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Issue Date:  October 20, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Two neighborhoods

This issue exists literally, one might say, between the tensions of two very different neighborhoods that we all inhabit. The first is the neighborhood close by, the “our own backyard” that we might be in love with or fear for or wish to protect. It is the scene of what might qualify as everyday heroics. The second is the universe in its imponderable immensity, out of which springs the question of whether life exists anywhere besides planet Earth.

This ought to present itself, in some ways, as familiar turf. From comfort and familiar struggle to a silent unknowable, even hope. Believers understand the tension and tug of such poles.

~ ~ ~

Peacemaking often, and correctly, is seen as work on a grand and daunting scale. Where to start to make a dent in a war culture that spends over $1 billion a day on military pursuits? How to deal with at least 400,000 dead in Darfur? With half a million children under the age of 5 dead in Iraq by 1999 because of sanctions? Or as many as 600,000 Iraqi civilians dead since renewed hostilities in 2003? How to get beyond anti-Semitic hatreds in the Arab world and Israeli resort to inordinate force in its territorial skirmishes and border wars? Where to start first -- with the issue of torture or with detainees held without charges or recourse to legal help or legal system?

The list seems endless to the point of making one numb.

Many, we are grateful to say, have not gone numb. We report on them regularly in our pages, and they give us hope. Additionally, in the past, their efforts and accomplishments have been the subjects of our coverage in annual Paths to Peace special section. (See story)

~ ~ ~

This year, however, we turn our focus to the neighborhood, to the peacemaking that demands no less courage or imagination or persistence than that pursued in larger arenas.

In Kansas City, Mo., Alvin Brooks is everyone’s ideal of a public Catholic. He is smart and articulate, a longtime public servant, a pillar of his parish and absolutely passionate about ending the violence and healing the wounds of urban bloodshed.

Many communities have their own Alvin Brooks and many church communities have the kinds of priests and people we found in the poor and dangerous neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Boston and Camden, N.J. This is the flip side of institutional dysfunction and scandal. This is the Gospel being poured out; this is where the church regains its health and credibility.

Each week I am humbled, and I’m not blowing smoke here, by the stories of Catholics who, in the face of enough dissembling and disingenuousness from on high to justify quitting a dozen times, stay and exemplify the best the community has to give. It isn’t because they are ignorant of the issues or dupes of the clerical culture or because they choose to do nothing about corruption and scandal. No, it is because they have chosen to engage the deeper mysteries of this Christian and Catholic community, because they understand the profound implications of our sacramental life and because, though duly respectful of the totality of the Catholic experience, the Gospel for them is not wrapped in watered silk or bounded by ecclesiastical titles.

A few of them are featured in this week’s Paths to Peace special section. (See story)

~ ~ ~

A significant distance this side of supermarket tabloid accounts of alien abductions, a serious search for other intelligent life in the universe is underway and holds the fascination not just for its potential to shock us with the news that we are not alone, but also with the potential to stand on end religious and theological conventions as well as the very cosmic framework within which we understand our relationship to God.

Perhaps amid so much fighting and poverty and human woe of the earthbound sort, the heavens lure us in the same way as hope -- as boundless and only slightly known and understood. The figures are staggering, as Rich Heffern writes in his piece on the search for other life in the universe: “Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light years (the distance light travels in a year at the speed of 186,000 miles per second) wide and contains 200 or 300 billion stars. It’s an ambitious task to survey this unimaginably vast area, and our galaxy is only one of another 300 billion or so.” (See story)

One can only imagine how news from this infinitesimal spot in our corner of the universe might appear to another, say, a mere half galaxy away.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 20, 2006

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