Calum MacLeod

Calum MacLeod writes for USA Today

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From 30,000 Feet, Pope Francis Reaches Out to Beijing

by Calum MacLeod 08-15-2014
Pope Francis and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday (August 14). I

Pope Francis and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday (August 14). Image courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

At Beijing’s oldest Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, Mary Zhang, 54, eagerly awaited the arrival of Pope Francis—at cruising altitude.

“I’m very excited. It’s the first time the pope has flown over China,” said Zhang, a regular worshipper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception who volunteered to help clean the church.

“I really hope he can give a Mass in person in China one day. It’s a sign of a better relationship between the Vatican and Beijing, as flying over China was not allowed before.”

The pontiff, who landed in Seoul on Thursday for a five-day visit to South Korea, sent a telegram of greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping as the papal plane flew over northeastern China, as Francis does with any country he flies over, in accordance with Vatican protocol.

The telegram, sent early Thursday, read, “Upon entering Chinese airspace, I extend best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation,” The Associated Press reported.

Popes have globe-trotted for decades, but none has visited China, a communist nation that crushed religion during Chairman Mao Zedong’s time. Today, China is more open but remains a “Country of Particular Concern,” according to the U.S. State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, which last month described the continued harassment and detention of some Catholic clergy in China.

Malaysians Lift up Missing Flight in Prayers

by Calum MacLeod 03-12-2014

Friday prayer inside the Masjid Negara mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: Alfianamy[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Malaysians are invoking the power of prayer to aid the massive multinational search operation for the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared without a trace early Saturday.

To aid the hunt and keep hope alive for the missing 239 passengers and crew, many Malaysians are taking to Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and even shopping malls, where shoppers Tuesday wrote and hung up prayers and well-wishes on special “message of hope” displays.

On Sunday, a former Malaysian prime minister joined multifaith groups for prayers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where Flight 370 took off for Beijing. Prayers have continued across Malaysia, where Muslims make up the majority of the population, and significant numbers of ethnic minorities, including Chinese and Indians, follow other religions.

Do Americans Really Care How Their Clothes Are Made?

by Calum MacLeod 05-20-2013
Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Ranjana Akhter, 35, holds a picture Wednesday of her missing daughter. Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Just two more months, the daughter promised her mother by telephone, then she’d be home for good.

Making shirts in this packed metropolis of 12 million people, Sheuli Akhter, 20, made decent money — about $140 a month — by the impoverished standards of rural Bangladesh. But she missed the family benefiting from the wages of her hard work.

Her mother, Ranjana Akhter, was found sobbing near the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory where her daughter worked, days after the eight-story complex collapsed and killed more than 1,100 workers. Viewing dozens of corpses a day, the 35-year-old woman still hoped her daughter had somehow survived.

The victims retrieved from the debris were crushed and unrecognizable in the South Asian heat.

“I am looking for her body, but they are all decomposed now. It’s getting harder to identify,” said Ranjana Akhter, tears falling from her eyes.

The scale of the mismanagement and breadth of the human tragedies in Bangladesh powerfully illustrated what years of abuse, inhumane conditions, and unthinkable danger could not: Garment workers in Third World countries take enormous risks to earn a living in Bangladeshi-owned companies that produce clothing for Western retailers.