How a journalist and her book propelled John Paul I’s path to sainthood
Plus: check out our top stories of 2021
Hi ReligionUnplugged readers,
Happy new year!
Start 2022 off right with an intriguing book review from senior contributor Clemente Lisi about Pope John Paul I, who was famously only pope for 33 days until he suffered a heart attack. For many years, because of a 1984 book, it was accepted as fact that the pope had died as a result of foul play — a conspiracy so great it was even included in a “Godfather” movie.
A 2017 book written by journalist Stefania Falasca was written to set the record straight: she shares information about the pope’s final days and medical record that discount rumors of foul play.
With the anticipated beatification of John Paul I this September, Falasca’s book is more important than ever.
Check the bottom portion of our newsletter for our best stories of 2021, and ones we think deserved more love. If you’d like the full list, check out last week’s Weekend Plug-in column.
See you next week! If you like what you read, share this with your family and friends.
The prospects for peace in the Middle East nudged forward at the end of 2021 when Palestinian Authority security forces foiled two attempts to set fire to Joseph’s Tomb, a site revered by Jews, Christians, Samaritans and Muslims that has long seen sectarian violence.
The pandemic amplified existing ministerial stress. An October poll by the Barna Group found that 38% of U.S. ministers had considered leaving full-time ministry within the past year — a 9% increase from a poll in January. Sabbaticals, extended time away to focus on spiritual growth, may be the key to avoiding burnout.
(REVIEW) Entering the main gallery is a religious experience of sorts — the sequences of tableaux that punctuate all four sides of the space serve as stations for reflection. Büttner leaves us with a restorative vision of the future, encouraging us to earnestly consider the meaning of faith, hope and love.
(REVIEW) “American Underdog” is arguably the best shot movie and worst written movie by Christian filmmakers the Erwin Brothers, prompting one to ask if faith-based films will ever overcome their bad writing problem.
The Indian government blocked foreign donations to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity over the Christmas holiday, cutting off a major source of funding for the Roman Catholic organization that provides housing, food and medical care for thousands of poor, disabled and ill Indians.
In Friday’s Weekend Plug-In column, Bobby Ross Jr. and Religion Unplugged celebrate the most popular — and most unsung — journalism produced by ReligionUnplugged.com in 2021. Check out our best stories from the past year!
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People Of Myanmar Face Unprecedented Crisis In 2022, The UN Warns by Ewelina U. Ochab
Desmond Tutu: A Role Model For Indian Church Leaders by Stephen David
Don’t miss our latest podcast
The Bowery Mission Works Through the Holidays
Dr. Robert Carle interviews Director and CEO of The Bowery Mission, James Winans to discuss how the Mission has managed the pandemic, shifted strategies to avoid community spread and partnered with the city government to help a growing population of homeless people find temporary housing. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or listen directly on our website.
In case you missed it
Some of our most read stories from 2021
A day of reckoning has come for modern-day “prophets” in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement who falsely foretold a victory for President Trump in 2020. Privately and on social media, these prophets and their thousands of followers are slugging it out in an orgy of self-blame, recriminations and fantastical hopes that somehow before Jan. 20, God will bring about a victory for Trump. Others who’ve apologized for getting it wrong have gotten accusations, curses and even death threats.
2. The Young And Secular Are Least Vaccinated, Not Evangelicals by Ryan Burge
(ANALYSIS) According to surveys by Data for Progress, more young Americans with no religious affiliation (called “nones”) resisted vaccines this summer than evangelicals, but the media has focused on vaccine hesitancy within evangelicals. Here’s what the data shows.
3. Zoom Church For The Deaf-Blind: How The Jehovah's Witnesses Are Adapting by Liza Vandenboom-Ashley
While many churches have resumed in-person services, the Jehovah’s Witnesses remain completely virtual in their operations with no plans to reopen. While the deaf-blind make up a tiny portion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the organization has innovated ways to minister to this group, using everything from advanced electronic readers to macaroni.
4. The History Behind The Christian Flags Spotted At The Pro-Trump U.S. Capitol 'Coup' by Kimberly Winston
As the mob swarmed the Capitol steps, climbed the inaugural scaffolding and even scaled the building like it was a gym climbing wall, the now commonplace red, white and blue “Trump 2020” and “Make America Great Again” flags flew alongside flags and banners with a range of Christian symbols, including a white flag with a pine tree inspired by the Old Testament and used in the Revolutionary War.
5. America’s Dream For Ethiopia Is Actually A Nightmare by Desta Heliso
(ANALYSIS) The data is in: Christianity is aging, younger generations are having fewer children, and without a great influx of new members, thousands of churches will close over the next few decades. But smaller religious groups in the U.S. — like Hindus and Muslims — have younger members who are having more kids.
6. Exclusive: Zondervan, HarperCollins In Talks To Produce ‘God Bless The USA’ Bible That Includes Constitution by Meagan Clark and follow-up Exclusive: After Pushback HarperCollins Will Not Produce ‘God Bless The USA’ Bible
HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc. and its publishing groups Zondervan and Thomas Nelson will not publish or manufacture the “God Bless the USA” Bible after a petition launched in response to ReligionUnplugged’s reporting earlier this month. The Bible would have melded the New International Version Bible text with the U.S. founding documents and Pledge of Allegiance. Its Tennessee-based seller plans to print the Bible with a public domain translation instead.
Stories that deserve a second look
'We Must All Repent': Pastors Address Their Flocks After Capitol Siege by Hamil R. Harris
On the first Sunday since a pro-Trump insurrectionist mob sieged the U.S. Capitol, pastors offered comfort and some rebuke to their congregations concerned for the future of American democracy. “The American nation will be healed when the American church repents. We must repent for making the person who occupies the White House more important than the one who occupies our hearts,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference who became known for his support of Trump.
(ANALYSIS) Recent global headlines sparked by a former BBC reporter claimed that 750 Orthodox Christians were killed in northern Ethiopia, but there is not evidence of these deaths. Moreover, international media has mischaracterized the recent crisis in Ethiopia and ignored decades of history that’s pitted federal armed forces against the powerful, well-funded Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Hong Kong pro-democracy leader and Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen told Religion Unplugged that if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were to pull out of cooperation with the Vatican and attempt to maintain an entirely Chinese Catholic Church without the pope as its head, the entire organization will be rejected by the laity. New regulations on the Church go into effect May 1 and appear designed to block the Vatican’s control of the Church inside China.
An Afghan official told Religion Unplugged that the country plans to repatriate various ancient artifacts they believe were looted from their national museum in the nineties during civil war, including a medieval Hebrew prayer book now in the Museum of the Bible’s possession in Washington, D.C. The 1200-year-old prayer book is the world’s oldest Hebrew manuscript after the Dead Sea Scrolls.
He’s an evangelist, a DJ, a radio host, a newspaper publisher, a gun violence mediator, an immigration law facilitator and much more. An immigrant from Jamaica, Rev. Terry Lee is a hustling, innovative, inner city preacher, the kind of unsung ministerial hero who works tirelessly and like a renaissance man to advance the common good inside and outside his community. And this weekend, he’s going to the White House.
Myanmar's Asylum Seekers In Malaysia Face Uncertain Deportation To Military Regime by a Religion Unplugged contributor
Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who left Myanmar for better opportunities in Malaysia are facing uncertain deportation. After Myanmar’s coup, the new military regime announced it would send three ships to collect 1,200 citizens from a Malaysian detention center that houses both migrants and asylum seekers. If deported, religious and ethnic minorities would return to the persecution in Myanmar that they fled.
Volunteers with the North Texas Jeep Club are partnering with OpenDoor Church in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex to provide transportation, food and shelter to the elderly as Texas faces widespread power outages.
After fleeing violence 31 years ago, dozens of Kashmiri Hindus returned to the Himalayan valley to see their childhood temple reopened. Their temple and others have been maintained by Muslim neighbors and protected from militant violence and the land mafia. “I believe if I safeguard the temple, God will keep me safe, it’s my duty to do that,” caretaker Mohammed Sideeq said.
Pastors Question Whether to Unplug From Online Services When the Pandemic Ends by Paul Glader and John Semakula
Many pastors around the U.S. and the world are wondering how and when church life can transition back into real-life gatherings, with church members weaned off the safety and convenience of online church. ReligionUnplugged.com spoke to a dozen pastors from Africa to America to hear about the challenges of digital church post pandemic.
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