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Inside NCR

Vietnam revisited, Ratzinger then and now

Everywhere one looks, new perspectives on the Vietnam conflict appear on this significant anniversary. Few if any can bring to the subject the authenticity of our own Tom Fox. As his story, page 13, indicates, Fox’s participation in that sad debacle and his association with the country, culture and people of Vietnam were unique. Fox is continually reminded of the beauty of the Vietnamese people through his marriage to Kim Hoa, a social worker helping the poor back then and now a professional translator and mother in Kansas City.

After finishing his Vietnam essay, Fox added a poignant, more personal note: “Undoubtedly, the most painful moment of the trip back to Vietnam came as we visited my wife’s ancestral land outside of Can Tho. Hoa’s great-grandfather, her grandfather and father, as well as other family members, are buried on the land. Ancestral land is considered sacred to the Vietnamese, whose culture is saturated with ancestor worship and who therefore take great care of their ancestral plots.

“After 1975, however, local communist authorities informed Hoa’s family that they must remove the graves from the land, which at the time was surrounded by rice fields. The family refused. The officials then seized the land, saying they were taking the action because the family owned too much land and because Hoa had married an American. They turned the land into a bus repair site. Today, family members approach the graves hesitantly and only after asking permission. On the day we visited, the area was strewn with and desecrated by all kinds of trash, including old oil cans, papers, bus parts and trashed vehicles.”

The great irony, of course, is that the local Vietnamese, most often gentle, peaceful people, should take this vindictive step against a family whose members, Vietnamese and American, traveled the extra mile to bridge the huge divide between the two peoples. No good deed goes unpunished, it has been said.

It is often said that our nation has not recovered from Vietnam. If that faraway conflict could have such an effect on a mighty country like this one, it’s not hard to imagine how deeply it must have traumatized Vietnam. It’s a time to heal.

It has been said that nobody other than Ratzinger himself knows more about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger than NCR’s John Allen. To be honest, this was not said by Allen but by me. What Allen said was that there are some areas in which he, Allen, knows more about Ratzinger than Ratzinger himself. All fair-minded people will probably agree, especially after reading this week’s page 11 story, that one such area is the critical off-ramp, or series of off-ramps, that the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took on the road from the Second Vatican Council.

That was an exciting, wide, you might say liberal road, amid splendid scenery, and amid congenial, though diverse, fellow travelers, until narrow side roads beckoned our man with the promise of safe haven and certitude instead of the vicissitudes that might lurk ahead on the high road. If this sounds enigmatic, turn to page 11 where, we venture to say, Ratzinger gets himself wrong and Allen gets him right.

As to why Allen knows so much about Ratzinger, that’s because he wrote a big book on the cardinal, more words than even the cardinal has ever written about himself. It will be published by Continuum in September. It will be a publishing event, I promise, and I’m in a position to do so because probably only two others, editor Frank Oveis and Allen himself (but not Ratzinger) have read the manuscript more thoroughly than yours truly. To say more would be to tip the Allen hand, which one tips at one’s peril.

But I believe it’s a book Ratzinger himself will read with interest, and maybe learn something.

Ever since the culmination of the Jesus 2000 competition at Christmas, we have been promising that we would put on the NCR Web site some of the works entered. For various reasons we have failed to do this until now, with just a few exceptions. Many have contacted us, wondering what was happening. They -- you -- were generally good sports and very patient and we thank you warmly.

This week, at last, we have posted 30 new art works to make up for lost time. The names of the artists and their hometowns are all the information we can provide. We plan to post more on a regular basis. They are not chosen at random but as they were submitted to the contest.

Please note well, and repeat after me: We will not be able to tell who will be displayed next week, or when your uncle the artist will appear, if ever. We simply do not have the resources to do more than we’re doing, which we think is pretty good. So please enjoy them as you find them. The energy released by Jesus 2000 continues to impress and move people far and near.

For those electronically challenged like myself, here’s what you do.

Find www.natcath.com

Then, on the left hand side look for the Jesus 2000 logo. Double click on it. On left hand side, scroll down and look for the words “More Art, Click Here.” And voila! For a better look, click on the little picture and it will become a big picture. There!

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 28, 2000