I wasn’t quite sure what the chaos was about 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 when people thought a motorcycle backfiring was a gunshot. Broadway shows emptied prematurely and sirens were everywhere, but it proved to be a false alarm and everyone went on with their nights. But the confusion captured the anxiety of the times. People are overwhelmed. Which is why Kendrick Castillo should be a household name.
He was the 18-year-old who in May rushed to stop a fellow student who 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 “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 Aug. 6, alongside announcements about major initiatives to help refugees and Native Americans, 2,000 men declared their desire to be more like Kendrick Castillo, while also posthumously inaugurating him into the order.
Castillo’s action gave classmates the opportunity to run or otherwise seek shelter. Though Castillo was shot and killed, his heroism allowed everyone else in that room to survive. 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, Kendrick “wanted to be a Knight of Columbus because he wanted to help not only people, but his community.”
And in his last moments, Castillo did both.
“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, Castillo’s father voiced his hope that young people in particular will continue to hear about his son and that the way he lived his short life will inspire them 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.
John Castillo and those 2,000 men who posthumously made Kendrick a Knight of Columbus know that the example of lives like Kendrick Castillo’s can inspire others. In the midst of all the violence and death in our culture, despite the hate-mongers and propagandists preying on fear and despair, 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.” Heroes don’t have to be famous; Anderson writes that they can be “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 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.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.