Got news? Abbottabad priest holds breath

First let me note that, even as we justifiably debate some questions about the life, death and burial of Osama bin Laden, I am one of those guys who think that mainstream press coverage of the religious elements of this story has actually been quite solid -- in some cases pushing past the early answers from the White House and into unexplored territory. So, not perfect. Interesting. Solid. Better than expected. Journalistic?

With that in mind, let me move on to note an interesting report from a religious-news source that spotlights a potential source for news and commentary that the mainstream press often misses, during big, global news stories of this kind.

Flash back with me, if you will, about 20-plus years to the pre-Internet newsroom of the Rocky Mountain News (memory eternal). The editors had empowered some reporters and copy editors to start doing hard reporting on international news stories in an attempt to augment the wire copy. This was a trend in that era, even before the Web made it much easier to do that kind of work.

On several occasions I remember editors from the international news desk coming over to ask if I had any suggestions on how to make telephone contact with English-speaking people who were living in regions in which major news events were taking place. We're talking Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia, etc. The goal was to call a voice or two in these locales to discuss what was happening, especially if the people had ties to the Rocky Mountain West or organizations with ties in the region.

If never took me long to get them some names and some numbers. Why? Religious groups and organizations are all over the place and, well, blessed be the ties that bind. In some cases missionaries of case workers could not speak on the record, but they almost always had good tips for sources of info, other unique voices, photography, etc. Some of the Southern Baptists had even been training in basic newswriting skills by Baptist Press.

That leads me to this short news report from an independent Catholic news agency on Asia, drawing on information and commentary from a perfectly logical source in Abbattabad, Pakistan. The lede?

The small Catholic parish in this northern city says it has limited its activities after the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks killed by US special forces here.

“I couldn’t conduct pastoral visits to homes yesterday after security increased,” Father Akram Javed Gill told ucanews.com. ”A healing prayer service scheduled today and upcoming Church feasts were cancelled. Also the four policemen posted guard for the church have been put on high alert.”

The priest has been in charge of the Saint Peter Canisius Catholic church since 2007 in Abbotabbad, the gateway city to the northern mountainous region. ... Association of Churches of Hazara Division, a body of about five Churches including the Catholic Church, has called a meeting to formulate a future strategy in the area.

“It is crucial to maintain peace for the scattered minority communities in the area. We alter the venue at the last moment to avoid leaking the information about the gathering in a tense atmosphere,” said Father Javed.

So, on one level this is simply a story about human rights for minority faiths in Pakistan. Note, however, that this subject is already in the news due to a series of headline-making and, tragically, blood soaked events.

In other words, this is a real story that should be covered (if journalists are concerned about the safety and rights of religious minorities in Pakistan and elsewhere).

Oh, and what about the actual events linked to Osama?

The priest described the events as they unfolded during the raid.

“We never saw helicopters flying so low. Nobody knew what was going on and we thought it was a military exercise at first,” said the priest who also oversees the only Catholic school, St Peter’s, in the city. About 200 students, most of them Muslims, study there.

The priest faces difficulties in his work in Abbottabad, which is home to a large military establishment. He had to build higher walls to the church compound in 2009 after Muslims objected to the “open display” of the statue of Mary in a grotto in the grounds.

Go ahead. Read it. It's another logical source of information about a big story -- from the only Catholic source in Abbottabad.

Religion? It's everywhere.

PHOTO: Saint Peter Canisius Catholic Church, as seen at the "Our Beautiful Abbottabad" website.

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