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April 3, 1999
Column #918


     In this, the holiest week of the Christian year, news is surprisingly good and peaceful in the United States. However, news around the world is increasingly horrific, such as the Serbian atrocities in Kosovo and the catastrophe in Sudan where 1.9 million have died.

     This week the Dow Jones average closed over 10,000 for the first time.  Unemployment and inflation are near historic lows. The economy is so strong, the financial solvency of Medicare is expected to last 16 years, seven years longer than predicted only a year ago.

     For the first time in 25 years, the number of American divorces has fallen below 1 million, dropping from 1,153,000 in 1997 to only 974,000 in 1998.  This is a stunning development. One has to go back to 1974 when there were 977,000 divorces to see a comparable number. As far back as 1979 there were 1,179,000 divorces, and they remained at that stratospheric level for two decades. However, in 1998 alone, they dropped by 15 percent.

     ''Wow!'' said Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation. ''That calls for a celebration.''

     He noted other areas of progress: ''Teen virginity, abstinence, and abortions all going in the right direction.''  For the first time in 20 years, the majority of high school kids are virgins, thanks to the Southern Baptist ''True Love Waits'' campaign in which 2.5 million teenagers have pledged to remain chaste till marriage.

     Nationally, abortions are down from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.3 million.

     This progress is not without its dark side.

     The number of marriages fell from 2.219,000 in 1997 to only 2,072,000  in 1998, to 8.5 per 1,000 people, the lowest rate in this century! The reason is that cohabitation has soared 10-fold, shooting up from 430,000 in 1960, to 4.3 million in 1998. That's double the number who are getting married!  In fact, cohabitation has diverted 25 million Americans from getting married at all. The number of never-married jumped from 21 million in 1970 to 46 million in 1998.

      Of course, if there are fewer marriages, there will be fewer divorces. But I would have expected a gradual decline, not the abrupt, unprecedented drop of 179,000 last year alone.  That is an indication that the divorce climate is being transformed. Marriage is becoming more esteemed. The increase of chastity by the young and 300,000 fewer abortions is further evidence.

     Thus, there is a resurrection of Christian ethics in American daily life. This is good news indeed on the eve of Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

     Without that event, Jesus would be unknown today.   ''Although we reckon the turning of time from B.C. to A.D. at the birth of Jesus, the real revolution occurred when Jesus rose from the dead,'' said Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in his Easter Message.

     ''In fact, the resurrection of Jesus changed time forever. Time no longer hold humanity captive, locking us into a few decades of existence. Time has been pushed aside and now swings open to reveal an eternity beyond. This is a new world we live in, full of endless hope and promise.''

     I doubt that any of the half million displaced Muslims of Kosovo would agree.  And who were their persecutors, the people who separated the men from women and children, killing many men, torching the homes and driving survivors into exile?  So called ''Christian'' Serbs.  It made my stomach turn to see on TV the generals leading the ethnic slaughter, pulling out crosses from their army shirts, and kissing Orthodox priests..

     I spoke last night with Kevin Cook, acting director of World Vision's relief effort in Macedonia. In Kosovo, World Vision had helped 75,000 refugees with blankets, heating stoves and even repair of their war-damaged homes.  Today they are probably torched, and World Vision was forced to leave.

     ''The refugee situation is growing exponentially,'' said Cook. ''There are now a few thousand an hour coming over the border, as opposed to a few dozen an hour, days ago. There is a line of cars 15 kilometers long, trying to get out. No one is really prepared for this.  It has happened so fast.

     ''These people are seriously traumatized.  They have lost their homes and businesses, burned to the ground, and are coming with just the clothes on their back. Their needs are extensive.'' To contribute to World Vision's relief efforts, call 888 511-6423.

     Catholic Relief is the lead agency in Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia. Call 800 736-3467. American Jewish World Service, 800 889-7146.

     Take some of the peace and joy in your life, and help those in need.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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