I am neither a statistician nor a sociologist, but a simple glance at discussion board responses shows which topics draw in the liveliest conversations on the NCR website. John Allen gently alluded to this issue in his recent All Things Catholic column on the situation in Syria:
American Catholics currently wrapped up in whatever their pet peeve may be -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan's willingness to sit down with Obama at the Al Smith Dinner, for instance, or the new Mass translations, or the LCWR crackdown, or whatever -- may want to ponder that for a minute. However pressing those matters may be, they seem to pale in comparison, and perhaps we should spare a moment's thought for Syria.
I, too, have my pet peeves, and certain headlines guarantee that I will not only read the article, but will come back later to check out the ensuing conversations. NCR provides a wonderful service in allowing this kind of free and open conversation. But perhaps we need to ponder why international issues do not provoke the same kind of energetic discussion -- unless, of course, the topic is somehow related to one of our pet peeves.
In Allen's article, he quotes from a missionary sister's letter home to her family in Italy.
The other day people asked if it made any sense for me to continue this mission, given the situation. Afterwards I put the same question to God in my prayers, and He didn't make me wait long for an answer. Unexpectedly, a lady showed up crying, very worried, asking only to be listened to. Speaking the Arabic dialect of our neighborhood, she only wanted a little advice, a word of consolation, to feel her hand held for a while.
No, we cannot heal all the hurts or solve all the problems of the world. Sometimes all that we can offer is a listening ear, a listening heart and a desire to better understand the experience and reality lived by our sisters and brothers. Columnists like John Allen and N.J. Viehland in the Philippines provide us with a graced window into the world and into the global church, an opportunity to look beyond our own parochialism and pet peeves.