Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. His assassination shocked the world and left a nation bereft. However, what will stand out in many people’s mind is the beautiful, moving funeral ceremony that was held for the late president at Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C.
Kennedy was a man of great faith and Catholicism would play a major part in the many ceremonies that were held following his death. It should also be noted that Kennedy’s faith helped shape his political views and it was a huge part of his public identity.
Before his election, Kennedy promised the Protestant ministers who had attended one of his campaign speeches that he would serve the nation, and not act as a an “agent of the Pope”.
As a Catholic, Kennedy believed that his faith could provide a sound foundation for being able to understand the importance of political order and how his religious faith could be used for the good of everyone.
Kennedy also urged young Catholics to work towards a common good. During a commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, Kennedy proposed that their religious convictions would give them the tools they needed to serve the nation well. He told the audience:
“For the philosophy that you have been taught here at Notre Dame, is needed in the solution of the problems we face, for it is upon that philosophy the American tradition is based.”
Kennedy believed that an individual with an allegiance and obedience to God provided the best foundation to ensure that the US government did not become an omnipresent judge, and this included matters of people’s private life and faith.
President Kennedy was also quick to recognize the dangers of a US government that was too powerful. Many of the issues that concerned Kennedy are of great relevance today. Kennedy could foresee a time when a government began to infringe on people’s rights in the cause of it being good for the nation as a whole.
In his speech to the students at Notre Dame University, Kennedy urged that “…the assurance must be given that ‘Every man shall be protected in doing what he believes — against the influence of authority and majorities, of custom and opinion.’”
In one pre-election speech, Kennedy vowed nothing would take him away from his faith-based political views and declared that he would rather resign from office than do something that would damage his conscience or go against the national interest.