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Inside NCR

A call for books and a poignant postscript

It will be a sad day for the humble book when NCR readers stop climbing on podiums and soapboxes and other high places to spread the word about their favorites. I want to renew our annual call, which I first made two issues ago, for the book that amused or frustrated or edified or even sanctified you.

In our Winter Books supplement, this year as always, we plan to make space for everyone to sound off about favorite books of the year. You may write it as short as you wish -- and brevity very often is the soul of wit -- but try to keep it down to 300 words at the long end. Please share the title of the work, the author, also the publisher and year of publication if you know them -- we are especially interested in books published in the past year.

Since there will be no payment for this, we are forced to appeal to your higher nature, or the fear of Purgatory, or -- well, someday you may write a book, too, and then, when no one mentions it (an impossible situation in your case), you’ll understand how gracious a thing it is to help out an author or a book at this topsy-turvy time when the glittering newfangled media are getting all the attention.

The deadline is Oct. 11. The Winter Books issue is Nov. 5.

Please send entries to NCR at 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111. But it would be even better to send them by e-mail to ncropinion@aol.com

As the world struggles to find some way to end the agony in East Timor, we pass along a poignant and sad post-postscript to the story by James Fox that ran in our Sept.17 issue. Fox, director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, was an election observer for the Carter Center in Atlanta.

His observations here are a reminder that amid the horror, it is often too easy to brand an entire people, in this case Indonesians, as indiscriminately violent and dismissive of human rights. As Fox writes, there are countless Indonesians who have joined the struggle for human rights in East Timor.

His latest dispatch follows:

Fr. Tarcisius Dewanto.

What sticks in my memory are his broad smile, wide eyes and unmistakable Javanese mannerisms. Fr. Tarcisius Dewanto was so young and now he is dead.

We seemed to get on well from the moment we began talking with each other in the churchyard in Suai. He invited me to visit him at the seminary in Dili after things had settled down, and I had accepted. I was looking forward to meeting him again.

Last week when I arrived in Jakarta from East Timor, I began writing a short article that was intended to hold out a ray of hope by focusing on the work of reconciliation of the two parish priests in Suai, Fr. Hilario and Fr. Francisco. I didn’t mention Dewanto because, as he told me, he had only just arrived to help out in the parish and hadn’t even reported his move to Suai to the bishop. He knew, however, that he was placing himself in one of the most dangerous areas of East Timor.

By the time I had finished my article, various rumors had begun to reach Jakarta. First that Fr. Hilario had been killed but that Fr. Francisco had escaped. I wrote a postscript and was about to send it when the news came that both had been killed. I changed my postscript and sent it off.

Only on Friday (four days after the Aug. 30 elections) was it clear that Fr. Dewanto had also been killed. By Saturday, the afternoon newspaper, Suara Pembaruan, and the magazine D&R carried eyewitness accounts of the killing of the three priests and the massacre of all the women and children sheltering in the church at Suai. All three priests died trying to prevent the killing of those seeking shelter in the church.

Fr. Dewanto had just been ordained on July 14 in St. Ignasius Church in Yogyakarta in central Java, the most populated island in Indonesia. Almost immediately after his ordination, he returned to Timor and was assigned to teach at the seminary at Balide. When we talked, he listed for me the names of his fellow Jesuits -- many of them his classmates -- who were also working in East Timor. Some of these Jesuits were also from other parts of Indonesia.

There is a point to be made in all of this -- one that I am certain that Fr. Dewanto would have wished to emphasize. Countless Indonesians of all sorts have been deeply involved in the struggle for human rights in East Timor. University and nongovernmental organization activists, those concerned with democratic reform, journalists, commentators have all contributed to the struggle, and many have spoken out with revulsion at the violence and destruction in East Timor. Most reputable newspapers have continued to provide in-depth reporting on the situation. There are a great number of Indonesians like Fr. Dewanto, and I feel proud to know so many of them as friends.

Although a relative calm had descended on East Timor by press time, the international peacekeeping force had not yet arrived. What was known was there had been a heavy death toll, that religious leaders and institutions had been especially targeted and that once again the United States would be sorting through the results of having armed a military that committed extreme violations of human rights.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, September 24, 1999