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And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

I’ve been in Mongolia the past two weeks helping a friend write a book and seeing as much of this Central Asian nation as I possibly can. I say “central” because the ethos of this place is high steppe, not the coastlines of the Far East.

English-language media are almost non-existent here, but I have found one: Montsame, a government-run national news agency, that ran a tiny piece last week about letters between Mongol emperors and medieval popes during the 1200s.

Is that breaking news? Maybe not. But today we will focus on new information.

St. Francis had been dead about 20 years when all this started. Marco Polo was being born (in 1254). A photo I’ve included with this entry shows how folks (minus the 21st century interlopers) dressed during this time.

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME — On July 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received official copies of letters of khans of the Ilkhanate to the Popes.

Copies of letters from Pope Innocent IV to Guyuk Khan (March 13, 1245), Pope Urban IV to Khulegu Khan May 23, 1263, Abaqa Khan to Pope Clement IV (summer of 1268), Pope Nicholas III to Abaqa Khan (April 1, 1278), a travel permit given to the envoys of Roman Catholic Church by Abaqa Khan, two letters from Pope Nicholas IV to Argun Khan (April 2, 1288) and the letter from Argun Khan to Pope Nicholas IV were received.

Never knew the 13th century had so much ecumenical activity, did you?

The letters were copied according to the official agreement with the Vatican Secret Archives established with the support of the officials of Mongolian Embassy in Italy headed by Ambassador of Mongolia to Italy Ts. Jambaldorj.

This is pretty stilted, but there’s a fascinating story behind it all.

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Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Each adult believer in Islam is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Prophet Muhammad’s holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless unable physically or financially.

Some believers repeat this unique experience. The media usually relegate the annual ritual to news features, but this year’s event August 9- 14 is laden with spot news significance.

That’s because ongoing tensions in the Muslim world have produced a campaign to boycott the current Hajj — a nearly unimaginable break with tradition that has received scant coverage in the West. Western reporters should pursue reactions to this in their regions with Muslim sources and agencies that cater to pilgrims. How many believers have postponed Hajj visits till future years after things calm down?

The boycotters are protesting the devoutly Sunni host nation of Saudi Arabia and its ruler since 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”). The particular grievances are the Saudis’ prosecution of Yemen’s vicious civil war, ongoing hostilities with Iran and toward Islam’s minority Shia branch, and human rights violations, including the murder of a regime critic, The Washington Post ‘s Jamal Khashoggi.

An anti-Saudi analysis at foreignpolicy.com by Ahmed Twaij of Iraq’s Sanad for Peacebuilding notes that in April Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s chief Sunni authority, declared that making a repeat Hajj visit or the Umrah (voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year) is “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”

In June, a senior official with Tunisia’s Union of Imams joined boycott calls, saying Saudi income from Hajj visits “is used to kill and displace people,” as in Yemen, instead of helping the world’s impoverished Muslims. Twaij reports that “Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott,” whereas past enmity toward the Saudi regime has come largely from Shia Muslims.

Most remarkable of all was a fatwa last August from Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is very influential among Mideast Sunnis through his Al Jazeera TV appearances and Internet postings. His words could be interpreted as undercutting even the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime Hajj: “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj and Umrah every year.”

Some of this campaign could be payback for the recent years when Saudi Arabia barred believers from Qatar and Iran from joining the pilgrimage, or helped repress a Shia uprising in Bahrain.

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Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

I have covered quite a few public protests in the past four decades and I have even taken part in two or three, after leaving hard-news work in a newsroom and moving into higher education.

If I have learned one thing about protests it is this: They are almost always very complex events. Protestors may have gathered to protest about a single issue or event, but they often are doing so for different reasons. While they are there at the annual Right to Life march, members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians will have their share of differences with most mainstream Catholics and evangelicals who are taking part. Then there is the Secular Pro-Life network of atheists, agnostics and others.

I have also noticed that protestors are rarely silent, in terms of chants, songs and symbolic speech (think signs and banners). It is often important to listen to what protesters say and then (a) ask them questions about these statements, (b) quote the statements verbatim or (c) both.

This brings us to a long, long, I would say appropriately long Los Angeles Times news report about the protests that continue to rock Hong King. The headline: “Activists fear shattered glass may obscure demands of Hong Kong protest movement.” What caught my eye, online, was a reference to some of the protestors seeking “martyrdom.” Hold that thought.

I read this piece, of course, with an intense interest in whether some — or perhaps many — of the protesters where motivated by fears about Chinese crackdowns on Christians, Muslims and members of other minority faiths. Have these human-rights concerns continued to play a role in the protests. GetReligion readers (about 6,000 people have clicked that, so far) may recall Julia Duin’s recent post with this headline: “American media ignore 'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,' the anthem of Hong Kong's protests.”

So what did protesters do and say, during that recent protest when they shocked authorities — including some sympathetic to their cause — by seizing Hong Kong’s legislative chambers? What kinds of groups took part and why?

I would still like to know answers to those questions. And who is talking about new “martyrs”?

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Is the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire authentic?

Is the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire authentic?

THE QUESTIONS:

About the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris: Is this the actual crown that Jesus Christ wore at the Crucifixion? Does authenticity matter? What’s the role of such relics?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Before Jesus Christ was crucified, the New Testament records, Roman soldiers “stripped him, and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-9, similarly in Mark 15:17 and John 19:2-3).

More than 19 centuries later, a relic believed to be that humiliating crown was rescued from the disastrous fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is the most revered item in the cathedral’s collection, which also contains what are identified as one of the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross, and a wooden fragment from the cross itself.

In today’s supposedly secularized France, only 41.6 percent of citizens are baptized Catholics and a mere 12 percent tell pollsters they regularly attend Mass, well below numbers elsewhere in Europe. Yet the damage and substantial survival of the venerable cathedral, and the valiant effort that saved its treasured relics, roused fervent sentiment nationwide.

Is the celebrated Crown of Thorns, which goes on public display each Good Friday, authentic? There’s no way to prove it is, nor do the Bible or early Christian annals say the artifact was preserved. Here’s what we do know, courtesy of British historian Emily Guerry, writing for theconversation.com.

The earliest record dates from four centuries after the Crucifixion, when St. Paulinus instructed Christians to venerate a “holy thorns” relic at the Mount Zion basilica in Jerusalem.

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Bias? New York Times calls pro-choice source and quotes pro-life source via social media

Bias? New York Times calls pro-choice source and quotes pro-life source via social media

In a Twitter post today, Matthew Hennessey, deputy op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal, complained about a New York Times story on a British court ruling that a mentally disabled woman must have an abortion.

“Reporter calls abortion rights group for comment on big story but harvests pro-life quotes from social media. Another totally fair report from our great journalist advocate class,” Hennessey tweeted with obvious sarcasm.

In a follow-up tweet, he added, “It’s almost — almost — as if making the phone call, talking to real pro-lifers and respectfully recording their views is so disgusting and legitimizing as to repel the average journalist.”

Before I analyze the Times story in question, a quick note on the case itself: The Catholic News Agency reports that the forced abortion has been overturned on appeal.

Back to Hennessey’s complaint, which has been retweeted 125 times and liked 272 times as I type this post: I’ve read numerous news reports over the years where I would have said “Amen!” and agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, in an email chain with my GetReligion colleagues, I called dibs on critiquing this story before reading it.

It seemed like a quick-and-easy case to make the highly relevant journalistic point that we often do here: That is, ample evidence supports the notion of rampant news media bias against abortion opponents, as noted in a classic Los Angeles Times series by the late David Shaw way back in 1990.

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In heavily Catholic Guam, press struggles to find Catholics to quote on abortion issues

In heavily Catholic Guam, press struggles to find Catholics to quote on abortion issues

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has shown no signs of overturning Roe v. Wade, you’d think — from all the press coverage that’s out there — it’s going to happen tomorrow.

One place where these debates have gone almost unnoticed is the U.S. territory of Guam, the South Pacific home to a U.S. naval base where women wanting abortions have a 7-hour flight (to Hawaii) ahead of them. That makes any difficulties faced by women in the lower 48 pale in comparison.

The few news stories done about life on this island mention that it is “heavily Catholic;” which translates to 80 percent of the island’s 165,000 residents.

Press coverage has been pretty light. In all the stories I’ve seen, only one Catholic woman is quoted. Surely with more than 100,000 Catholics on the island, there must be more than one person willing to speak to the press. The photo atop this article shows Catholics in Guam demonstrating against abortion in January.

Here’s another question to think about: What is the religious identity of Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero?

We’ll start with what the Associated Press has written:

(HONOLULU) — Lourdes Leon Guerrero vigorously defended abortion rights as she campaigned to become the first female governor of Guam. She won, but now no doctors are willing to perform the procedure she fought so hard to defend. The last abortion provider in the heavily Catholic U.S. territory retired in May 2018. That’s forcing women seeking to end their pregnancies to fly thousands of miles from the remote Pacific island — a costly and sometimes prohibitive step.

“I truly believe that women should have control of their bodies,” Gov. Guerrero, a former nurse, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m very sad and very nervous about what’s happening across the nation.”…

A Catholic anti-abortion group protested the recruitment idea at the governor’s office on Friday. Patricia Perry, co-chair of the group, sent invitations encouraging people to attend a prayer rally.

“If the governor is not convinced, we’ll do other measures to further our cause,” Perry said. “We will not stop until all abortion is outlawed and all anti-life laws will be abolished.”…

The archdiocese on the heavily Catholic island said in a statement it was appealing to the governor to change her position.

Meanwhile, are there any other religious groups on Guam — liberal or conservative — that may have an opinion on these issues?

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New York Times attacks anti-Muslim tensions in small-city Minnesota, but reality is more complex

New York Times attacks anti-Muslim tensions in small-city Minnesota, but reality is more complex

On the face of it, Thursday’s New York Times story about a Minnesota city that doesn’t want any more Somali refugees sounds like a racist-town-hates-Muslims kind of piece.

I decided to look deeper into it and ask a few questions the article didn’t raise to see why everyone’s so upset why a 16 percent growth in non-white residents –- and mostly Muslim ones at that -– has frazzled the populace.

As you would expect, there’s lots of information here about politics and life in the Donald Trump era — complete with red “Make Saint Cloud Great Again” hats and lots of references to locals reading conservative websites online.

However, this is also a story in which it is important for readers to pause and do some math. The bottom line: It’s simple to write a story about racist right-wing Christian bigots who don’t want any more Muslims moving in. It’s not as easy to look at some of the other factors, like overcrowded classrooms in public schools; school districts having budget money for interpreters and ESL instructors; crowded emergency rooms at local hospitals and a tax base that’s not being greatly added to by all the new arrivals.

First, here’s the opening of the story:

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — John Palmer, a former university professor, has always had a cause. For decades he urged Minnesota officials to face the dangers of drunken driving and embrace seatbelts. Now he has a new goal: curbing the resettlement of Somali refugees in St. Cloud, after a few thousand moved into this small city where Mr. Palmer has lived for decades…

On Thursdays, Mr. Palmer hosts a group called Concerned Community Citizens, or C-Cubed, which he formed to pressure local officials over the Muslim refugees. Mr. Palmer said at a recent meeting he viewed them as innately less intelligent than the “typical” American citizen, as well as a threat.

“The very word ‘Islamophobia’ is a false narrative,” Mr. Palmer, 70, said. “A phobia is an irrational fear.” Raising his voice, he added, “An irrational fear! There are many reasons we are not being irrational.”

In this predominantly white region of central Minnesota, the influx of Somalis, most of whom are Muslim, has spurred the sort of demographic and cultural shifts that President Trump and right-wing conservatives have stoked fears about for years.

So “right-wing conservatives,” and people who rally in church pews, are all basically racists?

That does appear to be the thesis of this Times article.

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Friday Five: Neo-tabloid NYT, pro-life Dems, Matt Chandler's 'interview,' Jimmy Carter's pastor, gelatos

Friday Five: Neo-tabloid NYT, pro-life Dems, Matt Chandler's 'interview,' Jimmy Carter's pastor, gelatos

Greetings from the Zagreb, Croatia, airport!

I’m headed home after a Christian Chronicle reporting trip to this Central European nation.

My confession is this: I haven’t had time to pay a lot of attention to the news this week (many thanks to my colleague Julia Duin for producing several extra posts in my absence).

So, if I fail to mention something important, please help me out with details and links in the comments section. In the meantime, let’s dive into the distracted-by-international-travel edition of Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: With the caveat above, let’s just say that I was intrigued by a bunch of the topics I found scrolling through this week’s GetReligion posts.

Terry Mattingly’s piece on the New York Times going neo-tabloid over Jerry Falwell Jr., Donald Trump, South Florida real estate and a colorful array of supporting characters particularly intrigued me. Then there were pieces by tmatt (here) and Duin (here) on the haunted news coverage of pro-life Democrats. That tmatt piece followed up on a key theme in Julia’s post, pointing readers to coverage noting that journalists know where to find pro-life Democrats in the Bible Belt. Just look in church pews, especially in African-American congregations.

The Falwell-Trump story in the Times ignited liberal Twitter (look for the hashtag #Falwellpoolboy), but didn’t inspire significant mainstream coverage elsewhere. Stay tuned, and check out the GetReligion podcast on this topic — right here.

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Open Doors CEO slams U.S. churches, while persecuted Christians are murdered overseas

Open Doors CEO slams U.S. churches, while persecuted Christians are murdered overseas

Open Doors, the watchdog organization that monitors Christian religious persecution worldwide, released their annual report on the 50 worst countries in the world back in January, but it’s only gotten some air time recently.

What kind of reactions?

Well, let’s look at an editorial that ran Tuesday in USA Today by Open Doors CEO David Curry with this attention-grabber of a headline: “Global Christian persecution is worsening while American Christian churches slumber.” It opened with the latest anti-Christian outrage in Nigeria, where 3,731 Christians were killed in 2018.

We usually don’t talk about opinion in these blog posts, but the complaint here is directly related to press coverage about persecution.

The bottom line: If people don’t know something’s happening, they can’t very well protest it.

If such violence had occurred in Nashville rather than Nigeria, it would dominate nightly news broadcasts and saturate social media feeds. American churches would be launching fundraising campaigns for victims’ families and addressing it in their weekly gatherings. In this case, however, the American church has barely acknowledged it. Unfortunately, when violence occurs somewhere “over there” instead of in our backyard, it is often dismissed as just another story. American churches must do better…

Yet the leadership of the American church, with its superpastors and megachurches, is whistling through the graveyard. The beast that we have created, which relies on upbeat music and positivity to attract donors to sustain large budgets, leaves little room for pastors to talk about the suffering of global Christians. Like most of the culture, the American church is more concerned about college entrance scandals and "Game of Thrones" than persecution.

Inoculated by entertainment and self-absorption, they are completely detached from the experience of the global church. The American church is feeding itself to death while the worldwide church is being murdered.

You can also substitute “American media” in there, too, although it’s accurate to note that most U.S. readers are notorious for not caring about international news. Christians are basically the same with the possible exception of news about Israel.

What the editorial is asking for is something on the line of what happened in 40 years ago when a quarter million people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., in December 1987 on behalf of Soviet Jews.

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