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'Let us praise the prayers of Italian Catholic grandmothers. Trump should feel honored and thankful to Nancy Pelosi.'

Speaking at the Thursday, Feb. 6, National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump, missing the spirit of the occasion, took a swipe at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, saying, "Nor do I like people who say 'I pray for you' when you know that is not so."

Speaker Pelosi is an Italian Catholic grandmother who had said she prayed for the president. Trump's bitter remarks brought back the memory of my own Italian Catholic grandmother when she led her family in prayers for the Ku Klux Klan.

Perhaps now deliberately forgotten, the Ku Klux Klan was dominant in public life in Oregon in the early part of the 20th century, even electing a governor, when my grandmother, Annuziata Merlo, moved to Beaverton, Oregon, with her family. Catholics and southern European immigrants were the principal targets of the Klan's hatred, there not being many black people living in Oregon to bother.

Mrs. Merlo opened a boarding house, and cooked meals for her boarders. She served Italian food and naturally served wine. Soaked in the Prohibition panic that eventually led to the outlawing of alcoholic beverages, the Klan locals demanded she stop serving wine. Mrs. Merlo refused. So, the Beaverton Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of my grandmother's boarding house.

The Klan grew in power in Oregon and effected the passage of the Oregon School Law, which made it a misdemeanor for parents to send their children to schools other than public schools. The intent was to close parochial schools. My mother remembered the rest of her life the day when their pastor, in tears, led her and the other students from St. Cecilia's parish school across town to the public school, after the law passed.

My grandmother was never subdued. From the second floor of her building, she could look up the street towards the other two-story structure in town which had meeting rooms on the top floor where the Klan would gather.

From her window, Mrs. Merlo and her daughters could see the Ku Kluxers "parading around in their sheets," as my mother recalled. My Italian Catholic grandmother gathered her daughters around her and led them in saying the Rosary as they watched the Klansmen.

Annunziata and her daughters did not pray out of fear but explicitly for the conversion of the Klansmen from their hatred. After all, if my grandmother and her girls did not pray for the Klansmen, who would?

Perhaps the prayers had an effect. Eventually, the Klan disappeared from Oregon and the school law was overturned.

So, let us praise the prayers of Italian Catholic grandmothers. Trump should feel honored and thankful to Nancy Pelosi.

Richard Botteri is a Raleigh Hills resident.


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