martyrs

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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Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

What did you learn, over the weekend, in the global coverage of the sacrificial death of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame?

Let's say that you saw the main CNN.com report, which led with the fact that the 45-year-old Beltrame died up wounds he suffered after volunteering to swap places with a female hostage during a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter's attack on a supermarket in southern France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that by "giving his life to end the murderous escapade of a jihadist terrorist, he died a hero."

What other crucial information did CNN producers include to help news consumers understand Beltrame and the nature of his sacrifice? We are, of course, looking for a faith angle.

Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery. He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president.
In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. ... Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region.
According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes. ...

Now, some publications -- religious publications, for the most part -- included material from another voice of authority on the life and work of Beltrame. That would be Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie (hat tip to Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher).

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Should 26 Texas Baptists massacred during Sunday worship be hailed as 'martyrs'?

Should 26 Texas Baptists massacred during Sunday worship be hailed as 'martyrs'?

DEANN’S QUESTION:

Are the congregants massacred in Sutherland Springs martyrs?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A shooting rampage during Sunday worship at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, took 26 lives (counting an unborn baby). It was the worst slaughter at a house of worship in American history, though such atrocities occur all too often at mosques or churches in strife-ridden Muslim lands.

The murderer -- “Religion Q & A” will not dignify him by using his name -- sprayed hundreds of bullets at helpless worshipers trapped in the pews, and may have especially targeted youngsters.

We usually think of a martyr as a brave Christian executed by authorities or slain otherwise for professing the faith or refusing to spurn it, as with the biblical St. Stephen (Acts 7:54-60).

Unlike Southern Baptists, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity specialize in martyrology and have recognized as saints hundreds across the centuries who faced death for professing their faith. The Catholic church’s official definition:

“Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: It means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by chrity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude” (Catechism #2473).

Understand that here “he” covers both genders.

A more succinct Russian Orthodox definition says “martyrdom is bearing witness to the truth of Christ and God’s church to the death.” Whether that’s the appropriate label for the Texas victims depends on the motives of both the killer and those killed.

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New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

Lots of news stories -- big ones and everyday ones -- are haunted by religious themes (and even factual material) that mainstream reporters skate right past. Here at GetReligion, we call these religion-shaped holes in stories "ghosts."

There are also news stories that, to be blunt, are haunted by questions and issues that can only be described in terms of theology, often requiring a willingness to dig into centuries of history and debates of a complex or even mysterious nature.

I sincerely appreciate attempts to write these theologically driven stories, because I know that they are (a) hard to get right, (b) hard to get approved by editors and (c) hard to write in words that work in a daily newspaper (think accuracy plus readability).

So I really want to cheer for a Religion News Service feature that came out with this headline: "Unrelenting killing of Coptic Christians intensifies debate over martyrdom."

This is a story about a very complex issue: Is there a point at which praising Christian believers who are killed by the Islamic State turns into a bad thing, when crying "martyrdom" begins to blur the lines between terrorism and the kinds of heroic witness honored by the church through the ages?

Before I mention my one question about this fine story, let's look at some crucial summary material near the top:

The 2,000-year-old Coptic Church of Egypt has a long tradition of hallowing those who died affirming their faith in the face of violence. But the group that calls itself the Islamic State has launched waves of attacks on the Coptic community in recent years -- claiming at least 70 lives and wounding scores of others -- an unrelenting assault that has opened a debate in the community about martyrdom.
The issue has been most recently punctuated by the deadly knifing of a Coptic priest in a poor Cairo neighborhood Thursday (Oct. 12). A suspect was arrested but his motive is still unknown.
Recently, another Coptic priest -- the well-known Rev. Boules George from the well-heeled Cairo suburb of Heliopolis -- took to the television airwaves to “thank” the Islamic State terrorists who launched the Palm Sunday church bombings that claimed 45 lives, saying they provided “a rocket” that delivered victims straight to heaven.

Here is the crucial question: Is being blown up by a bomb, or killed in random violence, truly an act of "witness" to the Christian faith delivered to the apostles?

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Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

I guess the big news this Easter is that there isn't any really big news at Easter. Yet.

Obviously, there was big news during Holy Week -- as in the lockdown in Egypt and in other Christian communities across the Middle East in the trembling aftermath of the hellish Palm Sunday bombings. That led to this somber New York Times feature that ran with the headline, "After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute."

It's a fine feature, one that -- as it must -- focuses on the political framework that surrounds the latest wave of persecution of Coptic Christians. After all, this is a tense land in which a near totalitarian Egyptian government that helps lock Christians in their place is also the only force strong enough to weakly protect them from the Islamic State and other truly radicalized forms of Islam.

Orthodox Christians who read this piece may not make it to the end, growing tired of the politics and violence. Where is the ultimate message of Pascha? Where are the voices of those who still believe, who continue to keep the faith despite all the suffering? Aren't they part of the story?

They are. And that theme emerges at the end of the piece -- so wait for it.

The veneration of Christian martyrs is felt most keenly at the monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. There, barren desert has been transformed into a lush compound of gardens and monastic cells around a soaring cathedral. The seven Christians killed in last Sunday’s bombing were taken there for entombment in a martyr’s church under construction for the 2011 bombing’s 23 victims.
“The new martyrs will be buried beside the old ones,” Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, leader of the monastery, said as he walked around the site, weaving through a maze of wooden beams. “It is a gift for them to be buried here.” ... 
Many Coptic clerics are careful of engaging in public debate. Asked what was driving the Islamic State attacks, the monastery’s spokesman, Father Elijah Ava Mina, chuckled dryly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask them.”

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Would Americans be interested? Eyewitnesses describe the murder of Father Jacques Hamel

Would Americans be interested? Eyewitnesses describe the murder of Father Jacques Hamel

Here is my question for the day: Would news consumers here in America be interested in the ongoing story of Father Jacques Hamel if offered a chance to follow it?

There has been quite a bit of recent news about Hamel, the French priest murdered in July while celebrating Mass at the parish of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- a Catholic church named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen. You can follow these developments by reading news reports produced on the other side of the Atlantic or in Catholic publications. Click here for previous GetReligion posts on earlier coverage.

I realize that this drama is unfolding in Europe. Thus, American editors and producers may assume that it is not a story that would interest readers here. Frankly, I think the details are so gripping that this has become a story that, at the very least, all Catholics would want to follow -- along with other readers who are concerned about acts of terrorism by jihadists.

So what are the new developments? The first is rather obvious, as reported by The Guardian:

Pope Francis has authorised the French church to start the preliminary sainthood investigation for the Reverend Jean Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamist militants as he celebrated Mass in July.
Francis told reporters ... he had authorized the gathering of witness testimony to determine if a beatification cause is warranted. Usually the Vatican requires a five-year waiting period before such investigations can begin, but Francis said he authorised the start of the investigation now since witnesses might die or forget over time.
Hamel was killed on 26 July in his parish church in Normandy. Police killed the assailants, and the Isis group claimed responsibility. In honoring Hamel as a martyr last month, Francis urged all to display the same courage Hamel had and denounced such slayings in the name of God as “satanic”.

This announcement came on the same day that the sanctuary in which Hamel was killed was open for the first time, following purification rites because of the bloodshed at the altar.

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One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

Do you remember that old journalism parable, the one about the cynical poster that is supposedly hanging in a wire-service newsroom somewhere?

The poster, supposedly, explains how the U.S. press covers disasters, in terms of the number of deaths. To be blunt: 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan equals 500 dead in Egypt, which equals 250 dead in Mexico, which equals 100 dead in Japan, which equals 50 dead in France, which equals 25 dead in Canada, which equals 10 dead in Texas, which equals one celebrity/politician dead in Hollywood or Washington, D.C. Or words to that effect.

So why is the death of one Catholic priest at an altar in rural France so symbolic? Why were we still talking about Father Jacques Hamel on this week's Crossroads podcast? (Click here to tune that in.)

I thought of that when I read this summary material in an interesting report at FoxNews.com:

In 2015, more than 2,000 Christian churches in Africa were attacked by terrorists, and more than 7,000 Christians were killed, according to the advocacy group Open Doors USA. Those figures show terrorist groups like ISIS, which claimed credit for Tuesday's attack, as well as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, will not hesitate to kill inside a house of worship.
"News of the murdered priest in Normandy has shaken many to the core,” David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog group Open Doors USA told FoxNews.com. “While in Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday, this is the first documented case of Western Christians being attacked by ISIS during a worship service."

Five churches attacked every Sunday. In Africa, that would include Catholics, but also Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostal believers and others. The story notes that, in 2015 alone, 2,400-plus Christian churches were struck by terrorists in Africa. Yes, many of those attacks were by forces aligned with Boko Haram and, thus, the wider Islamic State.

That's a lot of desecrated churches. There must be thousands of victims and eyewitnesses to these scenes of hellish violence. Are we hearing those voices in our newspapers and on our 24/7 digital screens? Are we seeing those images?

Not very often. Yet the death of Father Hamel is part of that ongoing story around the world. That's story No. 2. for those with the eyes to see.

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What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

In the aftermath of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, there are two stories unfolding in France and, to a lesser degree, the rest of postmodern and post-Christian Europe. Let me stress that both stories are valid and deserve coverage.

One story is about the crime itself and the investigation into how it happened. At the heart of this story is the official dilemma facing the powers that be in government, which is how to stop as many terrorist acts as possible before they happen. The symbolic detail: One of the attackers -- 19-year-old Adel Kermiche -- was a known ISIS ally who was already wearing a monitoring device around his ankle.

The other story, of course, is a religion story. It is about an attack on a Catholic parish -- St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, a connection I have only seen mentioned in the Catholic press. At the heart of this story is the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel, who -- during Mass -- was forced to kneel at the church altar, where the attackers slit his throat. The terrorists critically injured one nun and tried to use other nuns as human shields, before police were able to kill the attackers.

The symbolic details in this story? If you want more on that, may I suggest following two hashtags on Twitter. The first is #IAmJacquesHamel, an obvious homage to the #IAmCharlieHebdo campaign after terrorists attacked the Paris staff of the famous satire magazine. The second hashtag is #santosubito. We will come back to that.

Which of these two stories are you seeing, when you open your local newspaper or click to the 24/7 news channels on your digital screens? I would argue that you should be seeing both. Are you?

It is likely that you are seeing language similar to this, care -- once again -- of The New York Times:

France is officially secular but Catholicism is deeply embedded in the country’s culture. That has made the shock and symbolism of the killing of the Rev. Jacques Hamel all the greater.

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The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.
Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.
Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night.

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