National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  May 2, 2003


As Iraq stands between liberation and whatever the future holds, the complexity of not only that country but also the region begins to show itself. Shiite marches to the holy city of Karbala are said to provide diversion, if unintentionally, from Iranian agents infiltrating to influence the political process to serve Iranian interests that, in this case, have little to do with democracy. The oil is said to have begun flowing in the South, but who will control it? And who, ultimately, will be in charge of the country? Clerics are jockeying for position at the top of the political heap, but so are interests from the outside, including Iraqis who have been in exile and now want to run the country.

Liberation has hardly elicited a united response among Iraq’s ethnic and religious divisions. If there is nearly universal relief at the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there is also a significant expression of skepticism about U.S. intentions in rebuilding the country. If some form of democracy seems to be emerging, it is also going to have to contend with impulses along the political spectrum that seem to range from liberal democracy to extreme Islamic fundamentalism.

NCR’s attempts to understand post-war Iraq will be aided in coming weeks by the team of Jeff Guntzel of Chicago and Mahasen Nasser-Eldin of Jerusalem.

Since 1998, Guntzel has helped to coordinate Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq. He has led seven fact-finding and humanitarian delegations to Iraq.

Guntzel last visited Iraq one month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Nearly two years later, he is returning to a changed Iraq to witness and document what he can of this critical period of uncertainty and transition in the lives of Iraqis and their country.

He will be joined by Nasser-Eldin, fluent in both English and Arabic and long active in the Middle East. She also has traveled in the past to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness and worked in Iraq during one of those visits in conjunction with UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Education on a study assessing the needs of the educational sector under the sanctions regime.

As a Human Rights Watch researcher, she studied the Kurds in Iraq for a book project dealing with the implications for the United States and European countries of the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

She attended the University of Illinois in Chicago 1994-98 and earned a master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

We’re hoping that their reports will begin showing up on our Web site Monday, April 28. We’re not certain how all this is going to go -- how easy travel will be and how quickly the two will be able to get into Iraq. So we can’t make any guarantees. Just keep checking in on the Web site. Their reports will be clearly labeled at the top of the Web site page.

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More and more, it is apparent that it’s not the big, traditional questions of the church that today hold the attention of many Catholics, especially younger ones. Rather, it’s how to relate spiritually and theologically to the challenges of everyday living, to the environment, to politics, to human rights, to family life, work and play. It’s spirituality at the heart of the world -- and that interest represents a change in the very warp and woof of the church, as the separation between sacred and secular breaks down.

Continuing the tradition of his writing as columnist and editor of Praying, the magazine of spirituality for everyday living formerly published by the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co., Rich Heffern’s “Earth & Spirit” columns in NCR will report and reflect on key areas that comprise this “spirituality at the heart of the world.” Heffern will be writing about Catholics responding to the environment crisis, today’s religion/science dialogue, the ongoing search for ways to live a sustainable and holy sexuality, the interface of Catholicism with other world religions, and more. In the coming months, he’ll also write occasional stories on those and other issues. His first column appears in this issue on Page 13.

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Arthur Jones in Los Angeles sends along a note about a new offering at the new cathedral in Los Angeles. When Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony opened his new cathedral, he brought in a private label wine to retail in the gift shop: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels 1998 Cabernet, $28.99, and its 2000 Chardonnay, $24.99.

The wine is produced by San Antonio Winery, in Los Angeles, supplier of the archdiocese’s altar wines. Of the wine itself, the Los Angeles Times’ David Shaw said, “Well, the San Antonio Winery isn’t Chateau Margaux. Or even Chateau Montelena” -- and left it at that.

California wine-lover Mahony -- who has been known to pick a Kenwood Old Vine Zinfandel from the wine list even when there’s higher-fliers available -- reports 700 cases of cathedral wine sold already.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2003

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