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Rejoice, the beloved country

Carmel Rickard has reported the mostly sad, sometimes glad story of South Africa for many years. Her report closes the most recent -- but not likely the last -- chapter on what apartheid did to that lovely land.

When I visited South Africa in 1987 -- a defining moment, as they say, in my life -- Carmel helped me every step of the way and directed me to the people so gallantly resisting apartheid. Several of them are mentioned in this week’s story, still trying to unravel injustice and promote reconciliation. Despite the enormous problems that still remain, South Africa’s bid to transcend the past is one of the great human triumphs of modern times.

The front page headline is, of course, the title of Alan Paton’s classic novel, one of the finest pieces of elegiac writing this century. Writes Paton:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

And then the transcendent human response to that pain. It comes from an idealistic white lawyer who opts to fight for justice for blacks at the risk of being branded a traitor:

I shall devote myself, my time, my energy, my talents, to the service of South Africa. I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right. I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie. I shall do this, not because I am a negrophile and a hater of my own, but because I cannot find it in me to do anything else. ... I understand better those who have died for their convictions, and have not thought it was wonderful or brave or noble to die. They died rather than live, that was all. ... I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be.

The lawyer is killed during a stupid little burglary.

There were reasons aplenty for the beloved country to cry.

Arthur Jones’ review of Robert Hutchison’s Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei in the Oct. 23 issue mentioned that no U.S. publisher is presently offering the book. Doubleday, which brought it out in England, declined to do so here. Several readers wrote us to point out, however, that U.S. residents can purchase the book online. One could go to www.amazon.com, for example, and at the bottom of the opening page click on amazon.com.uk -- the online bookseller’s English affiliate. Then it’s a simple matter of typing in the name of the book and following the instructions.

Just days after Jones’ review appeared, the U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei in New Rochelle, N.Y., sent NCR a copy of a single-spaced document spanning several pages that purports to debunk Hutchison’s book, put out by the prelature’s London office. In one of life’s small ironies, it’s easier in the United States to acquire Opus Dei’s refutation of the book than it is to get the book itself.

As Central American presidents gathered in San Salvador’s airport Nov. 9 for an intense meeting on how to help their countries survive short-term and rebuild long-term following Hurricane Mitch, a small band of U.S. Catholics was lobbying on Capitol Hill.

In last week’s issue, we listed in this column three agencies through whom money could be channeled to the neediest. For those seeking further avenues for their donations, there’s SHARE El Salvador Fund/Hurricane Emergency, 995 Market St., Suite 1400, San Francisco CA 94103; and Honduran Relief, Sisters of Mercy Burlingame, 2300 Adeline St. Burlingame CA 94010.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 1998