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Issue Date:  April 11, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

Thirty-five years ago this month, the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. His is a challenging and complex legacy, one that continues to confront the conscience of this country, particularly as we continue to deal with matters of racism and discrimination. Unfortunately, what doesn’t get talked about much is the absolute centrality of nonviolence to his approach to social reform and how that conviction influenced his view of the conduct of the United States in the wider world.

A year to the day before he died, April 4, 1967, King gave an address at Riverside Church in New York, his fullest to that date, on his opposition to the Vietnam War. Some of the speech is especially poignant today. King called for a revolution of national values “that will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say: ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

At war once again, there may seem little to do but pray until some resolution is reached. Last week, we printed a prayer by Fr. Ed Hays (yes there’s no “e” in his last name; the spelling last week was incorrect). This week, you’ll find “A Muslim Woman’s Prayer” by Mahnaz Mehdi Shabbir on Page 5. Our intent is to continue regularly providing prayers in time of war from different traditions and perspectives.

Given the outpouring of conservative praise -- George Will and William F. Buckley each penned memorials to the four-term New York senator -- it is perhaps easy to forget that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, was a liberal. Just another bit of complexity from this Catholic gentleman, intellectual and long-time public servant, who died March 26.

Before he was a Kennedy man, he was a Harriman man -- New York Gov. Averill Harriman that is. Which means that he was an internationalist -- a cold warrior to be sure, but not of the get-the-U.S.-out-of-the-United Nations mode we hear so much from even today. In the course of 50 years in public and academic life, Moynihan was ahead of the curve: In the 1960s he warned (to the consternation of some) that family disintegration was condemning children, particularly -- but not exclusively -- black children, to a life of poverty. As domestic policy adviser to Republican Richard Nixon he wrote a “Family Assistance Plan” that would have resulted in establishing a minimum income for every family. It was a radical approach, which, if it had been adopted, would have resulted in the near elimination of child poverty in this country. Imagine that.

He supported Zionism at the United Nations, predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, attacked the CIA for mining Nicaraguan harbors, defended Wilsonian notions of international law, opposed 1996’s punitive welfare reform legislation, voted pro-choice but didn’t hesitate to call partial-birth abortion “infanticide,” and generally raised the level of discourse in the U.S. Senate.

He had quite a ride. He will be missed.

As if to underscore the significance of the daring peace initiative undertaken by Oblate Fr. Bert Layson, we heard the news as the paper was going to press that a terrorist bomb had ripped through a section of food stalls just outside the seaport in Davao, on the strife-torn southern Philippines island of Mindanao. According to the Mindanews press agency, the dead included Franciscan Sr. Dulce de Guzman, the social action coordinator for the Zamboanga archdiocese.

We received details of the latest violence from Paul Jeffrey, who wrote this week’s cover story about Layson, whose parish is in Pikit, “a town smack dab in the middle of the conflict zone.”

Within hours of the seaport bombing, unidentified gunmen lobbed two grenades and strafed a Davao mosque with automatic gunfire, according to the Associated Press. The newest outbreaks of public terror underscore the importance of Layson’s ministry in a world where Muslim-Christian tensions are being pushed to the breaking point by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003

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