May 1996

For Whom There Is No Room: Scenes from the Refugee World.  By Eileen Egan. Paulist. 375 pages. $19.95.

Refugees — the war in Bosnia once again brought their images to our television screens. Thousands thronged dusty roads with meager belongings on their shoulders, dragging or carrying skeletal children, fleeing one or another advancing army. Perhaps three million were displaced by the war. They were easy marks for slave labor, rape, beatings, robberies. The wars and political upheavals of this century have displaced hundreds of millions. Most of us know them as the huddled masses on the news.

Eileen Egan knows otherwise, and we can be grateful to her for sharing what she knows in this book. She knows not just crowds of refugees, but frail Wladka, eight years old, who after fleeing Poland found refuge in Mexico. Egan knows Antanas Samson, the wizened Lithuanian sailor with oversized feet, who found his haven in Spain.

Egan, it seems, sees Jesus Christ in each displaced person she has met in camps and detention centers through her 50-odd years of work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). For Whom There Is No Room tells the story of those years by telling the tragedies, comedies, and victories of individual refugees. A true journalist, Egan most often gives us their stories in the protagonists’ own words.

Many were chased away from home or set adrift for reasons of race, religion, class, education. Throughout the book she refers to them as a “cloud of witnesses” to human cruelty that would otherwise go untold for reasons of diplomacy, national security, or lack of media interest.

She took careful notes of their testimonies. Sometimes decades went by before she would fully understand the evidence. Egan and her companions at CRS often had to comply with the official silence, so as not to jeopardize their own work with the refugees. She observes: “Truth…is always the first casualty of war.”

Dignity is another casualty. The refugees know no privacy. They travel in rags. They must leave their dead parents or children in train stations. Scurvy scars and lice are among their distinguishing marks. They may go weeks or months without washing. When they arrive at a CRS camp, Egan shows, they find “a place of happy healing.” She offers a delightful scene of Polish refugee children who, after having gone months without a hot bath, find themselves bused to a Mexican hot spring for recreation. Arriving as a weary, sullen group, within minutes they recover a childhood that seemed lost. They frolic in the water, and that scene is worth the price of the book.

The refugees’ tales are thrillers, full of near escapes, border chases, feigned death, disguises, and falsified papers. But just as thrilling — surprisingly — are Egan’s tales of the “moral adventure” of the agencies who serve the refugees, who show “the reality of mercy, as love responding to need.”

When international diplomacy is involved — inevitable as people are fleeing one country for another — these works of mercy might involve carefully planned news leaks, sifting through propaganda or misinformation campaigns, or even political bullying (using Chicago’s Polish vote to protect Polish refugees). The moral adventure involves thrillers in the halls of legislatures and international bodies, as treaties and conventions are negotiated and voted upon. Such pieces of paper mean life or death to refugees. Egan speaks repeatedly of the tragedy of the 1945 Yalta Conference, and its “fateful consequences for large groups of displaced human beings.” Among the few gruesome passages in the book are those describing, quite vividly, the suicides of many who preferred death to Soviet domination.

For Whom There Is No Room is a gentle, but insistent plea for peace. Perhaps Egan hopes that fewer of us will be willing to fight wars if we see what it does to children and families — and to Christ.

When Pope John Paul II visited the U.S. in the fall of 1995, Egan presented him with a leather-bound copy of her book. A story that was making the rounds tells of how the Pope’s assistants, while packing away his many gifts, could not find Egan’s book — till someone mentioned that the Holy Father was keeping that volume with him. Since at least half of Egan’s refugees are from wartime Poland, maybe he was looking for a familiar name. Or a familiar face.

- Mike Aquilina



Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection.  By Stephen T. Davis. Eerdmans. 209 pages. $16.99.

The title of this book does not exactly indicate its nature. One might expect from it a structured defense of the resurrection of Jesus, proceeding from initial assumptions in a sequence of argument to the conclusion. Instead, as Davis modestly explains, there is a “somewhat scattered” selection of topics that have interested him concerning both the resurrection of Jesus and the general resurrection.

A happy surprise about the book is that Davis, a professor of philosophy, avoids philosophical jargon and writes clear sentences.

He begins by examining the arguments of David Hume and later objectors to the bodily resurrection as an impossible miracle in a totally orderly world. Pointing out both the weaknesses and the strengths of these arguments, he comes to the conclusion that firm logical cases can be made both for and against the resurrection. How so? By working out of either a naturalistic world-view which sees the material universe as ultimate reality or a supernaturalistic world-view which sees God as ultimate reality. Arguing from the naturalistic world-view, one can construct a powerful case against, but arguing from the supernaturalistic world-view, one can construct an equally powerful case for the resurrection. This is the underlying thesis of the book.

Davis argues, against a “spiritual resurrection,” for the corporeal resurrection of Jesus, but with a transformed body. Davis finds proponents of a “spiritual” resurrection vague in their explanation of just what such a resurrection might be.

Turning to the general resurrection, Davis explains his belief in “temporary disembodiment,” in which the dead, though incomplete persons because they lack physical bodies, nevertheless persist as individuals who will at the general resurrection be reunited with their former bodies now transformed, like that of Jesus.

Davis rejects the notion of universal salvation, setting up for that belief the strongest case he can and then refuting it.

Returning to the resurrection of Jesus at the end of the book, he resists the argument that the actuality of the resurrection is of little importance and that what is of importance is faith in some sort of resurrection life here and now: If the resurrection is not a fact, then resurrection notions are of no importance, indeed are myths that can at will be replaced by others.

The clarity and well-reasoned approach of this book should make it inviting, even to unbelievers.

- Lauren A. King





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