THE very different approaches of the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches to the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage to the Americas highlight the ambivalence in the United States over his legacy.
US Catholic bishops and the Knights of Columbus - a Catholic fraternal organization - are treating the anniversary as a celebration. Catholics are planning prayer services, pilgrimages, pageants, and festivals to commemorate the quincentenary.
US Catholic bishops kicked off their observance with a statement in November 1990 noting that "the expansion of Christianity into our hemisphere brought to the people of this land the gift of the Christian faith with its power of humanity and salvation, dignity and fraternity, justice and love."
Mainline Protestants, on the other hand, are talking about "invasion" and "oppression." The National Council of Churches, in a statement issued last year, called for repentance in light of mistreatment of American native peoples by the Europeans.
Typical of the mainline Protestant church response to the quincentenary is that of the United Church of Christ (UCC).
The UCC's General Synod last July passed a resolution calling on members to "acknowledge the consequences of successive European incursions upon Indian people."
Among other activities, the church sponsored a weekend conference in October 1991 entitled "After 500 Years: What Is Our Reality?," which examined the impact of Columbus's voyage "on the cultures of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians."
Despite their differences over the past, the Protestant and Catholic churches both point to the need to promote justice for native Americans today. In a statement issued last November, US Catholic bishops declared that "no specific aspect of this observance challenges us more than the situation of Native Americans in our midst."