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Funeral for a brave editor

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You remember the tragic story about the murder of Chauncey Bailey, the editor of a weekly newspaper in Oakland, Calif., killed on Aug. 2 as he was walking to work. Police quickly made arrests following the slaying, which they think was related to a critical article Bailey was working on about an Oakland organization suspected of criminal activity.

But not as many people read about Bailey's funeral, and about the themes of love and hope delivered in his pastor's eulogy. I saw it in a story by Jacob Buckenmeyer, and that's where the Christopher message came in. Let me share it with you.

Chauncey Bailey was not only a parishioner of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Oakland; he and the pastor, Father Jay Matthews, were the best of friends. Both men happen to be African-American, and the Oakland Post which Bailey edited primarily serves Oakland's black community. At the funeral Mass on Aug. 8, Father Matthews emphasized that Bailey died trying to make not only that community, but all of Oakland, a better place to live.

Apparently it was quite a ceremony. The church normally seats about 400, but upwards of 700 people crowded inside that day. Hundreds more stood outside. The Association of Black Journalists sent a delegation, and some 80 members of Bailey's family, from all over the country, were on hand.

Everyone there heard quite a eulogy. It had special significance for those of us connected to the media, and even more so for anyone with a tie to The Christophers. A brief quotation from the story indicates how closely Father Matthews echoed the words of The Christophers' founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller:

"Father Matthews likened Bailey's death to a kind of martyrdom and said he hoped it would help young people to consider making a difference through the 'vocation of journalism.'" (When he founded The Christophers in 1945, Father Keller urged people to make a positive difference in the world by following careers in the fields that most influence culture and society - one of which was mass communications.)

Father Matthews said that Bailey's commitment to journalism was most of all a belief in what his community could accomplish if he provided them with meaningful information. He continued: "His legacy to this community is first that we must be committed to one another. He always went after the kind of information people could understand and appreciate. The love that he had for his faith and for his community certainly came out in the work that he did."

I think that while Father Keller - who, coincidentally, was a native of Oakland - would have been saddened at Bailey's senseless death, he also would have rejoiced that the editor spent his career trying to influence others to change the world for the better. As he wrote in his 1948 best-seller, You Can Change the World: "A positive, personal love of all, even of those who hate, is absolutely essential. Complaining and criticizing accomplish little or nothing. A Christopher spends his time improving, not disapproving, because he knows that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Chauncey Bailey spent his life in the finest Christopher tradition. May he rest in peace.

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Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers.

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For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Standing Up for Standards," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

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