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Do you have time for a story?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Well, 22 years ago, when I was about 70 -- ” began Gary MacEoin.

I stopped him short. “That’s it, Gary. I don’t know anyone else who can say that. And I certainly don’t know anyone who can say that who wants to take off for Cuba in three weeks.”

Gary continued his story, telling about someone at some religious house in the Upper Midwest, who had grumped, referring to Gary, “That old man should stop traipsing around the globe and stay at home and say his prayers.”

We’re glad he never took that advice.

In the eight-and-a-half years that I’ve been at NCR, Gary has been to Hong Kong, China, Italy, Ireland several times, lectured in Europe several times, scrabbled around the Guatemalan Highlands, been to El Salvador twice, and spent time in Chiapas, Mexico, to both cover disturbances there and to interview Archbishop Samuel Ruiz García for a book that has since been published. In that time he has also compiled a book of opinion written by 10 theologians from around the world, about the qualities they see as essential in the next papacy. That book was done almost entirely via the Internet. For most people that’s a lifetime of work and travel.

Gary is heading toward 93, and he’s nowhere near finished.

I often get off the phone after talking about the next lineup of projects he has in mind and marvel at his enormous energy and talent.

Not long ago, I had the privilege to sit in on an interview he did with Bishop Ruiz in a hotel in Milwaukee. The interview was in Spanish and I didn’t pick up too much of it during the hour-long session.

Seated later in the hotel lobby, I began asking Gary to go back through the interview point-by-point. He did that for about 10 minutes before he stopped abruptly and looked at me with his sly grin and asked: “Isn’t all of this wisdom and information worth at least a drink?”

It was, and we headed for the bar, where he ordered up a double scotch, and we got on with our conversation.

Gary, who so often can give you not only his read of history, but also his experience of it, eased my worries about Cuba. “Tom,” he said, “I know lots of people in Cuba. I was there five or six times before Castro, and many times since.”

I wished him a safe trip. His story appears on Page 6. We wish you another 93 years, Gary.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, March 8, 2002