I wasn’t quite sure what the chaos was as I sat at an open-air diner on the West Side of Manhattan the other night, trying to stay away from news and get a little work done. Times Square was sent into a panic about a motorcycle backfire that, many in the crowd assumed, was the latest gunfire in a public place. The story was about to hit the news. Broadway shows emptied prematurely, and sirens were everywhere, but it proved to be a false alarm, and all went on with their night. But the confusion captured the anxiety of the times. People are overwhelmed with the darkness of evil. Which is why Kendrick Castillo should be a household name.
He was the 18-year-old who in May rushed his fellow student who had walked into his British-literature class with a gun.
Kendrick Castillo wanted to be a Knight of Columbus. The Catholic fraternal organization describes itself as being about “Catholic men striving to better ourselves and our world by building a bridge back to faith, assisting the sick and disabled, and protecting those who can’t protect themselves — whether they are next door or around the world.” At the Knights’ annual convention on August 6, alongside the announcements of major initiatives to help refugees and Native Americans, 2,000 men declared their desire to be more like Kendrick Castillo.
Castillo’s action gave classmates the opportunity to run or otherwise seek shelter, making it so that he was the only person who died that day. Carl Anderson, head of the Knights, described Castillo as one of “the best men of our day.”
From all accounts, this was typical of the way he lived his life. As Anderson put it,
in the days that followed, the world learned that Kendrick was a faithful Catholic with a heart of gold. His father is one of us. Together, the two of them volunteered for a combined 2,600 hours. He said Kendrick “wanted to be a Knight of Columbus because he wanted to help not only people, but his community.”
And in his last moments, Kendrick Castillo did both.
“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) is, of course, the obvious Scripture quote. And in his death, Kendrick brings it to life again. He shows us what is possible when you live fearlessly in hope.
“In a better world, Kendrick Castillo would still be with us,” Anderson writes In the Knights magazine, Columbia: “That Tuesday would have gone like any other, no shooting, no grief, no resulting search for answers. Sadly, that is not the world we live in. Ours is marred with sin and strife and suffering. But that doesn’t mean we have no hope. Heroes give us hope.”
Castillo is also a martyr to our culture of death and a patron saint for these times. He’s an icon of charity and courage in the midst of suffering and fear.
At the Knights convention in Minneapolis, Kendrick’s father voiced his hope that young people in particular, continuing to hear about his son and the way he lived his short life, would find inspiration to live virtuously, even heroically, and be drawn to faith in God. “He was the angel and the saint in my life who taught me how to live,” John Castillo said after he and his wife received the award.
In Columbia, Anderson writes that our culture frequently considers heroism the stuff of entertainment — the stuff of comic books and movies and myths — and that we find, when we look to the living, that it tends to be confined to the world of celebrity. But “true heroism has a different face,” Anderson notes.
John Castillo and those 2,000 men who posthumously made Kendrick a Knight of Columbus know that the witness of lives lived for love is a door into a life of virtue lived for others in gratitude to our Creator. Amid all the violence and death in our culture, and of the elements that put ideas in people’s heads, incite them, and make for angrier and more-despairing hearts, it’s possible to be a hero. And it has the potential to be contagious.
“Heroism lives in ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” Anderson writes. They practice the timeless principles of courage, truthfulness, humility, and self-sacrifice. Like Kendrick Castillo, they put the interests of others ahead of themselves, “even if it costs them everything.” And they’re not just Kendrick. They live and breathe among us “often unknown or unacknowledged because they don’t seek publicity.” They also “come from unexpected places, and their heroism emerges at unforeseen times.”
In the wake of the shootings, while at a premiere of a new project of hers, Oprah Winfrey suggested that we need to explore a “new religion” of storytelling. The Knights have the right idea, though: Celebrate saintly living. That will help us get real religion again.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.