Commemorating John F. Kennedy’s Death: 50th Anniversary

Pres_Kennedy_DallasToday the nation of the United States of America commemorates the anniversary of the death of Pres. John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. I would like to take a moment today to ponder how those events in Dallas altered the course of my life and changed it completely.

Two months prior to Kennedy’s assassination, I had arrived in Rome, Italy, to study Catholic theology on a career path toward the priesthood with the Carmelite priests. I was absolutely thrilled and honored to have been awarded a scholarship for a doctorate degree at Collegio Santo Alberto in Rome, just a few blocks from the Vatican. I was looking forward to a new beginning, a bright future, a career in teaching, and life-time education work with the Carmelite missionary activities in Brazil.

VaticanI had been especially honored by being selected for the program in Rome because, for the two previous years, no student from Brazil had qualified for that scholarship. It was highly competitive and included students from all the continents. For me, having a chance to live outside my native country of Brazil was a thrill of a lifetime. I felt like I was being born anew.

There were many reasons why I felt delighted to be in Rome at that time. First, Rome is an unmatched cultural center in the world, especially for someone who belongs to the Catholic Church. I remember the first time I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica: it would be years later, when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first, that an experience like that could be felt again. It gave me new meaning for the world “ineffable.”

Second, the cultural milieu of Collegio Santo Alberto offered incredible challenges and opportunities. Classes were given in Latin; questions had to be made in Latin; and tests were all in Latin. At the same time, the three most spoken languages at the school were Italian, English, and Spanish. I also ended up meeting friends in Rome that spoke French—completing a wide array of language experiences.

Ancient and modern

(Photo credit: Darkroom Daze)

A third reason why I was so thrilled to be in Rome at that time was that the Vatican Council was in progress. Walking around in Rome, or riding in public transportation, one would meet cardinals, bishops, theologians, and other luminaries from many different countries. The Vatican Council was following a path of aggiornamento, an effort to bring the Catholic Church more up to date with modern times. For someone personally interested in education, that time was filled with possibilities, hopes, and expectations.

At Collegio Santo Alberto, the loudest and most interesting students were the English-speaking crowd from England, the United States, Ireland, and other countries. I immediately connected with the American students. From them I picked up an infectious optimism about the world ahead. Those were the Baby Boomers, for whom there were no limits to life’s possibilities. They invited me to sing in their choir and to be part of a play they were putting together. From them I heard about American and English popular music, especially this new thing called Rock and Roll. The world was being born anew. It was a shining moment of unprecedented brilliancy.

English: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Ov...

John F. Kennedy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until the morning of November 22nd. We were getting ready for breakfast, and I could hear the loud talk in the hallways, in several languages. Amidst a cacophony of disparate voices speaking at the same time, the news slowly began to surface: John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, had been assassinated by a gunman in Dallas, Texas. Today—fifty years later—a caption under a photo of the president’s limousine on the front page of the Wall Street Journal expresses best the sentiments of that moment: after basking in the streets of Dallas, Pres. Kennedy was shot to death, “plunging the nation into mourning and soul-searching that helped to change politics, society and individual lives.” (p. A1)

That was certainly true about my life. The president’s death changed my life in a drastic way. After that, I lost all interest in studying theoretical matters and became deeply engaged in current events in the world. It was not long before I decided to discontinue my studies in Rome and to travel in Europe for a while, perhaps in Germany. But again, my American friends intervened: “Why don’t you go to the United States?” — they suggested. After a few weeks, I thought that might be a good idea. Once decided, the question was, how could I obtain a permanent visa, so that I could work in the United States, since my family was not in a position to afford my expenses? With the help of my American friends and their contacts in the US, and with my expertise of being trilingual (English, Spanish, and Portuguese), I was able to secure a job offer as Assistant to the Foreign Student Adviser of the University of San Francisco in California. With that, I managed to obtain a green card, or permanent visa—and I came to the United States.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination brought about an awakening for me. I stopped being a “student” at that moment and decided to get involved in life—with all of its adventures and possibilities. The events in Dallas 50 years ago, which we commemorate today, placed me on a path that brought me out of the Vatican area in Rome and into a path that eventually took me to the battle fields of Vietnam, as an officer of the United States Army. While in Vietnam, I became interested in Communist theory and practice. While visiting Japan during R&R, I was introduced to the Japanese political struggle against Communist. I became interested in the work to develop an ideological alternative to both Communist theory and capitalist practice, as a better way for my native country of Brazil and for Latin America.

But none of that would probably have been possible, had the events that we commemorate today not happened. Without a doubt, I can testify that the death of Pres. Kennedy in Dallas, the anniversary of which we commemorate today, changed my life completely and helped to shape what I am now. I have three wonderful daughters and a thriving and growing number of grandchildren. I am associated with a vibrant community of military veterans. And in many ways, I feel that my work is just beginning.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
November 22, 2013

Photo Credit: Kennedy’s Limousine
Author: tommy japan
Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Photo Credit: Vatican
Author: papalars
Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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