One of the largest medieval buildings in Paris reopens this week as a forum for discussion about faith in the modern world after more than two centuries being used mostly as a fire station and police training centre. The Collège des Bernardins was founded in 1247 by the English Cistercian monk Stephen of Lexington as a residential college for the order’s monks. After the French Revolution, it was taken over by the city.
Recognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen’s post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia’s Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there, McCain’s reaction statement noted that Georgia was “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said “the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.”
The nascent Catholic-Muslim dialogue sparked by the “Common Word” initiative was never going to be easy, even under the best of circumstances. There is a lot of suspicion, misunderstanding and different agendas to deal with. And then there are the surprises that can come seemingly out of nowhere and blow the effort off course, at least temporarily. One of these was the baptism of the Egyptian-born Italian journalist Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict that popped up by surprise on Saturday evening and highlighted some of the twists along the path of inter-faith dialogue.
During World War Two, Pope Pius XII was (1) a saintly man, (2) Hitler’s Pope or (3) neither of the above. This question continues to weigh on Catholic-Jewish relations despite all the progress made since the Second Vatican Council. It would be easy to assume that Catholics answer (1) and Jews (2), but the debate is far more complex than that. There are Catholics who say Pius didn’t do enough to help the Jews and Jews who defend him as doing everything he could under the circumstances.
Any foreign correspondent who ever covered the old Soviet bloc remembers how the official press seemed to print only news-free communiques and bland official photos. Scanning newspapers like Pravda or Scînteia or Neues Deutschland, the skilled reader looked for subtle changes from the norm as hints of possible shifts in official thinking. Once a slight deviation was sighted, readers would watch to see if it was just a flash in the pan or whether it became a normal feature.
One of the fascinating aspects about reporting on religion is that the timeframes are far longer than most topics news agencies cover. Experts debate the fine points of little-known issues and progress can be slower than a snail’s pace. But it’s sometimes interesting to take a look at where they’re going.
Imagine you are a Jewish historian of the Holocaust. You are being awarded one of Germany’s most prestigious prizes. The ceremony is solemn, the audience filled with the great and the good. The three Germans speaking before you give lofty speeches praising you and your life’s work for recording and explaining what they must never forget. What kind of speech should you deliver?
In the competitive world of agency news, most Reuters correspondents are more than happy to file a breaking story a few minutes ahead of the competition. Our financial reporters sometimes win a beat of a second or less – and get kudos from their editors because even that can make a difference to clients. When it comes to religion, though, the time frame can stretch out to eternity. Disputes that are centuries, even millennia old still influence things today.