Global Issues

Molly Marsh 11-05-2014

The only way to defeat the epidemic is to strengthen health-care systems. 

Cathy Otten 10-28-2014

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.

We have Ebola on the brain. Amid so much anxiety, we turn to All Saints' Day in the church's calendar.
Greg Carey 10-27-2014

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.

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.

Catherine Woodiwiss 10-23-2014
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/

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.

Tom Ehrich 10-21-2014

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.”

Catholic priest giving Holy Communion. Photo courtesy of 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.”

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.


Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler


As Christians concerned about peace and justice, this time of crisis in the Middle East provides us an opportunity to return to our principles, the “springs of living waters” for people of faith:

the Web Editors 10-03-2014

1. The Strange Nostalgia of ‘Left Behind’

The rapture movie (out in theaters today) is—to borrow a phrase—neither hot nor cold. So why the re-make? We take a crack at answering.

2. Lipstick and Seminary

“During seminary, I paid close attention to ways men acted in and outside the classroom. Playing by their rules helped me fit in…I guarded what I considered feminine-seeming parts of my personality — creativity, emotion, and relational ways of perceiving and acting. I got A’s, but my soul was wilting.”

3. WATCH: A Million Ways to Die in the U.S.

Jon Stewart puts concerns over ISIS and Ebola in perspective. “The American government has a sacred obligation to do whatever it takes to save American lives…unless it’s stopping the things that are actually killing Americans.”

As the Washington, D.C., premiere of Warner Bros.' new movie, The Good Lie, came to a close, I could barely see the credits through my tears, but the noise of the crowd around me erupting into cheers and the standing ovation was impossible to miss.
On this week's DecodeDC podcast, host Andrea Seabrook talks to three experts about a deceptively simple question: What responsibility does the U.S. have, if any, to respond to ISIS?
In order to truly defeat ISIS, we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
President Obama has nominated law professor and Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will be charged with promoting religious freedom around the world.

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Tirana, Albania. Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales/RNS.

Pope Francis faces no specific threat from Islamic State militants and will not be adding extra security measures on his one-day trip to Albania next week, the Vatican said Sept 15.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said despite recent “worrying” events that had shocked the world, there was no specific threat to the 77-year-old pontiff as he prepared for his official visit to the majority Muslim country on Sept. 21.

Lombardi said Francis would use the same open-topped vehicle he uses to greet crowds in St. Peter’s Square when he travels to the Albanian capital, Tirana.

“There is no reason to change the pope’s itinerary,” Lombardi said. “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”

the Web Editors 09-05-2014

1. Almost Like the Blues

Canadian folk bard Leonard Cohen reads lyrics from one of his latest songs — a gentle, melancholy reflection on life and hope.

2. How Back-to-School Shopping Reinforces Gender Norms — and How to Fight Back

For those of us with children heading to, or back to, school — one parent attempts to buck the gendered school-accessories market. 

3. The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel

"If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston." 'Nuff said.

4. Steven Sotloff Hid His Jewish Faith from ISIS Captors

"The secrets that couldn’t be known about beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff during his captivity were revealed in detail Wednesday: The 31-year-old was Jewish, had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and apparently maintained his Jewish ritual life while being held by ISIS."

Benedict Varnum 09-04-2014
A child dumps ice water over his head. Image courtesy Suzanne Tucker/shutterstoc

A child dumps ice water over his head. Image courtesy Suzanne Tucker/

The Ice Bucket Challenge, or "IBC," needs little introduction. Over the past month or two, it's been the internet phenomenon of challenging friends, family and co-workers to participate in some combination of donating to the ALS Association, becoming educated about the disease, or dumping a bucket of ice-cold water over their head and video-taping it. The rules are somewhat (pardon the term) fluid—but basically, invitees are given 24 hours to respond and challenge up to three persons. I don't have precise numbers—they're still increasing—but ALSA has reported over 3 million donors and over 100 million dollars raised in the past few month. Not to mention the payoff of seeing your dear ones get soaked and squeal, shudder, or grin and bear it.

But I think it's also raised a second topic into public debate: the ethics of action and motivation. And even beyond the philanthropy going on, I think that's worth talking about, and I suspect it will be the Challenge's more enduring legacy.

Liz Szabo 09-03-2014
Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse, right, gives orders for medication. Ima

Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse, right, gives orders for medication. Image via Samaritan's Purse.

A third American aid worker has been diagnosed with Ebola.

The missionary group SIM USA announced September 2 that one of its American doctors has been diagnosed with Ebola in Liberia. The doctor was treating pregnant women and those giving birth in the capital city of Monrovia.

He was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit, however. The group said in a statement that it isn’t known how the doctor was infected. The doctor isolated himself as soon as he developed symptoms, and he has been transferred to the Ebola isolation unit. He is doing well and is in good spirits, according to SIM USA.

In a related development, Kent Brantly, an American doctor earlier diagnosed with Ebola and now recovering from it, gave his first interview to NBC’s Matt Lauer. Brantly said that on July 23, when he first became ill, he knew something was wrong.

“I woke up that morning and really I just felt a little off, I felt a little warm, I felt under the weather,” Brantly said. “I took my temperature and it was 100.0, I think.”

Brantly said he was thankful his wife and two children had left a few days before to attend a wedding in Texas. He said he was not aware that there was one night when doctors thought he would die, but he does remember a night when he felt he wouldn’t make it.

“I felt like I was about to die and I said to the nurse who was taking care of me, ‘I’m sick, I have no reserve and I don’t know how long I can keep this up,’” he told Lauer.

Candles lit at temple. Image courtesy Galyna Andrushko/

Candles lit at temple. Image courtesy Galyna Andrushko/

“What did you do on your summer vacation?” 

Even now students may be answering that question in essays at the start of this new school year. Maybe you wrote such a paper years ago. No matter what you did or where you went this past summer, it was almost impossible to escape the heaviness of the headlines. #BringBackOurGirls has become a distant refrain, almost forgotten beneath the crush of summer tragedies: 

Thousands of children traveled alone from Central American countries to enter the U.S. as refugees. Ebola deaths spread to more West African nations killing hundreds including many health workers. The forces of ISIS, intent on carving out an Islamic caliphate, took over major Iraqi cities and beheaded a U.S. journalist in SyriaRussia usurped Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency announced in late August that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Gaza has been reduced to rubble while Hamas rockets still fly toward Israeli cities. Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African American man who might have started college this week, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the waning days of August.  

After such a summer, how can we do anything but scoff at Paul’s words from Romans?