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Inside NCR

Please, give them NCR for Christmas, please

I ’m begging you.

When you sit down to decide what gifts to give to whom for Christmas, make one of them, at least, a subscription to NCR. Please.

Many readers remember the thrill and expectation of the Vatican Council, and the excitement when NCR was launched on an unsuspecting America. It was the laity speaking up, for God’s sake. In Kansas City, wherever that was. Writing about stuff that, before, only bishops pontificated on. The old mold was breaking and a shiny renewed church was singing and even dancing and searching for fresh answers to the same perennial questions that every generation must tackle for itself.

In the years that followed, the renewal lost some of its luster, but NCR readers were, almost by definition, pilgrims for the long haul, aware there would always be another river to cross to reach any promised land.

You were, in short, the most loyal readers under the sun.

Now here’s an unwelcome truth: We’re all getting older. We always need new readers just to keep the numbers up -- no readers, no NCR, as simple as that. But we want more than to keep the numbers up. We want to double them and then some. In a country with 60 million Catholics there must be more than 50,000 who would benefit from NCR if only they knew about it.

So, welcome to the world of junk mail and other gimmicks. We send out 100 appeals to folks we don’t know, and get about one subscription out of it; we send 70,000 and get the same paltry return -- at enormous expense. We spill our souls into that junk mail, but then we don’t know the houses of the hurting or the searching or the activists -- the houses you know about where a potential NCR reader is waiting.

So here’s the deal. We’re convinced that every NCR reader knows at least a few relatives or friends with that NCR tattoo on their souls who are not presently getting NCR, and to whom you plan to give a Christmas gift anyway.

You could instead give a tie or a bottle of exotic eau-de-something. Soon the tie will be at the bottom of your cousin’s drawer, the bottle of eau lined up with a dozen others, relics of Christmases past. NCR, by contrast, would be a gift given over and over every week for a year, a reminder of you.

Think of it: If all our readers each gave one such gift this Christmas, our circulation would vault in a month from approximately 50,000 to 100,000. This in turn would have other amazing ramifications for the quality and coverage NCR offers. It would assure us that, when this pope passes on, and the church dusts itself off for a new papacy, we could afford to open a full-time Vatican bureau. Just for starters.

But the vision is much bigger than a bureau in Rome. For a generation now we looked out from that Vatican II tent. The council was one of the most momentous events in two thousand years of church history, ensuring that the world -- and we -- will never be quite the same.

By now, however, the council has mingled with the rest of our human heritage. Alone, Vatican II no longer defines us, never did. Indeed, like most human institutions, it was fraught with the compromises and ambiguities that are inevitable when so many strong-willed bishops and theologians, conservative, progressive or whatever, sit for so long discussing what is most dear to them. Thus, Christians of all hues now cite Vatican II copiously for their various purposes, sometimes watering it down in the process.

But many other Christians and others are not as stuck back there as we who lived it. They came of age after the council. They are the future of the church. They are the future readership of NCR. From our elegant but weather-beaten Vatican II tent we must now squint at the next horizon, the next millennium, ascertain what lies beyond that upcoming milestone, find meaning and strength there so that we can walk into the future with hope.

NCR does not claim pat answers to any of this. But we’re working on the questions. With one eye on the fragile but still dynamic church, and another on Jesus who started it, we’ll debate and speculate and, above all, report. If NCR does not, who will? We may infuriate you one week, tantalize or surprise or even entertain you the next -- we promise not to be boring and to keep you up to date.

But we can’t do any of this without you. The numbers of subscribers -- that is, readers -- is all-important. Time and again you are gracious enough to tell us how much this newspaper means to you. You can in turn do something for us, as well as for someone dear to you. It’s easy. Phone 1-800-333-7373, a tollfree call.

It could all add up to a very merry Christmas.

National Catholic Reporter, November 21, 1997