If you have been looking at the big picture in Iraq and Syria, you know that one of the key elements of the Islamic State's rise to power has been its horrific persecution -- slaughter, even -- of the religious minorities caught in its path, as well as Muslims who disagree with the ISIS view of the faith and the need for a new caliphate.
All of that is horrible and needs continuing coverage. However, the crushing of the ancient churches located in the Nineveh Plain region is a truly historic development, a fact that has begun to bleed into the mainstream-news coverage.
Many religious leaders are concerned and are crying out (click here for New York Times op-ed by major Jewish leader) for someone to do something to help the churches of the East, who have worshipped at now-crushed altars in their homelands since the earliest days of the Christian faith.
Needless to say, I was not surprised to pick up The Baltimore Sun and see a front-page feature on a major interfaith prayer service addressing this crisis. Alas, I was also not surprised to see a huge, glaring hole in this report.
Here is a key slice of that story, about a Baltimore Basilica rite that apparently was organized by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori:
"This suffering has deep, deep roots, and it will require our faithful attention for a long time to come," the Baltimore archbishop said during the one-hour ecumenical and interreligious service that included religious leaders from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
The service -- attended by hundreds, in part because of its interfaith foundation -- comes amid daily news accounts of an area of the Middle East under siege from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant group that has seized control of large swaths of both nations while pillaging resources and forcing thousands to flee their homes.
On Aug. 7 President Barack Obama authorized air strikes if necessary to protect American interests in Iraq. Nearly two weeks later, ISIS released a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatening the life of another American if airstrikes continue.
The religious leaders repudiated ISIS' actions and cautioned the crowd of about 350 to denounce any group that claims violence is based on Scripture.
Now, the service attracted a rather logical cast of speakers, according to the Sun. In other words, there were Catholics, Jews, Muslims and liberal Protestants. I have searched, without success, to find a list (nothing at this official site) of the participants, or those who were invited.
This was, apparently, a crowd of people who have often worked together in the past.
Earl El-Amin, resident imam of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, said the city's religious leaders coming together for a singular cause is nothing new.
"This event is something that is happening in wake of what is happening in Iraq, but we have been working together for 20-25 years," said El-Amin. "It's very important for us as religious leadership to show the Baltimore metropolitan area, as well as nationally an internationally that relationships have developed."
Lori said that he extended the invitation to the area's religious leaders amid a call for a prayer for peace by Pope Francis in June. He added, "We have all been feeling the need to come together. There have been so many heartbreaking stories in the news, certainly in the United States, but especially in Iraq, and I think people of faith sort of have an instinct to come together."
One must read between the line to see any signs of tension.
This was, for example, apparently a prayer service in which there were no spoken prayers? If there were, the Sun team took no note of them -- simply stating that the rite "included a one-minute silent prayer."
I assume there would have been trouble if a Catholic had used the following text, which was featured at the official website:
O God of all the Nations, the One God who is and was and always will be, who in your providence willed that your Church be united to the suffering of your Son, look with mercy on your servants in Iraq who are persecuted for their faith in you.
Grant them perseverance and courage to be worthy imitators of Christ. Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations to work for peace among all peoples. May your Spirit open conversion for those who contradict your will that we live in harmony. And in all things may we be united in truth and freedom to seek your will in our lives.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. ... Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Pray for us.
Also, I was not surprised that the story included no mention of any participation by evangelical Protestants, including African-Americans or Latinos. Were they there, but overlooked by the city's newspaper? That is a minor problem, however, compared to yet another gap in either the service, the coverage, or both.
The Baltimore area contains a wide variety of parishes linked to the actual suffering churches of Eastern Christianity, including Eastern Orthodox believers and Eastern Catholics. Where are they in this report?
Look at it this way, if the leaders of the local Eastern churches -- bodies of believers directly linked to those suffering in Iraq and Syria and the whole region -- were invited and elected not to take part in this interfaith service, then that is a big story. I know that interfaith prayer rites are always problematic for many traditional believers.
However, if the leaders of the local Eastern churches were not invited to take part in this service, then that is an even more important and shocking story.
Did Sun editors not even see this gap? Is there some chance that they do not even know that there are Baltimore-area branches of the very churches that are currently being slaughtered by the armies of the Islamic State?
Surely not. So why this major and very specific hole in a front-page story?