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Shepherdstown group tries to heal the unseen wounds

June 29, 1999

They come every night now, in series of reports that would have been judged too graphic for TV's nightly news shows just a generation ago. The aftermath of what happened in Kosovo is presented for viewers' close inspection, with the camera sparing none of the gory details. Partially-decomposed bodies, some in pieces, some intact, are unearthed from mass graves as sobbing survivors clutch at each other, and tell reporters stories of the atrocities that preceded their loves ones' deaths.

We take note of this not to brand one side or the other as the conflict's only villain. Indeed, the Serbians who remain in Kosovo seem to be taking plenty of abuse from the returning ethnic Albanians. We note it because even as humankind prepares to link every place on earth via the Internet and nations collaborate on construction of the planet's first space station, the old hatreds still boil, sometimes just below the surface. That's why the search for what can defuse them must continue.

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What can Americans do to stop these terrible things? More than we think, because in addition to the military muscle the U.S. can provide, this country is already an example to the world, a promised land many would like to enter. It is up to this nation's citizens to work actively on ways to bridge ethnic and religious barriers, to become a good example to the rest of the world, with projects like that proposed earlier this month for Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Using an historic church building at the corner of Church and High streets, a group of ministers hopes to find ways to create more "ethnically diverse" congregations there. That expression may be a mouthful, but the truth is that because of traditions and families who attend the same church for generations, flocks tend to be divided along racial lines. And it's tough to talk about what ails this nation if everybody isn't at the same table.

Houses of worship have traditionally ministered to those with obvious physical needs, like the homeless and battered women. In Shepherdstown and elsewhere, there's a need for healing of another kind, so the hidden hates can finally be forgotten.

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