Latin America

In gripping 13 stories, Crux charts sweeping worldwide persecution of Christians

In gripping 13 stories, Crux charts sweeping worldwide persecution of Christians

For several months now, Crux, the Sunday religion magazine published by the Boston Globe, has been putting out a series of well-researched pieces from all over the world on the new Christian martyrs mostly written by John L. Allen. There have been 13 stories posted to date, many of them in the final days of December.

One of the most interesting stories was on the new martyrs of Latin America.

When one thinks of that continent, thoughts of fast-growing Pentecostal churches or the homeland of the current pope spring to mind. What most of us don’t think of are the folks in El Salvador and Colombia who are caught in the middle of the wars between left-wing and right-wing death squads. The carnage is enormous and tragedy is that the deaths are so common, few journalists report on them any more.

What’s sad is how rare these stories are. Not since Mark O’Keefe’s five-part series on Christian persecution worldwide that ran in 1998 in the Oregonian has there been anything like it. I also noted Crux's series this past spring, so this is a quick check-in to see how their coverage has progressed. Click here to see tmatt's original post at the start of the series.

Here’s how one article starts:

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador/BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- When two Colombian women, a mother and a grandmother, were shot to death within a month of one another in early 2013, there was tragically little on the surface to make their deaths remarkable. They became merely the latest casualties of a decades-long civil war that’s left 220,000 people dead.

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Syrian refugees, redux: This time, AP remembers to ask religious leaders

Syrian refugees, redux: This time, AP remembers to ask religious leaders

Last week I criticized the Associated Press for writing about Syrian Christian refugees without talking to any Christians. (Thinking back, I don’t think they talked to Syrians either.) Well, AP finally got around to asking not only Christians but those of a range of faiths. And they did a beautiful job. Especially compared to some stories I could mention.

The background, of course, is the public anxiety over President Barack Obama's plans to bring in 10,000 or more refugees from the Syrian civil war over the next year. In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, and reports that cells of terrorists are dotted all over Europe, many Americans worry that some of the killers may enter the country posing as refugees.

This is a story on which religious groups have clear viewpoints, and Godbeat pro Rachel Zoll of AP rounds up those perspectives. She samples views of Protestants, Catholics, Jews and even an American Muslim group. Her thorough report shows a remarkable consensus among them.

The top of the story could hardly be better:

In rare agreement across faith and ideological lines, leaders of major American religious groups have condemned proposed bans on Syrian refugees, contending a legitimate debate over security has been overtaken by irrational fear and prejudice.
Top organizations representing evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East.

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AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

Every now and then, I run into what appears to be a piece of GetReligion writing, only it isn't here at GetReligion.

It's no surprise when you see this from former GetReligionistas such as the Rev. George Conger, M.Z. Hemingway or Mark Kellner. But what about this piece -- "AFP on 3-Woman Marriage: Using News for Propaganda" -- by one Tom Hoopes at the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, Kansas?

Truth be told, this is a basic paragraph-by-paragraph story dissection, as practiced here on many occasions by Hemingway or, long ago, by the blog's co-founder, Doug LeBlanc (whose name remains in our contributors list because I refuse to remove it, since he's still out there helping behind the scenes).

As it turns out, Hoopes spent a decade as executive editor of The National Catholic Register and had some experience as a mainstream journalist and political press secretary, as well.

So what is he up to in this blog item? Let's look at a few pieces of this:

Fisking is a now-rarer art from the early days of blogging, kept nobly alive as by Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose blog ... helps us see what everything really says.
But when I read a story from Agence-France Presse news agency about the debut of court-sanctioned polyamory, I couldn’t resist using the “Zisking” style of emphasis and added comments. ...
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) -- Three’s a crowd? Not in Brazil, where three women have defied deeply conservative trends in Congress and wider traditional mores by celebrating a polyamorous civil union. [Not long ago, President Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage. Now, suddenly, you need to be in the grip of “deeply conservative trends” to be against multiple spouses?]

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For Day of the Dead, mainstream media coverage is moribund

For Day of the Dead, mainstream media coverage is moribund

Folk holidays like the Day of the Dead make a good litmus test for mainstream media attitudes toward religion. A few reports interview adherents and research the spirituality behind the practices.  But most just seem to want to snap photos of the natives.

The two-day event, Nov. 1 and 2, is especially popular in Haiti and Mexico. It's a blend of Catholic and indigenous religion, either praying for the dead or asking the blessings of deities who care for them. 

That's one way to look at it. But for folks at the the Associated Press, these days, it's all about weird people and weird customs:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Revelers streamed into cemeteries across Haiti on Sunday bearing beeswax candles, food offerings and bottles of rum infused with hot peppers to mark the country's annual Voodoo festival of the dead.
At Port-au-Prince's sprawling national cemetery, Voodoo priests and priestesses gathered around a blackened monument that is believed to be the oldest grave. There, they lit candles and stoked small fires as they evoked the spirit Baron Samedi, the guardian of the dead who is typically depicted with a dark top hat and a white skull face.

Most of the story is pretty much in the same vein: Oooo, lookit that (click, click)! And that that (click, click)! 

Unfortunately, most of the "coverage" takes the form of images in "Photos of the Day" galleries. Even in far-off Australia, that nation's ABC News has a brief story with references to "sugar skulls, marigold flowers and other spirit offerings."

Not that AP's piece was a triumph of perceptiveness.

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Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

The pope has come. The pope has gone. Now it is time for mainstream journalists to tell us what it all meant, to show readers the big picture and to reveal larger truths about what Pope Francis said and, maybe, even about what he should have said.

There's more to this process than news, of course.

About a decade ago, New York Times editor Bill Keller -- yes, the man who soon after his retirement offered the "Kellerism" doctrines -- told an audience of young journalists that his newspaper had changed its credo. He told them: "We long ago moved from 'All the News That's Fit to Print,' to 'All the News You Need to Know, and What It Means.' "

The theologians at the great Gray Lady got started even before the pope was gone, offering a "thumbsucker" analysis piece on Sunday A1 (even thought it was not labeled "analysis") that said the "pastoral" tone used by Pope Francis was a loss for conservatives, who wanted him to defend doctrine. The Times team did note that the pope offered no comments that supported the doctrinal left, either. Thus, the bottom line: Compassion is the opposite of doctrinal orthodoxy. Click here for my earlier post on that.

The thumb-sucking process continued in American papers yesterday. The Times weighed in, once again, with a piece stressing that the pope showed a "deft touch" when handling issues in American politics (since we all know that politics are what ultimately matter):

... Mostly Francis demonstrated a nuanced political dexterity, effectively sidestepping the familiar framework of American debate while charting his own broader path. He advocated “life” but emphasized opposition to the death penalty, not abortion. He made strong stands for religious freedom -- a major issue for American bishops -- but refocused the concept on interfaith tolerance and harmony.

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Doctrine vs. politics: Think pieces to ponder during this week of Pope Francis

Doctrine vs. politics: Think pieces to ponder during this week of Pope Francis

Every now and then, normally on weekends, your GetReligionistas point readers toward what we call "think pieces" -- editorial features (as opposed to hard news) about topics that are directly linked to religion news and/or the mainstream press coverage of religion news.

As you would imagine, there has been a ton of this kind of writing this week with the pope visiting the media-rich Acela zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City. 

Pope Francis set the agenda for this in that off-the-cuff Shepherd One chat with reporters in which he tried to explain, well, as the headline from Time stated -- "Pope Francis: I Am Not a Liberal." The top of that essay added:

As Pope Francis flew to the United States for the first time, the pontiff assured journalists on the flight that he is not a liberal. Asked to comment on the many media outlets who are asking if the Pope is liberal, the Pope seemed bemused and decisive.
“Some people might say some things sounded slightly more left-ish, but that would be a mistake of interpretation,” he said before landing in the U.S. ... “If you want me to pray the creed, I’m willing to do it.”
He underscored the point: “It is I who follows the church … my doctrine on all this … on economic imperialism, is that of the social doctrine of the church.”

Did you see what happened there? Hint: It's pretty much whatever happens when a pope delivers a major address in a setting that journalists consider newsworthy, only this time the process was in reverse.

The journalists, thinking politics (the ultimate reality in the real world), asked the pope why "media outlets" think he is a liberal and the pope, starting with a remark about praying the creed, responded in terms of doctrine.

The key phrase is "my doctrine on all of this."

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New York Times writes evocative feature on who will meet Pope Francis in America

New York Times writes evocative feature on who will meet Pope Francis in America

When Pope Francis visits the United States next week, he will visit not only the high and mighty but the low and humble. Other mainstream media have often made that point. The New York Times proves it in its advance feature that ran yesterday -- with old-school enterprise reporting.

Fast-reading despite its nearly 1,600 words, the Times story offers both an overview and specifics. And it weaves them into prose that can be sweeping without getting flowery:

A papal visit is always an occasion of high ceremony and high-level politics. When Francis comes to the East Coast next week, he will, like his predecessors, visit the president and address the United Nations. He will pray with bishops. He will celebrate Mass before enormous crowds.
But to an unparalleled degree, this pope is making a point of spending time with people on the bottom rungs of American society: day laborers, refugees, the homeless, underprivileged schoolchildren and prisoners.
Like no pope before him, Francis is using the grand stage of his trip to the United States to demonstrate that the church exists to serve the poor and marginalized, and that this is the responsibility of all Catholics — whether pontiff or parishioner.

Many such articles would continue pretty much that same tone throughout -- that know-it-all, omniscient tone about this "people's pope." The Times doesn't; in this story, it fans out and talks to some of the 900 people who expect to meet the pope.

And it doesn't just say that Francis will visit inmates, for instance. It gives specifics on the offenses -- that Amanda Cortes, the subject of the lede, "worked for years as a phone-sex operator" and has been "awaiting trial in Philadelphia on charges that she brutally murdered her infant son." The article also doesn't just say that Francis will meet a refugee from Central America. It says the refugee "fled Honduras alone at age 14 and made his way through Guatemala and Mexico dodging armed gangs and riding atop freight trains."

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NYT advance on Pope Francis visit spins religion as economics

NYT advance on Pope Francis visit spins religion as economics

It's almost become a slogan for Terry Mattingly that one of the "deadly sins" of mainstream media is to reduce all religious issues to politics.  But if he reads this New York Times story on Pope Francis' upcoming U.S. visit, he may well add economics to his complaints.

No, economics isn't the only thing in the article. It also looks at Francis' personality and his approach to church matters; the fact that he has never been here before; what he thinks of capitalism; what Americans think of him; and the differing views of politics between South America and the United States.

But a sizable chunk of the story reads like this:

He is not opposed to all America represents. But he is troubled by privileged people and nations that consume more than their share and turn their backs on the vulnerable. The message he will probably deliver when he comes, they say, is that the United States has been blessed with great gifts, but that from those to whom much is given, much is expected.
“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”

Much of the story, in fact, resembles the Aug. 30 advance by the Associated Press. It's almost like someone at the Times read AP and said, "Hey, that's a good idea!" -- then assigned their own version.

Both stories emphasize how new the experience will be for a 78-year-old pope who has never visited here. Both style him a "homebody" who prefers to hang out with the poor than jet to public appearances. The Times quotes Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York saying Francis is "a little nervous about coming."

Both articles also quote sources who say the pope isn't really anti-American -- he just opposes the social and environment harm it's caused, he believes, by our economy: "maximizing profits" in the AP story, "savage capitalism" in the Times piece.

But where AP devoted two paragraphs to Francis' economic views, the Times deals with them in four, like this one:

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Did Pope Francis really embrace 'unorthodox' practices among charismatic Catholics?

Did Pope Francis really embrace 'unorthodox' practices among charismatic Catholics?

Time for a quick trip into the thick tmatt file of guilt, full of GetReligion topiccs I had hoped to get to several days ago.

During the papal trip to South America, the New York Times veered away from political analysis in one story and hit on one of the most important two-part developments in world religion in the past few decades.

Part one: The rise of Pentecostal Protestantism in the once solidly Catholic culture of South America. Click here for tons of information from the Pew Forum. Part two: The rise of the Catholic charismatics soon after that in the same region, and elsewhere in the Global South.

This led to an interesting, and to me troubling, Times team use of an important doctrinal term. Then, that mistake hinted at a key hole in the story. Let's start at the colorful beginning:

QUITO, Ecuador -- The rock music boomed as the congregants at this simple, white-walled church sang and clapped, raising their arms skyward as they prayed aloud and swayed to the beat. The sermon included jokes and a call-and-response with people in the pews. There was even a faith healing testimonial.
But just when it seemed like a Protestant revival meeting, the blessing of the host began and the parishioners filed to the altar to take communion, as in any other Roman Catholic Mass.
Afterward, many of the worshipers bought T-shirts and scarves with the logo of Pope Francis’ visit to their country this week.
“They’re not so Catholic, are they?” joked the priest who presided over the service, Ismael Nova, referring to the Masses he conducts at San Juan Eudes parish church. “They’re different.”

Not very Catholic? Really now.

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