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Havoc in East Timor

Despite the efforts of peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, violence continues to wreak havoc in East Timorone of Asia’s poorest countries. Thousands have fled the unrest in the young nation’s capital, Dili, to set up makeshift camps in outlying areas. The International Committee of the Red Cross is providing clean water, food and other necessities. The violence began this past spring when 600 soldiers went on strike in connection with what they perceived as government discrimination based on their presumed sympathies with Indonesia. Youth gangs have rampaged through neighborhoods, looting and setting homes afire. At least 30 people have been killed and many others reported missing.

The government itself is struggling. The popular foreign minister, José Ramos-Horta (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his efforts to draw attention to the suffering of the East Timorese) is seen as a key player in restoring order. United Nations troops were sent to East Timor after it won its independence from Indonesia seven years ago. Their mission was to help the fledgling nation move toward stability, but they withdrew this past Mayfar too early, as the ensuing violence showed. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan alluded to the over-hasty withdrawal when he spoke recently of a sense that we tend to leave conflict areas too soon, going on to add: We’ve been in Cyprus for ages [and] Bosnia, Kosovowhy do we often try to leave other areas after two or three years? U.N. peacekeepers are now on track to return, but not for six months. When they do arrive, they should remain for an extended period.


And With Your Spirit

Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, the Mass is about to change again. On June 15, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a new translation of the Order of Mass, which would alter some of the most familiar prayers of English-speaking Catholics. (Other Anglophone bishops’ conferences also approved the changes.) Within a few years, people in the pews will respond to the greeting The Lord be with you with the phrase And with your spirit. Before receiving Communion they will say, Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.

The bishops’ vote is the latest in a decade-long series of decisions about liturgical translations. The saga of the texts prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is a byzantine one, but the current phase was set in motion by Liturgiam Authenticam, published in 2001 by the Congregation for Divine Worship. That document rejected the widely accepted notion of dynamic equivalency, translating documents with a feel for the local usage, in favor of literal word-for-word translations from the Latin. Some of the new translations may lend richness to the Mass. (The phrase under my roof recalls the centurion’s words to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, 8:8.) Most, however, inject archaic language into the liturgy.

The U.S. bishops approved the ICEL document with amendments. Consubstantial, for example, was removed from the Nicene Creed in favor of one in being. But the Congregation for Divine Worship reserves the right to reject the bishops’ amendments. Whatever the Vatican decides, the familiar words of the Mass will soon become less familiar.

Their Excellencies

George Washington is hot again. So are the rest of the heroes of the American Revolution traditionally known as the founding fathers.

This represents something of a change of fortune for men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, all subjects of popular and critically acclaimed biographies over the last several years. Not long ago these 18th-century civil servants were consigned to the category of dead white males, whose livesand prejudiceswere thought to have little educative value for us enlightened moderns. (What could Jefferson, a slave-owner after all, teach us?) And as the historian Joseph Ellis writes in His Excellency, his magnificent biography of George Washington, the study of our first president was viewed in most scholarly circles as either a taboo or an inappropriate subject.

The recent spate of superlative books by authors like Ellis, Edmund Morgan, David McCullough and Stacy Schiff reminds us that these lives still have much to teach us not only about intelligence, generosity and perseverance (and, in the case of Washington, physical courage) but also about the way history can be changed for the better by very imperfect individuals. Perhaps the most surprising facet of these new biographies is how venal were their subjects and how often they quarreled with one another. (Adams summed up Franklin as more an actor than a leader, mockingly praising him for his excellence in dramatic exhibitions.) Americans can be grateful that noble achievements do not require perfection of character.

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