What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

In the aftermath of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, there are two stories unfolding in France and, to a lesser degree, the rest of postmodern and post-Christian Europe. Let me stress that both stories are valid and deserve coverage.

One story is about the crime itself and the investigation into how it happened. At the heart of this story is the official dilemma facing the powers that be in government, which is how to stop as many terrorist acts as possible before they happen. The symbolic detail: One of the attackers -- 19-year-old Adel Kermiche -- was a known ISIS ally who was already wearing a monitoring device around his ankle.

The other story, of course, is a religion story. It is about an attack on a Catholic parish -- St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, a connection I have only seen mentioned in the Catholic press. At the heart of this story is the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel, who -- during Mass -- was forced to kneel at the church altar, where the attackers slit his throat. The terrorists critically injured one nun and tried to use other nuns as human shields, before police were able to kill the attackers.

The symbolic details in this story? If you want more on that, may I suggest following two hashtags on Twitter. The first is #IAmJacquesHamel, an obvious homage to the #IAmCharlieHebdo campaign after terrorists attacked the Paris staff of the famous satire magazine. The second hashtag is #santosubito. We will come back to that.

Which of these two stories are you seeing, when you open your local newspaper or click to the 24/7 news channels on your digital screens? I would argue that you should be seeing both. Are you?

It is likely that you are seeing language similar to this, care -- once again -- of The New York Times:

France is officially secular but Catholicism is deeply embedded in the country’s culture. That has made the shock and symbolism of the killing of the Rev. Jacques Hamel all the greater.

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Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

There's an assumption circulating among some in the news media, some American Jews, both on the right and left, and among political-geeks in general that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is favored by Israelis over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The assumption is rooted in the belief that Trump -- based on his rhetoric (but ignoring his many contradictions) -- will be a more full-throated supporter of Israel than Clinton will be, and so of course Israelis back him over her.

How could they not? The United States is Israeli's most important international protector, so of course Israelis must want the toughest talking candidate.

As a #NeverTrump guy, I think this belief is very wrong. But this post isn't about who Israelis SHOULD support for president of the United States, but who they DO support. (Unless I state otherwise, when I refer to Israelis I'm referring in the main to Jewish Israelis. Israeli Arabs, or Israeli Palestinians, as many prefer to be called, have their own complicated political equations, be they Christian or Muslim.)

So who do Israelis prefer?

Here's a link from May to a Jerusalem Post story reporting on a survey that shows an Israeli preference for Clinton. Note that non-Jewish Israelis are included in this survey. And here's a CNBC analysis, also from May, that puts some meat on the bare-bones Post news report. 

Two salient CNBC paragraphs follow:

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Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.

The Associated Press reports that -- Dun-dun-DUNN! -- Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.

I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.

AP learned this terrible truth as a missionary of the Metropolitan Community Church was arrested, then ordered out of Russia. Try to get through this without fainting:

MOSCOW — Jim Mulcahy was sitting with some Russian friends, munching cookies and talking about Roman mosaics, when the Russian police came and took him away, claiming he was planning to perform a same-sex marriage. Hours later, the American pastor was ordered to leave Russia.
Mulcahy’s arrest this month in the city of Samara braids together several of Russia’s most acrimonious issues: gay rights, alleged Western meddling in Russian affairs, and missionary work by religions that don’t have state approval. It attracted particular attention because the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.

As the Eastern Europe coordinator for the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches, Mulcahy said he was visiting Samara, Russia, at the invitation of a gay rights group called Avers. He says it was a mere Q&A session at their offices, but the Russian station NTV said he was "performing unspecified ceremonies for homosexuals," AP says. 

The station also said he had "converted to Orthodox Christianity," which he denies. That should have been easy to verify or falsify, just by checking with the Russian Orthodox Church, no?

But no, AP is more interested in milking this story for drama, whether the drama is there or not:

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Ghost of Darryl Strawberry: Impossible-to-miss (or not) explanation for a star's return to glory

Ghost of Darryl Strawberry: Impossible-to-miss (or not) explanation for a star's return to glory

From time to time, we at GetReligion reference our "guilt folders."

These imaginary folders are where we stuff all those stories that we'd love to analyze but — for whatever reason — never seem to get around to.

I may set a new record for longest wait to highlight a story with this post as I call attention to one published on July 12, 2013. For those not good at math, that's more than three years ago. I called "dibs" at that time. But something else came along because I never wrote about it.

So why do I mention it now? Because of a new story on the same subject matter that I just came across.

This one is a recent Los Angeles Times interview with former major-league baseball star Darryl Strawberry on his rise and fall — and his rise again:

If Darryl Strawberry didn't exist, a screenwriter would need to invent him.
Enduring a hardscrabble childhood in South Los Angeles with an absentee alcoholic father, Strawberry found escape — and greatness — on the baseball field, thanks to a slinky swing that could quickly dispatch balls to the far side of outfield walls.
Strawberry arrived in New York as a teenage sensation in the early 1980s with a shiny future. He would go on win a rookie-of-the-year award and then, in 1986, help lead the hometown Mets to a World Series title.
That high was soon followed by a series of lows that included a long battle with drugs and alcohol addiction, jail time, an arrest on suspicion of domestic battery and multiple cancer diagnoses. Strawberry was one of the purest talents the game has ever seen. He was also one of its most tabloid-prone.
In recent years, Strawberry has rebounded, finding sobriety a‎nd a stable marriage. He's even started a Christian mission devoted to others' recovery.

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The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.
Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.
Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night.

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Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Tear your eyes away from the White House campaign for a moment and consider the coming 50 years in an officially atheistic land with the world’s biggest population.

The surprising question at the top of this post is the headline of a July 14 piece for The Week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a France-based fellow of America’s conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Simultaneously we get the same point from prominent human rights activist Yu Jie, a 2003 convert to Christianity now living in exile near Washington, D.C. Writing in First Things, he contends that “neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism,” nor democracy, nor capitalism, will determine what happens to his homeland. “Christianity is China’s future.”

If that’s possibly so, such a cultural earthquake demands substantive journalism.  Why would Yu or Gobry think such a thing?

First, Yu says, Christianity is “the largest force in China outside the Communist Party.” Probably true, because Communism stamped out normal institutions of civil society.

Second, Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang estimates China’s Christians number 60 million plus.  (Believers often offer higher numbers.) Several million more convert each year, among them a notable number of urban intellectuals. He figures if this growth rate persists by 2030, the mainland’s 200 million would be the largest Christian population in any nation, surpassing the U.S.

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Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

A 14-year-old boy who was standing on a sidewalk in south Denver as a car careened in his direction is dead. Denver media have been full of news about this tragedy, as it involved a soon-to-be-eighth grader who got mowed down by an 81-year-old driver who clearly did not need to be at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The tragedy, which happened on July 13, involved a woman with some standing in the community -- since she had been in a hit-and-run a few months before. Not only are locals discussing the boy’s untimely death, but they’re also asking when it’s time to get many elderly drivers off the road. 

His funeral was Saturday. Now, this wasn’t just any funeral. It was a Mass for a 14-year-old that lots of people attended. With all the local interest in this story, you’d hope the Denver Post would send someone to cover the funeral who  has a clue about religion reporting. Alas, that's not what happened with this story. It starts OK:

On the day that relatives left the hospital for the last time after 14-year-old Cole Sukle died, the sky opened up and family members were suddenly pelted by lots and lots of white pellets. It was hail, said Sherri Potter, the boy’s aunt.
But the turbulent weather made Potter smile, remembering floors littered with white pellets after Cole would play with family using air-soft guns that shot soft, white pellets. It was one of Cole’s favorite games, she said.
“I thought later that maybe my playful dad and my nephew Donnie who went to heaven ahead of Cole were welcoming him, with a crazy game of air-soft,” Potter said. “I’m going to always think of Cole and smile every time I see a hail.”
Cole died after he and his friend got hit by a car as they stood along Yale Way in southeast Denver.

But when we get to the service, problems arise.

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Path to sainthood: Slain Oklahoman could be first U.S.-born priest beatified, paper reports

Path to sainthood: Slain Oklahoman could be first U.S.-born priest beatified, paper reports

Sometimes, old news is worth reporting again.

Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's daily newspaper where I worked for nine years. She had a nice story Sunday on Oklahomans traveling to Guatemala to mark the 35th anniversary of a slain priest's death.

Thirty-five years, huh!?

So why is this front-page news all these years later?

I'm not privy to The Oklahoman's news meetings, where editors decide what stories to give the most prominent play, but here's my guess: This is a case that many Oklahomans — particularly the state's religious community — have followed for a long time. The editors know that the story of the upcoming pilgrimage will appeal to those readers.

As for those unfamiliar with the Rev. Stanley Rother's death, Hinton shares the history and the path that has led to this week's anniversary commemoration in an extremely compelling way. It's just an interesting weekend read for those with coffee in one hand and the thick Sunday paper in the other:

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Priest murdered by terrorists during Mass: Yes, hellish details matter in this story (updated)

Priest murdered by terrorists during Mass: Yes, hellish details matter in this story (updated)

So an elderly Catholic priest was killed by terrorists in France. These basic facts are at the heart of the latest horror story from the very tense continent of Europe.

As you would imagine, a story of this kind will almost certainly include a number of poignant details that, for those with the eyes to see, are loaded with symbolism.

How many of the details should journalists include? To what degree are the religious details relevant and where should they be placed in a mainstream news report?

As you would expect, the religious details were highly relevant to a "conservative" publication on the other side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, they were not as important to editors at America's most elite mainstream publication. Perhaps religion is viewed as "tabloid" material?

For example, let's look at the top six short, punchy paragraphs at the top of the story in The Daily Mail:

An 86-year-old priest has been 'beheaded' by two ISIS knifemen who cut his throat after bursting into a French church and taking nuns and worshippers hostage before being shot dead by police.
Five people including the priest, two nuns and two parishioners were held by assailants who raided the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy at 9 am.
The clergyman, named as Jacques Hamel, is believed to have been beheaded during the attack while another hostage is fighting for life in hospital.

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