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Inside NCR:

We're still having the times of our lives

Once upon a time, a feisty band of Catholics came together in, of all places, Kansas City, and declared -- though maybe not in so many words -- that the Catholic church was nearly 2,000 years old, but, far from dead, it was kicking up dust, especially at the recent Vatican Council but elsewhere too: theologians theologizing, prelates pontificating, your average people throwing caution to the wind and kissing the kiss of peace behind church pillars, even risking meat on Friday, and, when they weren't struck dead, getting more daring, thinking new community, new church, new life that can be lived as well as written about.

This calls for a newspaper, the Kansas City Christians said, and NCR was born. Oh, it caused a stir. There was so much happening, so much to be reported and discussed. New questions and new answers to old questions. Irreverent, some said. Eyebrows were raised, but they went nowhere. NCR attracted the most loyal crowd of readers ever to read a newspaper.

Journalistic and other giants and giantesses (sure, this is a touch of hyperbole, but I'll never get this chance again) have trod the corridors of that old red-brick National Catholic Reporter motherhouse -- it would be risky to name some and not all. And anyway, giants come in all sizes and guises, ages and sexes, from humble to high and mighty.

I myself stole in through the side door, 17 years ago, when all their backs were turned. And here, for a moment, I wish to pay tribute to all the unsung who made the newspaper week after week or did all the other things that made making the newspaper possible -- hundreds of them; hundreds of faces, of lives, of memories, characters, laughers, groaners, some who went to their reward, some who are still searching for theirs -- a parade most people would be proud to be part of.

For now I get to write this box that partly charts our ongoing journey. The biggest difference from before will be between Tom Fox's sober -- well, if you insist, elegant -- signature and my own convoluted squiggle of desperation (they insisted I sign this).

Fox has often said that no matter how hard we might try, NCR has a life of its own that we the editors and writers can only minimally manipulate or alter. This momentum somehow derives from you the readers, giving the paper and us the energy and, we hope, the honesty to be what we are and pursue that angle on truth that, though imperfect or even opaque, is unique to this "different" newspaper.

Arthur Jones hired me for NCR. He left his mark on the paper and on me -- he has a lot to answer for. Tom Fox, as he admitted last week, arrived a few months after I did. In fact, I was involved in hiring him, as was the entire newsroom staff -- so we have a lot to answer for, too. No apologies, folks, and no regrets. We just got lucky. Fox brought idealism and a love of humanity, including the limping old human church, to the paper, and he practiced Catholic journalism with an unafraid openness that has often made NCR an oddity in these uptight times.

The only political thing to do at this point is congratulate Fox on his new role as publisher as well as his old job as editor.

And here we are, still in Kansas City and still feisty. The church is still a great story, and life is a great story, and we promise to keep on bringing both to you.

The people of Cuarto Pueblo, Guatemala (see related story), hope to raise about $4,000 to build a monument to the victims of violence, to be erected in the central marketplace where they died. Plans call for a 10-meter-high plaque bearing the names of at least 325 known massacre victims. The hope is to include a statue of Fr. William Woods, who worked with the people and died in a plane crash. Similar projects are being planned or have been completed elsewhere in Guatemala. For more information on how to support the monument projects, contact The Campaign for Peace and Life in Guatemala, c/o EPICA, 1470 Irving St. NW, Washington DC 20010. Telephone: (202) 462-3935.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, January 17, 1997