So what would Pope Francis, stepping into a media-critic role for a moment, have to say about this BBC coverage of that slaughter at the retirement home in Yemen?
We don't know what he thinks about the BBC report in particular, but it is quite similar to the other mainstream news reports about this incident that I have seen. Please watch the BBC report (at the top of this post) or read this brief BBC summary, taken from the Internet.
The key question appears to be this: Did religion have anything to do with who died and who lived in this attack? To state the matter another way: Should these nuns be considered Christian "martyrs"? Here is the entire BBC summary:
Pope Francis has condemned a gun attack on a Catholic retirement home in southern Yemen which left 16 people dead.
Four nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were among those killed.
Local officials in the port city of Aden are blaming the so-called Islamic State group, as David Campanale reports.
Actually, if you seek out the Catholic News Agency report about the attack you will find that Pope Francis did more than lament the attack itself. He is upset about the lack of coverage. Here is the top of the CNA story:
VATICAN CITY -- On Sunday Pope Francis lamented the world’s indifference to the recent killing of four Missionaries of Charity, calling them the ‘martyrs of today’ and asking that Bl. Mother Teresa intercede in bringing peace.
“I express my closeness to the Missionaries of Charity for the great loss that affected them two days ago with the killing of four religious in Aden, Yemen, where they assisted the elderly,” the Pope said March 6.
The sisters who were killed “are the martyrs of today … they gave their blood for the Church, (yet) they are not in the papers, they are not news,” he said.
Francis lamented that the sisters are not only the victims of their killers, but “also of the indifference of this globalization of indifference, which doesn't care.”
Now, here is the key detail -- which was mentioned in the BBC report.
It does appear that the four Missionaries of Charity were singled out, confronted in some way and then executed. The CNA story also noted:
Other victims of the attack included volunteers at the home, at least five of whom were Ethiopian. Many were Yemenis. The nursing home had around 80 residents, who were unharmed.
Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest from India who had been staying with the sisters since his church was attacked and burned last September, has been missing since the attack, Agenzia Fides reports. Sources close to CNA say the priest was abducted from the convent chapel.
Now, it is possible that we have a problematic comma in that passage: "The nursing home had around 80 residents, who were unharmed."
The question: Were all of the residents unharmed? Or were some shot, but 80 did survive?
Why does this matter? Reading various reports, it's hard to tell if the attackers singled out the nuns and the retirement-home volunteers (in other words, people who cooperated with the nuns) or if, after executing the nuns, they killed people indiscriminately.
Looking at this from the pope's perspective, was this random violence or a case of Christians being martyred because of their ministry? The BBC video report also includes a key detail: The nuns had earlier been urged to leave, but refused to abandon the people they were serving.
So, did the nuns die for their faith? Were they the latest Christians "martyred" by the Islamic State? Look of the word "martyr" in an online dictionary and you will find something like this:
1: a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion
2: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
So are we talking about "martyrs" in this case? Should this issue matter to mainstream journalists?
The pope certainly thinks so and its clear, if you look at the news before and after his statement, that his words changed the tone of the coverage. In other words, the religious element of the killings entered the story when the pope (and other church officials) pointed it out. And before that?
You can see some of the same issues (and an error about the number of nuns killed) in the following, taken from a New York Times report played inside the newspaper:
The victims were Indian, Ethiopian and Yemeni citizens, and they included six nuns, plus guards and the gardener, said Ayoub Abu Baker, the director of the local Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which runs the nursing home along with a group called the Missionaries of Charity.
The 60 residents of the nursing home were not harmed, officials said.
Aden has been battered by expanding violence over the last few months as a result of the war that has engulfed the country, the Arab world’s poorest, pitting the Houthi rebel movement against a Saudi-backed Yemeni government. Local armed groups have been competing for power and Sunni extremists belonging to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have carved out a presence, punctuated by assassinations and larger-scale deadly attacks.
But even amid the growing mayhem, the killings on Friday provoked outrage and shock, with pictures of the prone bodies of the nursing home workers circulating on social media.
In a statement, Yemen’s United Nations mission called the slaughter a “cruel and heartless act” and suggested that Islamic State militants had been responsible, asserting that the perpetrators possessed “nothing of humanity or Islam.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the killings recalled other recent attacks on Christian sites in Aden, which was known in previous eras for its tolerance and mix of religious faiths.
So what's the bottom line at this point, in terms of the pope's lament about the news coverage?
Have we reached the point where attacks of this kind are now normal and, well, not that big a deal? Did these news reports really need to be clear about who lived and who died in this case? Did the faith element -- the "martyr" detail -- matter in the original coverage of these killings or did it only become valid when the pope said so?
Just asking. And does anyone else fear that we may soon see the missing priest in an Islamic State video?
First image: From Vatican Radio