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Issue Date:  May 13, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Children forced to kill

Uganda is one of those places that simply defy all the theory and polite conversation we might have about nonviolent resistance and meeting evil with good.

The killing in Uganda -- and using kids to kill other kids -- is beyond my imagination, particularly since it appears that the butchery in the northern part of that country is without design or purpose, just a vicious slaughter carried out by a madman. I think that responding to violence with violence has proved a demonstrable failure over centuries. But how does one think about children forced to kill?

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I wonder, at times, especially when we run stories on the hellish realities of the Darfur region of Sudan (NCR, Jan. 7) or the desperate situation in Haiti (NCR, July 16, 2004) or, this week, the horrific circumstance in Uganda, that readers don’t throw up their hands and ask, “What’s the point?”

I have to admit that at times the thought runs through my head. Why bother, indeed, when it can seem all so far away, disengaged from our lives and futile?

If one takes seriously the question, the answer can sound trite and preachy. Nonetheless, I think we all hold a conviction that if we do, indeed, believe in the human community and the basic dignity of all humans, then we need to know about the “night commuters,” who seek safety in numbers in Uganda, and about the women and children in Darfur who risk attack and death by foraging for firewood and walking for water.

At a time when foreign news in the United States is dominated by an ill-defined “war on terror,” it is important to stay in touch with areas of the world where dealing with terrorism is a daily, lonely chore generally undertaken with little notice from the rest of the world.

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The “why” also has to do with putting ourselves in touch, amid the grimmest scenarios, with our best angels. We need to know about John Otim, who survived his captivity by the insane Lord’s Resistance Army; we need to know of Ben Phillips of Catholic Relief Services; we need to meet Fr. Carlos Rodriguez Soto, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Gulu archdiocese. They pull our gaze away from the futility of their own situation, away from the trivial in our own lives, and toward the hard work of real hope. While we correctly may have been enthralled with the spectacle in Rome these past weeks, Uganda is the kind of place where the heart of Catholic Christianity is truly on display.

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I asked Chris Ringwald what impressions stayed with him after his brief stay in Uganda, and he wrote that weeks later, “I remember most the bright smiles and heads tossed back in laughter of children, swarms of them in yellow or green or red uniform blouses and shirts, walking along the roads to and from school. Why so happy? one might ask. At night, many of them walk miles from their villages to sleep in towns to avoid kidnapping by the rebels. Many of their friends and parents have been killed or abducted, and the region turned upside down. But the Acholi people seemed happy, soft-spoken, gracious and forgiving. That in itself was remarkable. That they are, despite the fear and random violence that cloaks Acholi-land is miraculous. That they are, left me hopeful rather than hopeless. That they are, tells us that peace is coming and that the Acholi will bring it, their children ‘trailing clouds of glory’ as they walk home from school.”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, May 13, 2005

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