Covering two stories at the same time

img home togetherDue to a busy class schedule, I have not had the time to address much of the new coverage of the liturgical meetings between Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, celebrating the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. I think most of the symbolism and the substance in those meetings will be included in the major stories tomorrow and I should be able to catch up a bit. Meanwhile, you can see some of the major texts and a collection of stunning official photographs at the official website of the patriarchate. You can also find materials at the Vatican home page and at

However, I want to address a question raised in the comments pages.

Tmatt, would you grant that while the Orthodox-Catholic discussion is important theologically, any objective person looking at the world scene today would have to say the Catholic-Islam dynamic (and within that, the push for reciprocity for the Orthodox community) is far more important in its ramifications? In that sense, I don't think Time really missed the big picture.

Posted by Jens at 11:07 pm on November 29, 2006

This is an important question, especially since some GetReligion readers may be thinking that I want the mainstream press to focus on the ecumenical side of this story because of my own interest in the topic, since I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I wrote earlier this week, it's clear that stories linked to the pope and Islam will be hot, even if not much happens on that front. I know that and I agree that this story is important.

Nevertheless, my point was that we had reason to hope that mainstream reporters would not -- as that one Time report did -- lock in on the Islam issue and ignore the original purpose of the trip, which was the pope's desire to reach out to Eastern Orthodoxy as part of a move to promote the human rights of minority groups in Turkey. This story, in turn, is linked to another major issue -- whether Turkey will ever enter the European Union. In fact, I would arge that the question of whether Turkey can enforce the rule of law and defend essential human rights is the key issue in the EU debates (along with a rising Islamist tide in Turkey).

I am happy to report that it is possible to blend coverage of both of these major stories into one report. Three cheers for the New York Times report today that did precisely that. And the Los Angeles Times report by Tracy Wilkinson was especially graceful in its inclusion of nice details.

So here is the essence of one major theme in the Los Angeles Times story:

The day saw the pope shifting his focus from Muslim reconciliation to Christian solidarity. The Vatican on Wednesday also responded to a statement from Al Qaeda in Iraq denouncing the "crusader campaign" of the pope in Turkey as an affront to Islam. Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said such threats were precisely the reason violence must be separated from religion, which he said was the core of the pope's message. Lombardi added that the pope was not worried about the threat.

Then there is the second major theme that needs to be reported. The story ends with a look at the first of the liturgical encounters between the pope and the patriarch.

The two religious leaders, in flowing robes and sparkling capes, followed a procession of priests who held long candles the color of honey and sent wafts of smoky incense into the air.

The city called Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for nearly a millennium, and the center of eastern Christianity. Turkey today is a country of about 70 million Muslims. Christians are dwindling in number, to perhaps 100,000, and those that remain complain of harassment and discrimination. Among the problems they suffer are severe restrictions on their ability to buy and sell property and run schools to train their clergy.

... The dilemma for Benedict is that as he offers support for Christians he risks again offending the Muslims he is seeking to engage.

I especially like that, at the end, Wilkinson does precisely what needs to be done -- linking the two topics. It is hard to defend the rights of minorities -- especially Christians -- in a supposedly secular Muslim state that has to worry about the rising rage of an Islamist minority in its midst.

Well done.

Photo from the press pages at

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