JFK’s strong Catholic ties and the speech he DIDN’T give

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Ten years ago, while working in the Dallas bureau of The Associated Press, I wrote a national package of stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

As the nation paused today — the 50th anniversary — to remember Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963, I wondered if any enterprising journalist might produce a compelling religion angle.

Enter Godbeat pro Peter Smith, formerly of the Louisville Courier-Journal and a favorite of your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas.

I say formerly because Smith recently left the Courier-Journal to take over the vacant religion writer post at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As we noted back in September, longtime Post-Gazette journalist Ann Rodgers“Pittsburgh’s queen of religion news” — stepped down to become communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Peter told me he’s still getting settled in Pittsburgh, but that would be difficult to tell based on the quality religion stories he already has produced, including the one on JFK:

They stand among the most eloquent words that John F. Kennedy never said. Instead, they exist in writing only — forming the speech Kennedy was scheduled to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas to influential business and research leaders early in the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.

Kennedy was assassinated en route to the gathering, and the words hovered in obscurity amid the panic and devastation that followed.

But over the years, people have taken a fresh look at the Trade Mart speech. The words have inspired a tribute book, choral works and a video tribute in Dallas. They’ve inspired legislation — and litigation — in Kentucky.

For those who continue to ruminate on Kennedy’s truncated legacy, the words have become something of an unintentional last will and testament — a soaring call for progress in space exploration, civil rights, national security, foreign aid and even in critical thinking.

And it quoted freely from the Bible, invoking broad religious sentiments that may seem surprising coming from Kennedy. The nation’s only Roman Catholic president is better known for proclaiming a strict separation of church and state during the 1960 presidential campaign, seeking to allay fears that he would take orders from the Vatican.

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