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When I read of the violent death of Charity Sr. Barbara Ann Ford in Guatemala, my mind quickly ran to the two power institutions, the Vatican and the U.S. government, whose influences surely played throughout her courageous career.

I don’t know if the influences registered simply as background noise to Ford or if there were times when the influence of one or the other felt like an impossible weight to drag around while serving the poor in a desperate and violent situation.

Ford was active in Guatemala since the devastating 1978 earthquake. She, like many other religious men and women, stuck with the poor in the most violent rural areas in the recent civil war years, and she was instrumental in helping human rights workers to compile data about the violence and to unearth mass graves.

I think of the Vatican and the recent consistory, its recent recognition of leaders all dressed in endless yards of watered silk, players in a royal pageant, glinting in Roman sunshine -- all men. And I think of how little regard Rome has for women, for those who give their lives in years and in blood in dangerous places -- the real deliverers of the Word in the real world.

I think of the U.S. government, of its ties to the bloodiest conduct in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America and how little we have been affected by that conduct. And I wish I didn’t feel like such a lunatic each time I argue for a U.S. truth commission to flush out the significant role the United States played in circumstances that led to the deaths of so many thousands of Guatemalans and of people who, like Ford, knew the truth of the matter.

I am happy to introduce Margot Patterson as senior writer. You have already seen her work, most recently an impressive package on the renewed interest in Ignatian spirituality (NCR, April 6). Her profile of Fr. Tomás Halík of Prague was the cover story in the Feb. 9 issue.

Patterson is a graduate of Harvard University in British and French history and literature and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she earned a master’s of fine arts in English. Most recently she worked at The Prague Post in the Czech Republic where she was associate editor of Night & Day, the paper’s arts and entertainment section. Prior to 1999, she served as special sections editor in charge of supplements on education, real estate, health and banking.

During her four years in the Czech Republic, she also lectured in English at Charles University in Prague.

Her writing has appeared in a host of other publications including The International Herald Tribune, The Africa Economic Digest, Town & Country Magazine, Boston Magazine, The Critic and The Alaska Quarterly Review.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 18, 2001