saints

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

I thought I had seen just about everything, in terms of strange news-media takes on ancient-church teachings on prayer and the saints. Apparently not.

Just the other day, I wrote a post praising a news report on this topic, in part because of a short, clear, explanation of the term “venerate,” as opposed to “worship,” when dealing with a relic of a Catholic saint. See this: “Facing the heart of Jean Vianney: Reporters should be careful when covering saints and prayer.”

Now we have this “Oh, no!” headline at CNN.com: “As hurricane season starts, coastal Catholics call on this holy go-between for protection from devastating storms.”

Let’s start with the basics: Do Catholics believe there is some form of divinity, other than the Holy Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who hears prayers and performs miracles?

In this headline the “holy go-between” is clearly St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. The term “go-between” is a bit brash, but does hint at the early church belief that is is proper to ask saints to join their prayers to God for a miracle or an answer to some other request. Are these believers claiming that the saint — St. Mary in this case — has the power to protect them or is that a God thing?

Truth be told, I have heard Catholics say things like “I prayed to St. Name Here and this or that happened.” In most cases, if you ask, “So you’re saying the saint performed this miracle?”, they will pause and acknowledge that it is God who hears prayers and responds, in one form or another.

So we need to see if this CNN.com report gets that right. But that isn’t the main reason a Catholic journalist sent me this CNN link. Check out this overture and see if you can spot the heresy in this news story:

(CNN) As Hurricane Matthew whipped up Florida's Atlantic coast in 2016, Beth Williby got scared.

"That hurricane, in particular, just got my back up," the Jacksonville mom of four recalled. "So, I did what any modern woman would do, and I Googled: Who do you pray to for protection from hurricanes?"

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Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

At some point, the hot story of the moment -- the latest wave of the multi-decade Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal -- will demand in-depth think pieces on a number of subjects branching out of its central, horrifying core.

GetReligion readers, of course, know that I am convinced that -- so far -- this news story has three angles:

I. The abuse of young children (pedophilia).

II. The abuse of teens, almost all of them male (ephebophilia).

III. The abuse of seminarians and young priests, usually by powerful homosexuals at seminaries and in the church's local, regional, national and global power structures.

What ties them all together? That's the overarching story, which I have described in several posts

The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders -- left and right, gay and straight -- have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

Now, in the near future, one of the valid angles that I hope mainstream journalists will cover is this: How do victims of abuse recover from these hellish events in their lives?

You can write that story focusing on secular experts, and that would be valid. At the same time, it would also be valid to look at how traditional Catholics view abuse recovery, often focusing on spiritual disciples and healing.

If reporters want to write that second angle they can start by placing a call to former rock journalist, headline writing superstar and GetReligionista Dawn Eden Goldstein. 

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Yes, gunman in Russia killed five after Forgiveness Vespers (which isn't a Mardi Gras thing)

Yes, gunman in Russia killed five after Forgiveness Vespers (which isn't a Mardi Gras thing)

This past Sunday, I received an interesting email just after I got home from one of the most symbolic rites of the Eastern Orthodox year -- Forgiveness Vespers.

For Orthodox Christians, this service is the door into the long and challenging season of Great Lent, which leads to the most important day in the Christian year -- Pascha (Easter in the West).

During these vespers, each member of the congregation -- one at a time -- faces each and every other person who is present. One at a time, we bow and ask the person to forgive us of anything we have done to hurt them in the previous year. The response: "I forgive, as God forgives," or similar words. Then the second person does the same thing. Many people do a full prostration to the floor, as they seek forgiveness.

Then we move to the left to face the next person in line. Doing this 100 times or so is quite an exercise, both spiritual and physical. Tears are common. So is sweat.

The email I received pointed me to stories coming out of the Dagestan region of Russia, near the border of Chechnya. As worshipers came out of an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a gunman -- shouting "Allahu Akbar" -- attacked with a hunting rifle and knife, killing five.

An Associated Press report merely said the victims were leaving a church service and even stated that the "motive for the attack was not immediately known."

I was struck by the timing, coming in the wake of the Ash Wednesday school shootings in Parkland, Fla. I had the same question as the GetReligion reader who emailed me: Were these worshipers shot after the Forgiveness Vespers? 

It certainly appeared that this was the case, so I immediately wrote a post: "Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers." Needless to say, this was a topic of interest to Orthodox believers, and others.

Now, a reader who speaks Russia has found a link to a Russian website -- "Orthodoxy and the World" -- that confirms the poignant and painful timing of this attack. Here is his translation of that information, if you are into factual journalistic details of this kind:

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USA Today Network explains 'What it takes to become a saint' (for Catholics only)

USA Today Network explains 'What it takes to become a saint' (for Catholics only)

Dear editors at USA Today:

I thought that I would drop you a note, after reading a recent feature on your USA Today Network wire that ran with this headline: "What it takes to become a saint."

That's interesting, I thought. That's a pretty complex subject, especially if you take into account the different meanings of the word "saint" among Christians around the world, including Protestants. And then there is the unique use of this term among believers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the very least, I assumed that this "news you can use" style feature would mention that, while the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church receives the most press attention, the churches in the world's second-largest Christian flock -- Eastern Orthodoxy -- have always recognized men and women as saints and continue to name new saints in modern times. Also, high-church Anglicans pay quite a bit of attention to the saints, through the ages.

The Catholic process is very specific and organized, while the Orthodox process is more grassroots and organic. There is much to learn through the study of the modern saints in both of these Communions. This is a complex topic and one worthy of coverage.

Then I read your feature, which originated in The Detroit Free Press. It opens like this:

What does it take to become a saint?
Anyone can make it to sainthood, but the road isn’t easy. The journey involves an exhaustive process that can take decades or even centuries.  
The Catholic Church has thousands of saints, from the Apostles to St. Teresa of Calcutta, often known as Mother Teresa.
Here are the steps needed to become a saint, according to Catholic officials. ...

What is the journalism problem here?

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Archaeology as click bait: Is the news 'Santa is dead' or 'Tomb of St. Nicholas has been found'?

Archaeology as click bait: Is the news 'Santa is dead' or 'Tomb of St. Nicholas has been found'?

Let me start with a kind of religion-beat emotional trigger alert.

WARNING: Members of ancient Christian communions (and lovers of church history) should put down any beverages (hot or cold) that are in their hands before reading the following "Acts of Faith" feature in The Washington Post. It may help to take some kind of mild sedative.

Now, let's proceed. First there is the headline, which is both clever and totally outrageous, in light of the actual news hook in this story. Ready? Here we go:

Santa dead, archaeologists say

The New York Post headline? You do NOT want to know.

So can you say, "click bait"? Of course this is click bait and I understand why. However, the question is whether this report contains key information that is useful to readers who are interested in the real story -- which could turn out to have major implications for church history as well as ecumenical relations between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox churches of the East.

The "Santa" in the headline is actually St. Nicholas of Myra, one of the most beloved saints and bishops in ancient Christianity. Before we get to the real story, here is the creative (to say the least) overture of the Post report (which was not written by a religion-desk pro).

First the good news:
Whoever told you that Santa Claus was an impostor with a fake beard collecting a Christmastime check at the mall or a lie cooked up by your parents to trick you into five measly minutes of quiet was, at minimum, misinformed.
The bad news: Santa Claus is definitely dead.
Archaeologists in southern Turkey say they have discovered the tomb of the original Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, beneath his namesake church near the Mediterranean Sea.

Pause: This man is "also known as St. Nicholas"?

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Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

If you know anything about the history of sacred architecture, you know there is nothing strange about believers being buried inside church sanctuaries.

In fact, there is an ancient tradition of celebrating the Mass on altars built directly on or over the tombs of saints (see the New Advent online Catholic Encyclopedia). In Eastern Orthodoxy, altars and sanctuaries still contain relics of the saints, usually fragments of bones. Consider this 2014 column I wrote about efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas Orthodox parish at Ground Zero in New York City.

Some people find these traditions creepy. But the whole idea was to link heaven and earth, for believers in this life to worship with the saints of old.

Perhaps this is rather advanced material, in terms of church history. Still, I assumed that some journalists (maybe even at the New York Times copy desk) would know that the altar of the most famous church on Planet Earth -- St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican -- is build directly over catacombs containing the tomb of St. Peter and other popes. Don't these people read Dan Brown novels?

I bring this up because of a strange passage in a recent Times science piece that ran with this double-decker headline:

The Mummies’ Medical Secrets? They’re Perfectly Preserved
Mummified bodies in a crypt in Lithuania are teaching scientists about health and disease among people who lived long ago.

As it turns out, the crypt in question is located underneath an altar in a Catholic church in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

I've never been sure why, but the subject of prayer causes problems for many mainstream news reporters. I think part of the problem is that some reporters think they have to believe that prayer "works" in order to take prayer seriously.

Thus, I have heard mainstream journalists say that it's a "fact" that prayer does not work and that real journalists must strive to present solid facts and nothing more. After all, academic studies of the effectiveness of prayer -- linked to medical issues -- have been mixed.

Yes, from the viewpoint of a skeptical editor it's hard to prove -- as a fact -- that prayer "works" (although some academic studies of miracles are fascinating). Nevertheless, journalists need to remember that it is a fact that millions of people in many faiths around the world believe in the power of prayer and that their actions in real life, based on those beliefs, frequently affect real events and trends in the news.

I bring this up because of a revealing error in a story, and headline, that ran in The Independent about a British woman named Kristy Adams who is running for Parliament. The problem is clearly seen in the double-decker headline:

Tory MP candidate 'claims she healed deaf man through prayer '
'I don't know if he was more surprised than me,' says Kristy Adams

That's right. The journalists behind this story seem to think that Adams thinks that SHE healed someone. Here is the overture in this report:

A Conservative party candidate has reportedly claimed she healed a deaf man with her bare hands by channelling the power of prayer.

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Religion plus travel: Are only secular pilgrims walking UK's pilgrimage trails?

Religion plus travel: Are only secular pilgrims walking UK's pilgrimage trails?

Religion and travel are two topics that are rarely combined, yet the Guardian did so –- in a fashion –- with a piece on Britain’s ancient pilgrim routes and how they’ve soared in popularity. The point of the feature was that one need not be religious at all to tread ancient paths that honor everyone from St. Cuthbert, St. Cadfan, St. Werburgh and St. Chad to Saints Wulfad and Swithun.

What results are nature walks with likeminded people with not a nod to the religious history that has traditionally surrounding this activity. Imagine traveling to Mecca for the … architecture? Might religious convictions have something to do with the motives of some of the travelers?

Here’s an account of how secularized Brits are strolling from church to church just to get some peace and quiet.

In one of the smallest churches in England, a couple of dozen people are taking the weight off their walking boots for a moment of quiet reflection in the cool gloom. Outside, an unlikely April sun pours over the South Downs.
It seemed, says Will Parsons, a good moment to learn the lyrics of John Bunyan’s To Be a Pilgrim -- perhaps, he adds, adopting neutral terms “to be more inclusive”.
The group was soon belting out the 17th-century hymn, drawing curious passersby to peer into the tiny hillside Church of the Good Shepherd, in Lullington. Come wind, come weather, regardless of lions, giants, hobgoblins or foul fiends, “there’s no discouragement / Shall make them once relent / Their first avowed intent/ To be a pilgrim”, they sang.
This merry band are part of a new boom in pilgrimage which has seen the re-establishment of ancient routes and the growing participation of people on a spectrum of belief from religiously devout to committed atheists.

The story goes on to say the hikers were walking Lewes Priory to the Holy Well in Eastbourne over two and a half days.

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St. Patrick of Ireland: It's time to make one tweak in the Religion News Service 'Splainer

St. Patrick of Ireland: It's time to make one tweak in the Religion News Service 'Splainer

The headline on a timely "'Splainer" feature from Religion News Service could not be more direct: "The ‘Splainer: Who was St. Patrick, and would he drink green beer?"

You know, or think you know, St. Patrick.

The guy with the shamrock. The cultural excuse for some of the most rowdy parties in the history of humanity, anywhere on earth where there are people who have any claim to be Irish.

Allow me a moment, along those lines, for a personal note: I am about an English as one can be, in terms of family heritage. However, my patron saint is St. Brendan of Clonfert, better known as St. Brendan the Navigator, who is another great hero of Irish Christianity. So cut me some slack on this topic.

So how does one start a news-you-can-use explainer feature about someone who is famous as a cultural figure, yet not as well known as the great Christian saint that he actual is? Let's look at the RNS overture.

Hint: My major problem with this piece is right here at the top.

For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day -- a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face.
But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?

OK, hold it right there.

Now, as everyone knows, there are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. That ancient communion goes right at the top of the list, if you are talking about feast days for St. Patrick. And it's true that there are about 85 million Anglicans in the world and, here in America, the small flock of Episcopalians is still a major player when it comes to making news. When you add up the various branches of Lutheranism, you get nearly 80 million believers.

Now, who are we missing there in this list of Christian communions that honor St. Patrick?

That would be the world's second largest Christian communion, as in the various Eastern Orthodox churches. So do the Orthodox have a feast day to honor St. Patrick?

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