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Inside NCR

Artist who caught pope’s attention; still looking for the right bottle

Linda Benton, who is part Native American, was a campus minister at Syracuse University when she first met Immaculate Heart of Mary Fr. Jude Fischler. Later, while she was in Tohatchi, N.M., and he was serving in Rome, she wrote to him. Her letterhead included her painting, “Tohatchi Cross.”

“I mentioned, flippantly, that if the pope would like the cross, or any of my art, he could have it,” Benton told NCR. John Paul II did like the cross when Cardinal Jan Schotte showed him the picture. Fischler wrote: Send it on. Now it hangs in the papal apartment.

Benton’s work frequently blends Native American and Catholic imagery and symbolism.

Her mural on this week’s cover introduces NCR’s account of priests, sisters and brothers on the Navajo and Hopi reservations who, similarly, in their everyday work, are open to being influenced by those cultures as they give witness quietly, yet industriously, to their Christian commitment.

We are sitting on all those Message in a Bottle messages you read in our old millennium-new millennium issue, but no bottle yet in which to put them. We figure, though, that we have a thousand years to work on it.

Carol Jankunas wrote from Denver with some suggestions: “A Coke or Pepsi bottle -- depending on one’s persuasion? A Pepto-Bismol bottle, symbolizing the stress of the 20th century? A bottle of ink, for times past when people actually wrote letters to others, using ink pens? A milk bottle -- so taken for granted in America, so unknown to most of the world’s poor children? A plastic bottle, for the industry that has revolutionized the marketing of liquids of every sort? A glass bottle, symbolizing how easily broken/discarded are the ‘things’ of this world?”

The letter goes downhill from there. It seems Jankunas came upon a bottle in the shape of Pope John Paul II, “in gold vestments, with a (removable) gold miter wherein was found the bottle’s cap.” She gave it as a gift to her Polish brother-in-law. Jankunas insists that NCR use the photo (showing restrained excitement on the part of the brother-in-law) because the print cost $13. I think we’re back to square one.

Our Nov. 5 cartoon, “Planet Earth: Six Billion and Counting,” caused a little stir, as mentioned here Dec. 17, 1999.

Writes Frank Arnold from San Jose, Calif., “The entire issue of population has often been used for racist reasons. Holland, for example, has perhaps the greatest population density per square mile in the world, yet it is places like Africa and Latin America with much less population density that are called ‘overpopulated.’ ”

Arnold recommends a book Population Target: The Political Economy of Population Control in Latin America, by Bonnie Moss, which he thinks is out of print. He urges enterprising publishers to update and reprint it since population is a perpetually engrossing and controversial bone of contention.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, January 21, 2000