I suppose Holy Saturday was as good a time as any for federal troops to invade a Miami home and take a 6-year-old boy from his hiding place in a closet.

Maundy Thursday might have satisfied those who view Elian Gonzalez as a religious icon. Then Good Friday could have produced photos of the boy "dying" in the embrace of his father.

But a Thursday evening slot parallel to the arrest of Jesus would have encountered the media circus on full prime-time alert. No amount of sensitivity training--"Keep your finger off the trigger!"--would have averted a public relations disaster. So Saturday was fine.

Good Friday would have satisfied those who view the Elian story as a sham, like the mock trial of Jesus: grownups chasing personal agendas by tormenting a third party. Instead of the religious and political establishments of Jerusalem finding common cause in killing Jesus, we had two branches of a Cuban family acting out their four-decades-old feud by violating the life of a child--each side claiming virtue, of course.

Think of the high-tech edge of a Good Friday sweep by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, that heavy-handed band who regularly sweep entire neighborhoods looking for undocumented lawn workers and maids.

A daytime raid would have shown off the troops' training and weaponry, made them the envy of police forces everywhere, perhaps helped in recruiting, too. Daytime photos of urban-combat gear would have been a delight to those resisting gun control--"Do you want people like this invading your house? Be armed!"

As it was, the wild-eyed INS trooper storming a closet merely looked over-dressed for the occasion. And the gun lobby is forced to explain away a shootout at the Washington National Zoo.

The rapid-fire camera wielded by a photographer named Alan Diaz went far beyond the clumsy Shroud of Turin in providing an account. But a video recording--think of it--a video recording of the seizure would have played on every news program for weeks. What a lost opportunity.

Being forced to compare still photographs--"Where is the missing tooth?"--was so 20th century, like the doctored photo of Chairman Mao swimming in the Yangtze River.

But Friday would have been a day too soon. Preachers would have been forced to abandon their safe Easter sermons and wade into a modern-day morality drama--or expose this episode as media-driven madness whose enormous expense would have been better spent providing food and shelter for millions of desperate children caught outside the limelight.

As it was, a Saturday raid came too late for serious sermon revision. Easter could proceed unencumbered.

It is an election year, of course, so any day was fine for giving politicians an opportunity to call for hearings into something they don't begin to understand. Besides, if Attorney General Janet Reno is being interviewed about Elian, she'll be too busy to answer questions about the Justice Department's unrelenting assault on Microsoft Corp., a government vendetta that is driving NASDAQ to its knees and accomplishing nothing that the marketplace wasn't already doing more efficiently.

I do like Easter Week as a time for grappling with the aftermath of Saturday's pre-dawn raid. The original was a time of bewilderment, as hazy stories spread among confused men and women and left them wondering what had just happened.

Now we, too, can wonder, What just happened? Did the massive weight of the United States government just dance on the head of a pin? If we thought Waco and Ruby Ridge were small occasions for such thunderous force, what about a single child? Does it get any smaller than that?

I do appreciate the cartoonist who drew two figures: one was media darling Elian, yet another unwitting victim of grownups' inability to deal directly with their own issues; the other was a child in Ethiopia, still able to stand as children around him sprawled in death.

Long after American media have moved on and the INS has trained its sights on Mexicans hiding in, say, your neighborhood, that African child will have died, another victim of hatred. No one will stand vigil for him. Only God will hear him die.

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