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Triumph From Tragedy

Referring to the string of suspicious fires at predominantly black churches across the South, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel said, "There should be an outburst of outrage that should silence these people."

So far, the perpetrators haven't been silenced. Earlier this week, an abandoned union hall in Shreveport, La., which was being renovated to house a black congregation, was heavily damaged in what investigators believe was an intentionally set blaze.

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There has, however, been "an outburst of outrage" on the part of the government, churches, and the public. While the president and Congress have devoted numerous resources to stopping the church burnings, there also have been concrete offers of help from others. Consider:

*The National Council of Churches, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, pooling their fund-raising, have pledged $4 million to help rebuild the burned churches. Contributions have been strong.

*The white Christian Coalition plans to take up a special collection July 14 to raise $1 million to help rebuild the mostly black churches that have been targeted. In announcing its efforts, the group's leader, Ralph Reed, said "the white evangelical church was not only on the sidelines but on the wrong side" of the civil rights movement.

*Seven leading philanthropic groups teamed up to pledge $2.5 million to rebuild the burned churches.

*Parishioners of burned churches will be getting pre-fab replacements and Steinway pianos courtesy of millions of dollars in anonymous donations and AmeriCares, a charity known for disaster relief.

*Prevention efforts are now under way, including volunteer church-sittings, new locks and lights on the buildings, and more-frequent police patrols. Private companies have stepped up with offers of help.

These efforts, alone, won't solve the problems of racism, religious intolerance, juvenile delinquency, or alcohol and drug abuse - the varied causes of the church burnings. But when the country comes together to condemn these acts it is a crucial first step. As Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick said, "that may be the triumph that comes from this tragedy."

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