Latin America

When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

The headline drew me instantly: “Latin America is the murder capital of the world.”

Appearing in the Wall Street Journal (which, being behind a paywall, is not accessible to non-subscribers so I’ll cut and paste what I can), the piece said the entire continent is in a crisis mode because of the non-stop murders that happen nearly everywhere.

With only a few exceptions (Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba), it’s become a horrible place to live and a risky place to visit. The question, of course, is how religion fits into this picture, in terms of the history of the region, as well as life there right now.

The piece begins with a description of how Acapulco, once the vacation spot for the rich and famous, has become a a sharpshooter’s gallery.

Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.

It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.

With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.

Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.

The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.

I guess there are SOME advantages in China being a police state. It does keep the murders down, although God only knows what really goes on in prisons and prison camps in that country where people disappear and never return.

In this story, everyone gets to die, starting with elementary school-aged kids to surgeons who botched a plastic surgery operation on a drug lord. The latter were found encased in cement.

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Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Murders and other atrocities have become so common in places like the Middle East, we Americans often overlook them closer to home -- for instance, in our next-door neighbor Mexico.

Thankfully, the Religion News Service does not. An incisive, indepth feature this week logs the series of murders of priests there in recent years. This exemplary article not only covers the details of some of the deaths; it also traces the ingredients of organized crime, priestly activism and government antagonism that made the killings possible.

The RNS team didn't get to the bottom of the matter, and it doesn't totally work its sources. But we'll get to that in a bit.

The story begins with the "bullet-riddled body of the Rev. Jose Lopez Guillen," found in Mexico's violence-plagued state of Michoacan. But rather than merely checking off his name, it quotes a member of his parish saying how he was "an excellent priest and very devoted to the community." It's a vital human touch.

RNS then broadens the scope, saying at least 15 priests have been killed over four years -- and 31 over the last decade. And it wisely adds context:

The murders come at a time of strained relations between church and state in Mexico, in part because Catholic bishops recently supported mass protests against a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
In the wake of the killings the church has also abandoned its normal reluctance to criticize the government and has publicly accused state officials in Michoacan and Veracruz of directing a defamation campaign against the priests.
Mexico is the country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world, with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80 percent of the population, identifying as Catholic. But the country has a long history of anti-clericalism and in the past century the government officially and often violently suppressed the church.

Sourcing for this story is impressive.

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Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

The Olympics in Rio have already thrilled millions with the gold medal performances of champs like Michael Phelps and the Final Five gymnastic team. But the Washington Post takes the occasion to look even higher: at the statue of Christ who stretches his arms out over the city.

This delightful newsfeature, by the Post's veteran religion writer Michelle Boorstein, captures several sides of what she calls "the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America": the history, the sheer size, and the many meanings behind it.

Yes, meanings, plural. As Boorstein says, "Christ the Redeemer" stands high in that class of national symbols standing for many things to many people. And yes, religious and spiritual elements are on her list.

Her story smoothly blends background, color, humor and informed sources:

But Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a "monument to science, art and religion."
Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is "reproduced everywhere," read a 2014 BBC feature, "in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin." During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo," that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.

I can even forgive her for writing "iconic image of Brazil." Whenever I see that worn adjective "iconic" these days, it looks like a flag for "Creative Shortfall Here!" But this time, the subject matter deserves it.

This story has a lot of what we old-school journalists used to call the "Hey, Mabel!" -- fun facts you'd want to tell your mate right away. We imagined a husband reading the paper over coffee and saying, "Hey, Mabel! Did you know that …"

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Vote now! Time serves up correction of the year (updated)

It may be the religion-beat question of the year. So all together now: Why is Pope Francis so popular with mainstream journalists?

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