National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  September 26, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

Amid Gloom, heralds of hope

I recently got into a discussion with some colleagues here about the meaning of hope. Let me be clear -- we didn’t come to any insights that would warrant new literature on the subject. Nor did we spend a great deal of time pondering it. Deadlines are always beckoning.

But the question is worth sharing. And it came in the context of the newsweekly, to paraphrase: “How can we say, as we often do, that NCR points to hope if what we cover is so often grim?”

There was no escaping that last sentiment. The cover of the issue we had just put out had a huge picture of a section of the cross-strewn wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Two weeks before that, it was a large photo of the wall in the Palestinian Territories. This week, the cover story is about homeless migrant workers. So where’s the hope?

One might quickly conclude that we simply look for gloominess. But that really isn’t the case. Entwined in NCR’s evolution is a commitment that grew over the years to telling the story, not to be too dualistic about it, of those normally excluded from the conversation -- those who feel the brunt of decisions of those in power.

It’s not easy to talk of migrants as merely figures in a policy debate if you walk along the border, meet them, understand the tugs and pulls of their lives. That’s one part of it. The other significant part is we are often drawn to stories because of the people, the heralds of hope, if you will, who work among those on the margins. This is where hope turns from a question that I think sometimes means “Where’s the relief?” (and that’s not a bad question) to an act of will, of determination. Amid the melee, in the case of the border wall, faith creates a gathering place. As we reported last issue, two tables will be pushed together, either side of it, to make a single altar for a Nov. 2 liturgy. Amid the homeless in Coachella Valley (see story) and our “economic apartheid,” as Fr. Bruce Cecil calls it, stands a true Catholic presence and the promise of health care, no matter how poor you are.

That’s where the hope is, I think. What clearer witness to the reign of God than lives planted squarely among the poor? It’s the kind of witness, at least for me, that leaves all the scandal stories and theological debates littering the dusty highways on the journey to true hope.

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Our discussion didn’t put the final word on the matter and neither does this little column bit. So let me know your thoughts about hope. I know that’s a rather sprawling topic. But what is hope for you? Where do you find it? How do you express it? Just pop me a note (no grad school dissertations, please) at

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Speaking of relief, find some of it on Page 22. That’s where Diane Filbin, in a masterful bit of writing, manages to mention Julia Child, Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, Vatican II, Bernard Lonergan, her mother, her best friend, Anthony Padovano and the Smithsonian, among many others, in the same piece (under 1,000 words) for a delightful evocation of an era and a deep down Catholic sense of things. Take a look.

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The upcoming essay by Eugene Kennedy titled “Healing the Wound: The Sacraments and Human Sexuality,” that I mentioned last week will appear in next week’s issue.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 26, 2003

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