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In these pages we frequently gripe about greed and other abnormalities, but we also hanker to acknowledge goodness, beauty and truth where and when we find them. Happily, it is fairly typical of human nature that we rise to our best when things are worst. The natural disasters in North Dakota and Minnesota offer an ideal opportunity for transcending our usual self-interest and reaching for benevolence.

Christians in particular are at their best in such times of crisis, which probably has to do with Christians' close association with the cross. Groups and agencies taken for granted until we need them become true salt of the earth when justice is for the moment beside the point and only charity can help.

A press release reports that Catholic Charities USA gave Catholic Charities in North Dakota $20,000 for starters. Not immense in the total scheme of things but not bad if you're the one helped. Catholic Charities is a body of which Catholics everywhere should be proud.

"We can only imagine the anguish of residents of cities such as Grand Forks and Fargo," said Jane Gallagher, director of Disaster Response for Catholic Charities. An understatement, but sometimes words fail, and often at that very moment, money helps.

As they say on TV, it's your money. People wishing to be charitable could send their donations to: Disaster Response, Catholic charities USA--'97 Upper Midwest Floods, PO Box 25168, Alexandria, VA 22313.

One of recent history's best examples of misfortune bringing out the best in people must surely be South Africa. When I visited there in 1988, Carmel Rickard, author of this issue's profile of Archbishop Denis Hurley (page 10), was my conduit to a succession of courageous people who opposed apartheid and ran various degrees of risk just by talking to me.

Hurley was out of town when I visited Durban, but we spoke long-distance. Although already a legend, he sounded down-to-earth and devoid of pontification. "At a purely human level, I don't see any much hope," he said. But, he went on to say, "the desire for liberation is unquenchable now."

Apartheid was one of the rottenest systems the modern world has devised, yet it is encouraging to find that from such unpromising ground grew three of the most highly acclaimed leaders of our time: Hurley, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela.

Reading about Hurley brought back the names and faces of others I had met, people who lived lives of risk. The Catholic church, long before other churches, had stated categorically that apartheid was evil. This was a bitter pill for a regime that appealed to the will of God as justification for its injustices. Just weeks before my visit, the headquarters of the South African Bishops' Conference had been firebombed. In one charred room after another, it didn't take much imagination to see the entire history of Africa still smoldering.

Those who say religion shows the most grace under pressure and persecution have plenty of impressive evidence to back them. It's harder to be good in easy countries like ours.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Pentagon. Officials there had agreed to meet April 24 with heads of religious orders and peace organizations to discuss the notorious School of the Americas, often referred to as the School of Assassins. The school, often discussed in NCR, trains Latin American military officers at Fort Benning, Ga. Pentagon brass canceled at the last minute. No reasons were given. Since many members of the religious delegation had already arrived in Washington, they went to the Pentagon anyway. Stay tuned.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 1997