One Sunday in September, about 60 adults gathered between Masses in the sanctuary of the basilica to hear a professor from our local university speak on the history of Islam. This speaker, a pale, young man with close-cropped hair, stood at the front of the basilica with the altar at his back and the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Adoration Chapel to his left.
“I’m here today not as a Muslim, though I am Muslim, but to speak with you about the history of Islam,” he began. Lecturing with an ease polished by hundreds of classroom appearances, our guest for several minutes examined Muhammad and his religious struggles, his successful conquest of Mecca, and his death. The professor then told us about the “prophet’s” followers and their subsequent invasions north along the Eastern Mediterranean and west across Northern Africa. These invasions, he contended, had little to do with religious zealotry and much to do with a desire for plunder and wealth.
Then the lecture changed. When the professor mentioned “the Middle Ages,” some women on the front row, good Catholics all and dumb as dirt in their knowledge of history, sprang to life. “The Inquisition!” one of them shouted.
He looked startled, but then nodded. “Yes, the Inquisition.”
“The Crusades!” another called out. “Blood...