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Issue Date:  November 4, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Keeping Arthur on speed dial

“Meet me at the clock in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria,” said Arthur Jones. “You’ll know me because I’ll be wearing a lavender cap.” It was about a year after I’d arrived in Kansas City as managing editor of NCR. I can’t recall why I was in New York at the time, but Arthur, who was then living in Washington, was heading for the Waldorf following Lamar Alexander, one of the short-lived candidates in that 1995 campaign for the 1996 election that was ultimately the subject of the book Race for the White House, which Jones co-wrote with James Srodes.

Of course, there were other ways I would have known him. We had spoken almost daily for that year, and he would have had to mutter but a word or two and this native of Liverpool (he still, honest to God, says things like “toodle pip” and calls nearly everyone “Luv”) would have stood out even in a New York crowd. And, of course, I would have known him from pictures.

But the lavender cap, he calls the type a “ratting hat” and wears some version of it in most of his photos, did make things easy.

If I don’t remember why I was in New York, I do remember that we settled into a long meal and a deep conversation, one of hundreds we would have over the next decade, that were part display case of his passion for this crazy little project called National Catholic Reporter and part seminar for this new editor.

~ ~ ~

It is easy to understand that it was daunting for this new arrival to realize that “one of the writers” on the staff was someone I’d been reading for years, a man who had already been editor and publisher of the paper and had cut a huge swath through the landscape of Catholic journalism.

Very quickly, he made life easy for me. He was always available, did assignments I knew he didn’t care to do, had -- and continues to have -- more energy than a 9-year-old and had more ideas every waking moment than anyone could manage over 10 careers.

He once told me he “does books” (nine ranging over economics, biography, politics and spirituality) in order to “sop up me excess energy.”

It has been one of the grand privileges of my time at NCR to have known him as a colleague and friend, and that part won’t end. He may be spending quiet days in rural Maryland, patching up an old farmhouse and digging garden plots for his wife, Margie, but I’m keeping his number on speed dial. Blessings, dear friend.

~ ~ ~

“Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained, especially, by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions.” Those are words from the groundbreaking document Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions, adopted Oct. 28, 1965. Those of us old enough to have some sense of the Catholic culture before that time, who understood the certainty with which all of Judaism was once held in at least quiet contempt, realize how deeply that document affected interfaith life.

As the document’s 40th anniversary approached, I was made newly aware of Nostra Aetate’s significance, now a matter taken for granted, as I considered the conversations that Rabbi Yehiel Poupko and I have had (see story). Beneath the realms of scholarship and dialogue that have reshaped Catholic-Jewish relations during the past 40 years, I offer this bit of conversation as a sign of the importance of, as the document says, “friendly discussions.”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 4, 2005

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