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Inside NCR

Eileen Egan’s life, more than most, demonstrated the possible breadth of Catholic presence in the world.

A writer, pacifist and cofounder of an organization that eventually became Pax Christi USA, Egan joined two strains of Catholic activity that too often are considered discrete enterprises.

Those strains are exemplified in two women -- Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionary Sisters of Charity -- whom she counted as friends.

Mother Teresa has drawn criticism from some quarters for failing, in all her heroic work, to confront the systemic ills behind the poverty, suffering and death she dedicated her life to easing.

Day is most often viewed as the radical activist who spawned the Catholic Worker movement, difficult to this day to pin down and categorize. Of course, neither woman easily fits the iconic impressions that have come to represent them in the popular culture.

While Mother Teresa may not have taken a liberation theology approach to deep injustices, she certainly could speak truth to power.

Day’s deep prayerfulness and devotion to the church often get lost beneath her courageous pacifist stands taken amid the military fervor of World War II.

Egan’s life was a wonderfully seamless expression of both a profound respect for life in all its manifestations and an equally profound sense of mission to “nonviolently wage peace.”

According to a release from Pax Christi, Egan’s mother often told her the story of Nurse Edith Cavell, an Englishwoman executed in World War I, accused by the German military of spying because she gave medical aid to soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

Before her execution, Cavell said, “Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

The lesson was a lasting one. Egan once wrote, “The challenge to Pax Christi and to the church of today is to realize that when we teach the ‘just war’ tradition, we are teaching Cicero, not Jesus. Only by boldly teaching the words of Jesus and renouncing the teaching of ‘just war’ as an unworthy graft on the gospel teaching of love can we hope to wake up Catholics to witness to the world as a true peace church.”

As promised, more questions for the candidates, these from William Furst of Tacoma, Wash.

“How much campaign money have you received from the pharmaceutical companies during this election run?

“What makes you think that local control of education is desirable as preparation for a highly technical workplace when most parents don’t even understand the technology?

-- Tom Roberts

My email address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, October 20, 2000