Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 7, 2002
The ocean is but many drops of water
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Dominique Lapierre fills a room. Not only is he physically striking, but he has an amazing energy and enthusiasm. The Christophers met this Frenchman after the publication of his book, The City of Joy.
In it, Lapierre transformed a world of absolute poverty into a place of new life and new hope. He used the setting of Calcutta and the lives of its most disadvantaged people - and those like Mother Teresa, who worked to help them - to show how one individual from the world of the "haves" was transformed by the "have nots."
He also explained poverty can be far more than the absence of material goods; it can also be the lack of community experienced by many who know the privileges of abundance. The Christophers designated The City of Joy as a winner of one of our annual book awards.
That volume was one of several Lapierre has written or co-authored. Because his books have sold millions of copies in over 30 languages, he is a man of means who could simply relax and enjoy his home in Paris. Yet, he finds himself returning often to India.
Recently, he visited us on our Christopher Closeup television program as part of its 50th anniversary season to tell us about his latest book, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.
What and where is Bhopal? Sadly, many have probably forgotten. This beautiful city, located in the centre of the nation, is the home of several million people. The multinational corporation Union Carbide chose Bhopal as the site of a factory to produce an important pesticide. The intention was good since the chemical had the ability to eradicate many insects that destroy vital Indian crops.
At first, the factory was seen as a huge blessing. But on Dec. 3, 1984, at five past midnight, something dreadful happened. A leak in a factory pipeline released deadly gas into the air and winds quickly carried it to the streets and homes of the city.
Between 5,000 and 8,000 were estimated to have been killed in the first three days. Many more were blinded or had their lungs destroyed. Of the approximately half a million people who were affected by the poison gas that night, between 16,000 and 30,000 died from their terrible injuries in the succeeding months and years.
As a respected journalist, Dominique Lapierre was invited to assess this tragedy. His study of Bhopal, and the limited and insufficient response of the world community to this industrial calamity profoundly affected him and his wife.
Yet, the author believes many tragedies can be prevented or, at least, alleviated. For example, his years in India alerted him to the dangers of tuberculosis and leprosy. While both conditions are curable, it takes people who care and are able to command the necessary resources to help sick people recover.
Dominique Lapierre came to realize he himself could save lives. So he uses his book royalties to create and sustain clinics that help eradicate TB and leprosy, as well as a new gynecological clinic in Bhopal.
When he is inclined to dismiss his charitable endeavour by seeing it as "just one drop of water" in a vast desert of human need and suffering, he thinks about his friend Mother Teresa, who chided him, "But Dominique, what is the ocean but a collection of many such drops of water?"
Lapierre's visit was really a seminar in Christopher values. He is just one person, but if he hadn't accomplished the good he has, many would be the poorer for it.
The same can be said of us. And in joining our caring with the compassion of others, we can be a light that transforms a needful world.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.