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Inside NCR

Searching for sense up above

We have no words adequate to explain what happened at Columbine High School in Colorado, just as there are no words to explain the horrors of Kosovo.

Children leave flowers, messages, embrace, pray, weep. Making gestures in the void beyond words. Our conversations reflect the media commentaries groping and asking. One of the recurring words is senseless. There is sense but it is beyond us. Despite all our progress we don’t know ourselves or our world well, not yet.

Our sympathies and prayers go out to all those affected by the Colorado tragedy. Tomorrow we’ll ask what failed and what can be done. And we’ll try again, try harder to be good humans. Meanwhile, we could use light and help from on high.

The welfare to work crusade, it turns out, has been better public relations than social success, as Arthur Jones, editor at large, shows in his story (see also editorial).

And word is getting out that the non-rich have been conned again. A front-page story in The New York Times April 20, tells of Michelle Crawford who went from 10 years of welfare to regular work and was paraded around Wisconsin by Gov. Tommy Thompson, who told her he plans to run for president. But gradually we learn that Crawford, at $8.20 an hour, not to mention other shortfalls, is having a tough time in Thompson’s new non-welfare paradise.

A recent article in The Boston Globe relayed the euphoria propagated in our national media. “The astonishing success and giddy exuberance of the U.S. economy this decade,” intones the Wall Street Journal. “The unparalleled strength of the economy and the dominance of the world economy stage by American corporations,” The New York Times calls it. And more of the same.

But it’s not true, and somebody needs to say so. While some politicians made political hay out of the half-baked welfare to work slogan, the Catholic lobbying group Network set out to examine the reality. Its report, outlined in the Jones story, deserves the nation’s attention.

This is not a whining reminder of the homeless under a bridge near you. It’s much closer to home.

“The underpinnings of the market are slowly getting whittled away,” the Globe quotes an expert. “The same can be said about the human condition,” the paper goes on. A Boston group called United for a Fair Economy reports that “the boom has enriched only the top 5 percent of households in America. An astounding 95 percent of households have seen a decline in net worth.” That should shake us up. Furthermore, “the richest 1 percent of U.S. households now hoard 40.1 percent of America’s wealth. That is double the 19.9 percent of wealth the top 1 percent held in 1976.” Welcome to reality. Wrote economist Lester Thurow, “The great American middle class has become a nonparticipant in the American dream.”

Money does matter. NCR plans a series of occasional articles that monitor the nation’s material success: whether it is getting spread around or whether it is subverted by greed at a time when there should be enough for all.

With Northern Ireland finally poised on the brink of peace, the March 15 murder of Rosemary Nelson was not only a tragedy but a warning. Nelson, a lawyer from Lurgan in County Armagh, was a high-profile defender of human rights whose clients, including IRA members, were not always the most popular members of the community. She had received threats, including death threats, from the police, the Royal Ulster constabulary. She also had death threats from the local Orange Order for her defense of the residents of the now notorious Gervaghy Road along which, though it is an entirely Catholic enclave, the Orangemen insist on marching and have placed the surrounding Drumcree area under a bizarre permanent siege until they get permission to march there in memory of the victory of King Billy at the Battle of the Boyne, which was in 1690. It smells like the Serbian claims on Kosovo.

A bomb attached to her car exploded and killed Nelson. The police are investigating. This is seen by the minority community as a bad joke. The police have a dismal record on human rights in Northern Ireland -- a telling example can be found in John Stalker’s book The Stalker Affair: The Shocking True Story of Six Deaths and a Notorious Cover-Up, reviewed by NCR in its Sept. 9, 1988, issue.

Now the law offices of Rosemary Nelson are circulating a “Petition for justice” calling for an independent United Nations investigation and inquiry into the circumstances of Nelson’s death.

The words of the petition are as follows:

In the aftermath of the assassination of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, we, the undersigned, call upon the United Nations to undertake a fully independent investigation and enquiry into all the circumstances surrounding Rosemary Nelson’s death.

Readers are invited to draw up their own petition forms, to circulate, sign them and send them to: Offices of Rosemary Nelson, Solicitor, 8a William St., Lurgan, Craigavon, Co. Armagh BT 66 6JA, Northern Ireland.

With this issue we inaugurate a new feature, “Moments in Time,” a contribution of Gary Macy, historical theologian at the University of San Diego and former chair of the department of theology and religious studies there. Macy’s favorite pastime is sleuthing around Europe on the trail of dusty medieval documents that shed light on issues and controversies in the contemporary church.

For more about Macy’s lively career, return to our profile in the Jan. 9, 1998, issue. For a taste of what his occasional pieces will be adding to our editorial mix. Come to think of it, the word taste in light of his contribution for this issue may be a groaningly bad pun.

The drawing was done by our own ever-whimsical Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 1999