From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Monday, May 16, 2011

'White Nun' memories: From Las Casas to Liberace

(Bartolome de las Casas)
At a time when atrocities were routinely being committed towards indigenous people in the name of conversion, there lived a Dominican friar named Bartolome de las Casas who was eventually determined to do things differently.

Las Casas, who ended up chronicling the crimes of Christopher
Columbus and others towards the natives of the West Indies, was once one of these same perpetrators.  In fact, family wealth that had assisted him in becoming a priest had been gained from these very activities.  He therefore knew, more than any outsider ever could, the horror of these ways.  In 1515 he gave up his own slaves – and then spent the next 50 years vigorously advocating for the rights of indigenous people.

These advocacy efforts took him to Guatemala.  In 1537, he tested his two new methods of fair conversion:  (1) the gospel would be preached to all as equals; and (2) conversion would be voluntary and knowledge-based.  He deliberately chose to do this in a region of Guatemala that was known for its fierce natives.  The Spaniards had not been able to conquer them by force.  Las Casas was therefore able to convince the governor of Guatemala not to establish any new slaveholdings in that area if these new conversion methods were successful.

The success of these methods was nothing short of miraculous.  Several of the native chiefs converted, and this area was named Verapaz “true peace” (although some have since judged it to be “manipulated peace”).  In 1934, the Monja Blanca (White Nun Orchid) from the Verapaz region was chosen as a national symbol
of Guatemala.

In 1963, the famous pianist Walter (Wladziu) Valentino Liberace allegedly encountered his own ‘White Nun.’  The day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Liberace was scheduled to do a show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Thinking it would be cancelled, he decided to spend some time cleaning his costumes.  The chemical that he used turned out to be quite toxic.  Liberace ended up in the hospital fighting for his life.  At one point, doctors were telling him to get his worldly affairs in order.  When very near death, he was visited by a nun in a white habit who said she would pray to St. Anthony for him.  The very next day, Liberace began to get better.  He went on to live another 23 scintillating years.


Copyright May 16, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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