National Geographic: It's Catholic beekeepers vs. Mennonites (whoever they are) in Mexico

National Geographic: It's Catholic beekeepers vs. Mennonites (whoever they are) in Mexico

I know Mennonites get around, but I didn’t know there was a large colony of them in Mexico. In the U.S., they’re often known as the Amish lite people — with similar German roots and Anabaptist beliefs that got them pushed out of Europe in the 16th century.

Many of those who ended up in Canada emigrated to Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century where the government needed farmers to work on land previously owned by William Randolph Hearst, as foreign landowners were expelled at the end of the Mexican revolution in 1921. The Mennonites bought the land as long as they were freed from Mexico’s educational laws and military service. (You can read more about that here. )

Most of the Mennonites settled in the states of Durango and Chihauhua where they farmed parts of the country no one else was touching and have brought prosperity to the area.

But the National Geographic found a more isolated group on the Yucatan peninsula and wrote about it, which is where the drama starts. Once again we face a familiar journalism question: Do readers need to know anything about what the Mennonites believe?

CAMPECHE, MEXICO — “How did it start?” asks Everardo Chablé. He’s propped on a stool in his living room as the daylight fades outside. The only noise in this tiny Mexican town in the Yucatán Peninsula—where there’s no cell signal and little electricity—comes from the music his father is blasting in the yard. He speaks up. “For thousands of years the Maya people had bee culture. Then the Mennonites came with large machines and started to deforest large parts of land where the bees feed. We had virgin forest with very delicate ecosystems—deer, toucans—but most importantly bees that keep up life. When deforestation started they destroyed everything from millennia back.”…

What he’s describing is a simmering battle between a growing community of Old Colony Mennonites—the insular religion’s most conservative Low German-speaking members, who eschew modern amenities like electricity and cars—and indigenous Maya beekeepers. It has electrified this sliver of the Yucatán Peninsula. …

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Political reporters take note: There are Catholics on both sides of hot immigration debates

Political reporters take note: There are Catholics on both sides of hot immigration debates

The country is divided. You already knew that.

People are going to argue like crazy about whatever President Donald Trump says no matter that he says. You already knew that, too.

Why America is divided and the issues and people that drive that division on both sides is key to understanding our present situation. Consider, of course, immigration — and specifically the construction of a border wall — that not only shut down the federal government last month, but continues to be a source of debate between Trump and his allies (who want a wall) and Democrats (who do not).

The religion angle? The immigration debate, on the whole, has lacked adequate mainstream media coverage when it comes to how various faiths play a policy role.

Aside from the occasional message from Pope Francis calling on wealthy nations to open their arms and stop the policy of separating families, you don’t see much mention of Catholics — or religion in general — when it comes to this polarizing issue. After all, many of those in Congress who favor and oppose the wall are Catholic and a great many of those seeking asylum share those same religious beliefs. While the border wall remains a thorny issue that has recently dominated news coverage, the media has largely been on the fence when it comes to committing resources that actually looks at the issue from a faith-based perspective of those who favor stricter border enforcement.

The unreported story here is that there are many good Catholics (both politicians and voters) who support efforts to build a wall along the southern U.S. border in order to keep out other (mostly Central American) Catholics.

The truth is there are fissures within the church, the clergy and everyday Catholics (voters to politicians) when it comes to the issue. Those internal debates are a big reason why the overall electorate in fractured on the immigration debate and why Republicans and Democrats have been battling one another for months. This has led to a partial government shutdown and stalemate with Trump over border enforcement funding. Remember when some Democrats mangled the Christmas story to make a point on the issue?

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U.S. mission groups stranded by Haiti unrest, and CNN — to its credit — reports on it

U.S. mission groups stranded by Haiti unrest, and CNN — to its credit — reports on it

Summer is prime time for faith-based mission trips.

Many U.S. church groups — often including teens and college students — travel all the world this time of year.

I just returned from a Christian Chronicle reporting trip to Puerto Rico, where I followed a Kentucky congregation helping with Hurricane Maria relief work. While there, I noticed the news about unrest in Haiti, a country I visited just a few months ago to report on water well drilling. 

Just weeks ago, I reported on political violence prompting the cancellation of dozens of church mission trips to Nicaragua. Not so many years ago, of course, ongoing concerns over drug cartels began curtailing mission work in Mexico. 

Not too often, though, do major news organizations cover the impact of the dangerous world on church mission trips, even though there's frequently a compelling story there.

That's why I was so pleased to see CNN tackle that angle amid the Haiti unrest:

(CNN) A number of US missionary groups are stranded in Haiti after protesters took to the streets following a fuel price hike ordered by the government.

One group described burning barricades preventing them from reaching the airport in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince.

The US Embassy in Haiti warned its citizens Saturday to stay inside amid continued demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and a northern city.

Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant on Saturday announced a temporary stop to the price increases and appealed for calm. Prices for gasoline were to rise 38% while diesel prices were to go up 47% and kerosene 51%, the Haitian daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported.

Keep reading, and CNN offers several specific examples of groups caught in the conflict.

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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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And there is one more thing: Did press hear what Pope Francis said about abortion?

And there is one more thing: Did press hear what Pope Francis said about abortion?

So Pope Francis had something to say about the theological views of one Donald Trump. You probably heard about that.

During the same in-flight presser while returning to Rome from Mexico (full transcript here), he also addressed a question about contraceptives and the Zika virus. You probably read about that, too. Maybe.

But what did he have to say about abortion, which remains a hot-button subject? Before we get to a very interesting Religion News Service commentary on that, let's flash back for a moment.

As anyone who reads elite newspapers knows, early in the Pope Francis era the mainstream press reported, over and over, that he had ordered Catholic conservatives to stand down when it came to fighting about abortion, marriage and other "culture wars" topics.

Remember that exclusive America interview? Of course you do. It is still be quoted whenever these topics come up in church discussions. Next to the out-of-context "Who am I to judge?" soundbite (that wasn't a soundbite), we are talking about some of the most popular Pope Francis language -- ever. Here's how I summed that up in a column at the time:

... The pope unleashed a media tsunami with a long, candid interview published exclusively in America and other Jesuit magazines around the world. While the pope talked about confession, sin and mercy, one quote leapt into news reports and headlines more than any other.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," he told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit. "The teaching of the church ... is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

The strange thing is what happened next, right in the middle of that media storm. The pope addressed -- drawing next to zero coverage -- a gathering of Catholic gynecologists. And what did he have to say?

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And now, the real pope news: Francis ties media in knots with contraception/Zika remarks

And now, the real pope news: Francis ties media in knots with contraception/Zika remarks

If you didn’t hear all the excitement about Pope Francis seeming to bless contraception during his hour-long presser on the flight back to Rome, you were apparently on another planet because lots of folks were writing about it (just not on A1).

It seems that the pope also said something about Donald Trump. As one Catholic-media professional said, in an email to GetReligion:

Pope Francis signals openness to birth control for Zika virus is the big story, not the Trump thing. The possibility of changing that doctrine because of a mosquito is huge news, far more important than a spat with a multi-billionaire. ... So once again, we see that for the secular media in the U.S., it's all about politics.

So back to the real news. On the plane back to Rome after his Mexico-Cuba trip, Francis let loose once again. Veteran Whispers in the Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo rightly called it an hour-long 12-question extravaganza.

The pope's thoughts on the Zika virus and contraception were among them, albeit they were worked in such a way that it was hard to be sure exactly what he was approving. It takes a theologian to slice and dice the pope’s remarks during a flight, when it’s tough to get reaction from church officials or moral theologians thousands of miles away.

Lengthy airplane pressers are a recent invention in papal history and they have resulted in some of a pope’s most memorable phrases. Francis’ famous “who am I to judge?” quote came during a press conference on the press plane returning to Italy from Brazil in 2013. Most popes are quite tired on the flight home and sometimes let loose some zingers.

So now -- is Francis OK with using birth control in the hard cases or not?

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Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

If I was a headline writer in a major newsroom right now, looking at the tsunami of social media and news reports about the dynamic duo of Pope Francis and Billionaire Donald Trump, I would be very worried about writing something definitive that contained the article "a."

What am I talking about?

Let's take some of the early headlines on this showdown in the public square. The New York Times, in a very typical wording, offered: "Pope Francis Suggests Donald Trump Is ‘Not Christian’."

An early Reuters report offered this headline: "Pope says Trump 'not Christian' in views, plans over immigration."

Would it have been different if these early headlines -- with a telltale "a" -- had reported that the pope said "Trump is 'not A Christian' " because of his views on immigration and the Mexico-United States border?

In other words, was the pope making a judgment on the state of the GOP candidate's SOUL or stating that he believes Trump is not behaving like a Christian? This is picky, yes. But it's a crucial point.

That Reuters' report, for example offered this summary right up top:

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his views on immigration, Pope Francis said on his way back to Rome from Mexico.

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Risking lives to save souls in Mexico

Before I left on a mission trip south of the U.S. border this past spring, a Facebook friend was so kind as to post a State Department warning for all of us “crazy enough to travel to Mexico.”

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