rather after leaving a ship harbored in Elizabeth Town Point when a sentry shot him by mistake.

    “Upon debarking with a bag, a sentry ordered him to stop. American authorities were battling smugglers of British goods from New York to New Jersey,” noted a journal article from Leben Magazine.

    “Strict orders had been issued to all sentries to look for illicit trading. Caldwell stopped, but the sentry, James Morgan, shot him anyway. James Caldwell, the ‘Fighting Chaplain,’ dropped dead.”

    This week marks the anniversary of when Pope John XXIII, the head of the Roman Catholic Church who famously called the Second Vatican Council, was born.

    Originally named Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, John XXIII was born in the village of Sotto il Monte, Italy, the son of a tenant farmer and one of 13 children.

    Roncalli began studying to become a priest at age 11 and was ordained a priest at age 23 in 1904. He eventually became pope in 1958, ruling for 5 years until his death.

    “The child of a peasant family, he began his career in the church with no connections of any significance and no powerful patron to guide him through the maze of ecclesiastical politics,” noted Britannica.

    “His steady climb was above all due to his readiness to subdue his own preferences, follow orders, and adjust without complaint to the will of his superiors.”

    This week marks the anniversary of when Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I worshipped together at an Orthodox church in Turkey, as a sign of increased dialogue between the two denominations.

    The prominent church leaders released a joint declaration that day, championing efforts at theological dialogue aimed at eventually reuniting the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

    “This theological dialogue aims not only at progressing towards the re-establishment of full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox sister-Churches, but also at contributing to the multiple dialogues that are developing in the Christian world in search of its unity,” noted the declaration.

    “We want the progress in unity to open up new possibilities of dialogue and collaboration with believers of other religions, and with all men of goodwill, in order that love and brotherhood may prevail over hatred and opposition among men.”

    During his trip to the Muslim-majority nation, John Paul II also called for cooperation among the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

    “I want to take advantage of this meeting . . . to invite you to consider every day the deep roots of the faith in God, professed by the spiritual descendants of Abraham — Christians, Moslems and Jews — [that] when it is lived sincerely, when it penetrates life itself, is an assured foundation of the dignity, the fraternity and the liberty of men and a principle of rectitude for moral conduct and life in society,” stated the pope, as reported by The Washington Post.

    “I wonder if it is not urgent today when Christians and Moslems have entered a new period of history to recognize and develop the spiritual links which unite with the goal to spread and defend together as we were invited to do by the Vatican Council moral values, peace and liberty?”