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Asahi Shimbun and the Making of Saints: The Media Project, November 12, 2014 November 12, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with the topic.
The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon” reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a Sixteenth Century warlord who converted to Christianity. Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why — and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.

The article opens:

VATICAN CITY–A Japanese feudal warlord who was expelled from his country 400 years ago because of his Christian faith is set to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as “beatus” (blessed), the second highest canonization next to sainthood. Angelo Amato, a Vatican cardinal and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told a Japanese pilgrim band on Oct. 21 that Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) is likely be accorded the title of beatus next year, the 400th anniversary of his death.

The article relates the story of Ukon and his expulsion from Japan after Christianity was made illegal in 1614, and offers a quote from a high ranking cleric on why this man is worthy of this accolade.

“Ukon consistently set his faith above his desires for career success and wealth whenever he was forced to choose,” said Yoshinao Otsuka, a bishop of the Catholic Kyoto Diocese who serves as the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan’s committee to recommend canonization candidates. “There is a lesson for people today, who live in a highly competitive society, from his courage to set aside his competitive instincts for his faith.”

The story then outlines the beatification protocols followed by the Catholic Church and outlines where Ukon stands in this process.

The requirement for beatification includes that the deceased was killed due to hatred of their faith or that he or she is evidenced to have conducted miracles such as curing people’s ailments. The Japanese authority has recommended that Ukon be beatified as a martyr.

Why pick this story for praise? Because it is simple and clean. There are no extraneous bits here — no agenda other than telling the story as known to the Asahi Shimbun.

After relating the news of the canonization process for Ukon, the article provides historical context, an informed and succinct quote from a church leader explaining why this issue is important to Japanese Catholics, and then outlines what happens next.

It may well be that unfamiliarity with the workings of a minority religion in Japan led the newspaper to ask the basic questions about the sainthood process — and coming to the issue without preconceived notions, it was able to describe what happens and in fewer words, but with more detail and understanding than most Western newspapers.

All in all, a job well done.

First printed at the Media Project.

Is Mehmet Ali Agca crazy or just a bad Catholic?: Get Religion, April 27, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II have generated some very good press for the Roman Catholic Church. While a fewarticles have sought to punch holes in the reputations of the soon to be saints — a frequent criticism I have seen is that John Paul was negligent in disciplining the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ — most converge has been positive.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an in depth piece on the miracles associated with John Paul, that treated the issue with sympathy and empathy. It is too early to tell how outfits normally hostile to the papacy such as the BBC or the European leftist press will present this story. However, interest in the canonization outside of religious circles appears to be very high.

On Friday Vatican Radio reported that 93 nations will send official delegations to the April 27 canonization service, while two dozen heads of state and as many as 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops will be present at the Mass.

One oddball item that caught me eye amongst the flurry of articles was an interview conducted by the Italian wire service ANSA with John Paul’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Here the lede of the story that ran with the headline: “Foiled killer said sinful to ‘deify’ John Paul”:

Pope John Paul II is not a saint, because only God can be considered holy and attempts to “deify a human being” are sinful, Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pope in 1981, said Thursday in an interview with ANSA.

The article offers some background information on Agca, who in 1981 shot and nearly killed John Paul — a crime for which he served 20 years in an Italian prison, before being deported to Turkey, where he served a further ten years imprisonment for a 1979 murder. The article further notes Agca:

 has claimed at various times that his attempted murder of the pontiff was ordered by Ayatollah Rhollah Khomeini of Iran and the Soviet-era Bulgarian Secret Police.

The piece then offers an insight into the assassin’s mind, giving him space to speak.

Agca, who was released from jail in 2010, said that he “definitely wanted to kill” John Paul II so it’s a “miracle” the pontiff survived the St. Peter’s Square attack, which shocked the world. “I have seen with indisputable evidence that on May 13, 1981, God performed a miracle in St. Peter’s Square,” …

The Turkish national added that he feels no remorse because his act was part of a “divine plan”. “There’s an immeasurable difference between a divine miracle such as my assassination attempt and a psychopathic, unjustifiable crime,” said Ali Agca. “I’m extremely happy to have been at the center of a divine plan that’s cost me 30 hellish years in solitary confinement”.

Which leads me to ask, which God? Whose divine plan? Is Agca a Muslim, Christian or something else? Is he crazy?

Upon his release from prison in Turkey in 2010 Agca claimed he was “the Christ eternal” and the Messiah. Ten years in a Turkish prison are likely to addle most people’s brains and long-distance psychiatry is a risky business.

But as a point of journalism, when the subject of an interview begins to talk about god, divine plans and the like, should not the newspaper clarify the religious tradition or belief system being offered? ANSA offers background on Agca’s past and his prison history, but in a story that focuses on religion it is silent as to the subject’s own beliefs and chosen faith.

Or, is “30 hellish years in solitary confinement” excuse enough not to press too hard upon the mind of Mehmet Ali Agca?

IMAGE: The famous encounter in which Pope John Paul II offered forgiveness to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.