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Monday, September 27, 1999
I returned a few weeks ago from a visit with my wife, son and mother-in-law to Rev. Sun Myung Moon's New Hope Ranch in Jardim, Brazil, but hardly recognized it in Gabriella Gamini's frustrating, lazily researched article. [Moonies seek Eden in swamp, Sept 4]
How odd that Ms Gamini made time to interview several local skeptics, none of whom appear to have even visited New Hope, but apart from the farm manager did not bother to talk to even one of the hundreds of Unificationists, including myself and a couple of dozen Britons, who thought the effort and expense of a journey to this distant corner of the world was worthwhile.
Had she done so, she would have learned that almost all the visitors come for only a brief period (in my case just two weeks, but more usually forty days) to participate in the time-honored practice of the spiritual retreat. Far from being filled with hard manual labor, most of our days were taken up with prayer, scriptural study, and quiet meditation with other participants. Of course we played our part in the daily chores involved in running such a community, and I enjoyed working in the vegetable garden.
In her utter cynicism toward the Unification Church and apparently to Brazil itself, Gamini loses both her objectivity and credibility. So Rev. Moon has set up a school and invited local farmers to send their children for a decent education, has he? He must be trying to lure the parents. He's donated new ambulances to over 30 local towns? There he goes again! I'm surprised she didn't go on to reveal that the sick are whisked away to the ranch instead of the hospital, and never seen again. Would she similarly dismiss and denigrate such social development projects in other parts of Brazil by the Church of England, or the Catholic Church?
According to Gamini, the local Brazilians are poor, desperate and vulnerable peasants who would do anything for a dollar. This just doesn't fit with my experience. I was impressed by the dignity and warmth of the local people I met, and surprised to find that many of the cowboys carry cellular phones. Even her grim description of the local geography fails to inform readers of the Times that the Pantanal, far from being a useless wasteland is in fact the world's largest surviving wetlands, and an area of immense importance to ecologists and conservationists. Rev. Moon's plan to halt and even reverse the scandalous slash-and-burn policies of successive Brazilian governments is surely worthy of respect. But what of his more ambitious dreams for South America?
A Unificationist for the past twenty-three years, I would be the first to admit that the grandiose scale of his plans invite investigation and criticism. Indeed, many of my colleagues share those doubts, and wonder whether the investment could ever be worthwhile. For a man who is always characterized as interested mostly in money, he can show a maddening indifference to the bottom line. Nevertheless, I find Moon's vision of Eden as a real goal for the new millennium, rather than simply a distant lost paradise, to be more than quixotically appealing, and just maybe attainable. Who doesn't want a better world?
I was more fortunate than Ms Gamini in that during my stay in Brazil, I had the opportunity to meet Rev. Moon and ask him directly about his game plan for the continent. First, I took an eight-hour boat ride up the mighty Paraguay river, where alligators, toucans and other exotic wildlife screech in the jungle. I confess that scenes from Conrad's Heart of Darkness flitted through my mind until finally we arrived at the incredibly remote Hotel Americano - really nothing more than shacks on stilts - where Rev. and Mrs. Moon were on a fishing trip.
There, he told us that he was first attracted to the Pantanal precisely because of its remoteness and vast virgin territory. He went on to describe his dream of a natural sanctuary where people from all walks of life might come to renew their minds and spirits, completely away from the hassles of modern life. Something like a pilgrimage to Mecca, but for non-Muslims, I thought, as mosquitoes the size of small birds began to feast on me. A great place to visit, but not, for this Moonie at least, a place to live.
And of course, Moon's hope - and mine - for a better, more peaceful world is not limited to just one region, or even one country. Thus it was that after two enjoyable weeks, I left the tranquility of Jardim and came back to my office in New York. There, apart from a copy of the Times article, was the usual mountain of correspondence, email, and voice mail messages, most of them marked "urgent."
I am already missing Brazil.