Global Issues

An Eerie Calm: Iraqi Christians Anxiously Ponder Their Future

Assyrian Christian militia member speaks with a shepherd in the Nineveh plains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo via Jodi Hilton/RNS.

Basima al-Safar retouches a picture of Jesus on an easel outside her house overlooking the flat Nineveh plains, 30 miles north of Mosul.

The murals she paints tell the story of her people, Christians in Iraq. But with Islamic State militants nearby, she is worried that life in Alqosh and towns like it could soon come to an end.

The Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people sits on a hill below the seventh-century Rabban Hormizd Monastery, temporarily closed because of the security situation. Residents of Alqosh fled this summer ahead of Islamic State militants. Around 70 percent of the town’s residents have since returned. Still, a sense of unease hangs in the air.

Below the monastery in the boarded up bazaar a lone shopkeeper waits for customers. At the edge of town local Christian fighters staff lookout posts, checking for danger. With Islamic State fighters just 10 miles away, these men and most residents of the town are scared that they may have to flee again.

All Saints’ Day: Facing Death

What does our response to Ebola say about our attitude towards the poor in spirit? Photo via R. Gino Santa Maria/shutterstock

“Administration officials have repeatedly assured Americans that they were prepared for Ebola. Less than two weeks ago here at the White House, they insisted they knew how to stop this virus in its tracks. But so far, the virus appears to be outrunning the government. “

So began Scott Horsley’s report from the White House, one of three separate stories NPR’s news showAll Things Considered devoted to Ebola on Wednesday, October 16. According to yet another report, a recent Harvard School of Public Health survey finds that 40 percent of Americans feel “at risk” of contracting the disease.

We have Ebola on the brain.

Several of my friends expressed alarm when the first Ebola patient flew to the United States for treatment. Now we find that not one but two Dallas nurses have contracted Ebola, likely because their hospital did not adopt proper Ebola protocols. Americans know that their medical system is far better equipped to prevent an Ebola outbreak than are those in West Africa. We know our system is better prepared to offer effective treatment. But the appearance of multiple cases, one involving a nurse who took a commercial flight while possibly contagious, has people concerned. When a key public health expert says, “It’s a learning process, and . . . our confidence in the hospitals was ill-founded,” the rest of us might get a little nervous.

Italian Priest Continues to Go After Mafia Despite Death Threats

Pope Francis shakes hands with Father Luigi Ciotti. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

Half a dozen men stand nonchalantly in front of a grubby building on one of Rome’s busiest streets as cars whizz past. They stiffen whenever a stranger approaches.

But few would guess they’re undercover cops protecting Italy’s most endangered man.

Inside is the Rev. Luigi Ciotti, a 69-year-old priest with soft brown eyes and silver hair who has spent the past 20 years fighting the Italian Mafia.

He runs an organization called Libera, which means free. It’s become a household name because of its efforts to fight criminal organizations, to support victims and to redevelop land confiscated from mob bosses.

Yet Ciotti says there is still a lot more to be done.

“I dream of a country where every person, every citizen wants to assume their responsibility. On that day the Mafia and corruption will cease to exist,” he said in an interview.

Ciotti has had police escorts before, but when a notorious Sicilian boss named Toto Riina issued a death threat from his jail cell a couple of months ago, the authorities immediately doubled Ciotti’s protection.

5 Ways D.C. Is Actually Great (For People 'Meh' on Monuments, Top Chefs, or K Street)

An interactive art installation at Figment DC. Image courtesy Man on the Street

An interactive art installation at Figment DC. Image courtesy Man on the Street DC/flickr.com

Lonely Planet just ranked Washington, D.C., as the #1 Best Place to Travel in the world(!). Coming on the heels of Forbes crowning D.C. the coolest city in America in August, the admittedly unexpected parade of accolades appears to just be starting for the place Sojourners has called home for the past few decades.

Of course, “coolness” is elusive by nature — if it was measurable, it wouldn’t be cool — and the metrics used by both outlets are questionably desirable, if technically true for a portion of the city. Lonely Planet points to a city “whose official religion is national politics,” while Forbes lists “higher influxes of new people” and “most college degrees per capita.”

This shows a problematic tendency to weight Washington the industry over D.C. the city (this post from DCis toutlines that nicely). It also largely misses what’s actually great about this place. I’ve found D.C. to be far beyond the House of Cards-meets-Cherry Blossom Festival sketch beloved by press and many residents alike. In my daily experience, D.C. is collaborative, generous, and deserving of accolades in ways that continually surprise. 

Based on my very unscientific metrics of personal observation and emotional investment, here are a few things that are uniquely great about D.C.

5 Ways Churches Can Help Stop the Ebola Hysteria

President Obama talks on the phone with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. Official White House photo via Pete Souza/RNS.

Once the first person in America died from Ebola, the usual bigots and ideologues blamed it on President Obama, whom they loathe. Some suggested Obama deliberately allowed the virus into the U.S. for nefarious purposes.

“He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the matriarch of America’s religious right.

Every misstep will be laid at the president’s doorstep, as if he personally ordered a Dallas hospital to screw up.

Such nonsense plays well in an election year, at least with a certain portion of the electorate. But the question remains: How are we as a society to deal with a potential contagion that could impact our lives?

Our worst instincts, as always, will be to blame whatever we don’t like, to imagine barriers and travel bans that would protect us, and to turn against each other. Schlafly, for one, blames Obama personally for  “letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people.”

Ebola Prompts Hands-Off Mass in Fort Worth, Texas

Catholic priest giving Holy Communion. Photo courtesy of Photographee.eu via Shutterstock/RNS.

The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”

These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.

While the diocese is perhaps the first in the U.S. to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.

“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”

Will Pope Francis Win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Pope Francis during a homily he delivered in Sibari, Italy, on June 21, 2014. Creative Commons image by Christoph Wagener/RNS.

Pope Francis is tipped to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, according to some of the world’s leading bookmakers.

The Argentinian pope is currently the 5-2 favorite to win the award, which will be announced by the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 10, according to British bookmaker William Hill. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power also considers him a leading contender.

The pontiff’s odds have fallen from 11-4 in a sign of his worldwide popularity.

“When the odds get shorter, that’s when you sit up and pay attention,” said Jon Ivan-Duke, spokesman for William Hill. “Maybe there’s some divine inspiration at work.”

Nevertheless, Francis is facing stiff competition from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

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