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Many millennial messages ready for bottling

The deadline has come and gone. We received scores of messages, from the amusing to the provocative to the inspired, which will constitute our Message in a Bottle supplement in the upcoming downright epochal Dec. 31, 1999-Jan. 7, 2000 issue.

There are some wonderful contributions, too much material, alas, for everything to fit. There was, for one thing, a packet of essays, poems and collages from Marjorie Ryan’s 11th grade class in “Current Religious Thought” at Visitation School in Mendota Heights, Minn. We were delighted to learn, for starters, that these teenagers read NCR every week. We lack space to publish all of their contributions, but we read them all, and herewith pass along some highlights.

“In the next 1,000 years let us make sure there are no more children without families, that there are no more children starving, that there are no more children who have lost their childhood to war,” writes Kate Frederburg. “Peace among nations, friends among the nations, a home wherever this road takes us,” is Angela Tessman’s hope. “For one and all to truly learn the value of time: unstoppable, unbuyable time … like an unopened gift,” is Andrea Carlson’s wish. Their classmate Stephanie Hannig counsels, “In the end, what we should really be hoping for, aspiring toward, is really very simple: that things will just get better.” And Melissa Doty hopes that, in the waiting, watching and doing, we’ll all have some fun. “Place your life in His hands and enjoy the Holy Roller Coaster,” she suggests. “God gave us life as a gift. I suggest for the millennium that we try to enjoy it.”

If we ever get a bottle big enough, we’ll squeeze all these wishes into it.

Along with the messages, we received suggestions about what to do with the actual bottle if we find one.

“I’d drop that bottle in the Sea of Galilee,” writes Pat Mings of Idaho Falls. “After all, that’s where The Way for us began.”

“Put the bottle in the Pacific Ocean by Lover’s Point, Pacific Grove, Calif.,” suggests G. K. Fitzgerald of Santa Barbara.

Laura Ferguson from Wayland, Mass., suggests “the Cape of Good Hope -- various strong currents either to East or West. Or the East Coast of Florida. It could make it to the Gulf Stream, and the possibilities would be endless, from Northern Scotland to Egypt.”

She concludes: “I’m 83. Methinks I shall never hear the outcome of your escapade.” We at NCR don’t buy that thought one bit, Laura.

“I hope you find room for a mustard seed in the bottle,” writes Jim Verity of East Rockaway, N.Y. Imagine the possibilities there.

Ivo Sefton de Azevedo from Porto Alegre, Brazil, responds to an earlier suggestion that the bottle be hidden in a Vatican dicastery where it would survive for centuries undetected. He suggests including in the bottle a copy of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which, lest we forget, failed to look kindly on any Catholic priests except males. Throw in for good measure, he adds, the Responsum ad Dubium of 1995, which says it’s wrong even to think about women priests the way bad thoughts were wrong in the old days. And, Sefton adds, slap a label on the bottle that reads: “To Be Opened by the First Female Pope.”

As Laura Ferguson might say, methinks such a bottle would collect a lot of dust.

“Send ’er down the Mississippi!” instructs Gisele Fontaine of Inglewood, Calif. “That’s a real American river for ya.”

Fontaine goes on: “A bottle needs a good cork. I say, at least one Cork cartoon should make it into the bottle.” Consider it done.

“Why don’t you have the bottle launched into space?” asks Sr. Gail Worcelo and Bernadette Bostwick. “Perhaps it would land on some distant planet, and beings other than ourselves would have the task of decoding the messages and finding us.”

Elizabeth Rodriguiz wrote from Ann Arbor, Mich., suggesting the bottle follow the route outlined in the children’s book, Paddle to the Sea. A young Native American makes a boat, with a Native American man sitting up proudly in it, and a sign on the boat reads: “I am Paddle To The Sea. Help move me to the ocean.” He sets his boat high on a snowy hill above a creek that flows to a river that flows into Lake Superior. The book is about the boat’s journey and the American land through which it passes.

When Rodriguiz was in third grade, her brother, in second grade, brought home the book. The third-grader disdained it, as one customarily does in the case of younger brothers, and did not read it. Years passed. Sister and brother had a falling out, which lasted for further years. Then there was reconciliation. The sister saw Paddle to the Sea in a store, read it for the first time, sent it to the brother’s 5-year-old, learned that the brother, too, read it again, thoroughly.

“In January, my brother was killed in a car accident. For as long as I live, when I go to a Lake Huron beach and look and look far as I can see, I’ll be with my brother, and he’ll be with me.”

So many stories. It will take a big bottle. Or at least a newspaper that comes out every week and keeps track of us all for another thousand years.

Mercy Sr. Mary Scullion is an example of the power of the dispossessed. From the start she has had little to gain personally. But she saw a lot at stake for the homeless of Philadelphia. And when it comes to helping the homeless move from the streets to productive lives, there is no greater champion.

Her Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia is the result of her passionate love for the poor and her years of relentless work on their behalf. To learn more about the organization, contact Project H.O.M.E., 1515 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19130; or phone 215-232-7272; or e-mail HN5672@handsnet.org; or visit the organization’s website at http://www.projecthome.net/

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 1999