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Making the world fit for our children

Every time a child is born, the initial promise of creation is renewed. The child is slapped on the backside amid ooing and cooing and general elation and even silliness because humans are overwhelmed by a mystery come to earth, a life, something we can’t yet find anywhere in the universe beyond our own small planet. No wonder we’re beside ourselves.

All too often the initial euphoria blows over. While parents’ love of their children is one of the most magnificent forces on earth, it is often no match for other, gloomier aspects of the human condition. Our best efforts have always failed to keep children pristine as they were born. In short, they become adults, with all the loss of innocence that implies. Or in other words, they become like us. They can’t escape it.

Two great champions of children are featured in our pages this week. Marian Wright Edelman has spent her working lifetime fighting for the young on any number of fronts. Having done so in all the conventional ways, especially through the Children’s Defense Fund she founded, she now tells NCR’s Arthur Jones in an exclusive interview that her next effort may be a movement of parents, grandparents and young activists aimed at convincing this nation to put its children first.

Jonathan Kozol has written another book on children. A substantial excerpt shows what magic and grace they are born with, and consequently how urgent it is to cherish their uniqueness.

In our education supplement several other contributors likewise take the young to heart.

In Quest for the Grail, Fr. Richard Rohr tells what he claims is a true story. A family with a 4-year-old son had another baby. They brought the new baby home and put it in its crib. The older boy at that point said to his parents, “I want to talk to my little brother.” The amused parents encouraged him, but the boy insisted he wanted to do it alone. So the parents left the room, but cheated by eavesdropping at the door.

The little boy approached the crib and said to the baby: “Quick, tell me who made you, and where you came from. Quick -- I’m beginning to forget.”

Last week we brought you the story of a women’s spirituality series in the Arlington, Va., diocese that was cancelled because Bishop Paul Loverede concluded its presenters “hold positions contrary to the formal teachings of the church.” One of those presenters is Arlington-based artist Mary Lou Sleevi, a lifetime Catholic whose work, among its other manifestations, has been exhibited at meetings of the U.S. bishops. She acknowledges a feminist dimension in her paintings, but insists that this does not constitute an “attack on the church.” The image of the biblical woman at the well on this page, nicknamed by Sleevi “Some Mary From Samaria,” is an example of her style. If this is subversive, perhaps the church in Arlington is in bigger trouble than even Loverede realizes.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2000