May Musings

Religion is deeply intertwined with events that took place in May and are observed around most of the world. For example, May 1 is International Workers Day, and it is celebrated in most of the world remembering an event that took place in Chicago on May 4, 1886. Strangely it is not remembered in the US and Labor Day was moved to the first weekend of September.

The Chicago uprising had the participation of many people of faith, but one in particular, Samuel Fielden, was a Methodist Pastor, a fact that helped to spare him from execution since many people sent letters stating that Fielden was a man of peace and would not have participated in the bombings his collaborators were accused of doing. Of the eight accused “bombers” four were executed by hanging on November 11, 1887.

In June of 1893 Illinois governor, John Peter Altgeld, posthumously pardoned all the Chicago Martyrs, a courageous act that ended his political career because many accused him of favoring the German Anarchists who had participated in the event. Altgeld was born in Germany but arrived in the US as a baby and had a remarkable career until that point where his valiant actions cost him dearly.

Cinco de Mayo is a badly misunderstood event. Many people think it is Mexican Independence Day, but it is the anniversary of the battle of Puebla. Mexico was, like the United States, in the middle of a bitter and bloody civil war. Benito Juarez, a Zapotecan Indian, had been duly elected president of Mexico, but the conservative party rebelled, forced Juarez to run the government from the northern states of Mexico, and established an “Empire” inviting Louis Napoleon to accept the throne as payment for the debt Mexico had incurred with France over the 11 years of the war for independence from Spain. Louis Napoleon then presented the throne to Maximilian of the Hapsburgs, crowned him in France, sent troops to secure the country, and then sent Maximilian and his wife Carlota to rule over Mexico.

Juarez was a deeply religious man who had been groomed to be a priest, but he saw that the favored position of the Roman Catholic Church in fact enslaved all spiritually, not allowing any one to hold contrary religious view. He befriended Abraham Lincoln who was also in the middle of a conflict tinged with religious perspectives on the nature of slavery. Once the Civil War ended Lincoln made clear to the French his support for Juarez, and the tide turned in Mexico allowing the president to establish a new constitution which permitted the free exercise of any religion beginning in 1873.

The Civil War in the United States inspired Julia Ward Howe to write a poem linking the Bible and the Civil War. The poem eventually became a hymn that evolved over the years. The Glory, Glory Hallelujah section was added later and no real author is known. The poet who wrote words of support for the Civil war ended up becoming a pacifist after she saw the horrors of that war and heard the atrocities of the Franco-Prussian War. She was then moved to call upon all women of the world to unite for peace. This led to the first Mother's Day observance when a proclamation was issued that reads in part:

 Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

May’s last holiday is Memorial Day, and that is, of course, a time to remember those who died in wars, but it should also be used as a time to advocate for no more wars and no more memorials. Since the Mother’s Day proclamation is not read on Mother’s Day perhaps some who visit this site will see to it that the call of Julia Ward Howe is repeated several times during the month of May.