Today is May 1, also known as May Day, which is celebrated in 80 countries and honors workers. It is also the feast day for St. Joseph the Worker, Jesus’ adopted father. (More on that later.)
We mark the occasion by turning our attention overseas:
The State Department warns of a surge in the number of aggressive al-Qaida affiliates and like-minded groups the Middle East and North Africa that pose a serious threat to U.S. interests and allies.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom underscores the world’s worst religious freedom abusers.
Things are getting really ugly in Syria
They include public crucifixions. Two men were reportedly crucified in Raqqa on Tuesday, their bloody corpses displayed in the center of a town controlled by the most severe of Syria’s Islamist factions. Warning: this story has graphic photos.
Not just the Middle East
In Nigeria, hundreds of girls kidnapped by the militant Muslim group Boko Haram were taken into Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira, or $12, The Washington Post reports.
And the sultanate of Brunei this week becomes the first Southeast Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, the latest example of a deepening religious conservatism that has also taken root in parts of neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
Two bright stories abroad
In a slum in Nairobi, a minister works with the city’s outcasts. No, not the poor, but the city’s gays and lesbians who are shunned, condemned and discriminated against in most other Kenyan churches.
The Vatican will host a novel workshop at which economists, theologians and researchers will convene to consider a subject that transcends the realms of data and values: “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Planet, Our Responsibility.”
(Bonus: Pope Francis apparently has a statuette of St. Joseph the Worker near his room in St. Martha’s House, where he leaves prayer requests. The pope slips prayer requests he has written under the pedestal and as the pieces of paper grow in number, the statuette slowly rises.)
Yes, yes, today is also National Day of Prayer (we haven’t forgotten)
The Pew Research Center says 55 percent of Americans pray every day.
Praying to the wrong God?
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) all but accused President Barack Obama Wednesday of promoting Islam while “suppressing our Judeo-Christian values.” Marking the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s inaugural, Inhofe took to the Senate floor to say:
“Oklahomans regularly ask me … why we have an administration that suppresses our Judeo-Christian values while praising Islam.”
No guns allowed
Now that Georgia has loosened its gun possession and carry laws, Catholic and Episcopal bishops in that state have declared that firearms will not be permitted in their churches anywhere in the state of Georgia.
Bad news for liberal Jews
The dovish group J Street has lost its bid to gain admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations by an unexpectedly wide margin. In a secret ballot vote held Wednesday in New York, J Street failed to come close to winning the two-thirds majority of participating members needed to win admission to the umbrella group.
White supremacist’s sexual entanglements
Frazier Glenn Miller, the former KKK “grand dragon” and proud anti-Semite accused of killing three people outside Kansas Jewish centers earlier this month was caught in the mid-1980s in a car with a black male prostitute dressed as a woman.
- Samuel G. Freedman writes in The Forward that Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and a Jew, has a lot in common with Strom Thurmond and Lee Atwater. For those white Christian Southerners, he writes, hatred of blacks was inextricably bound up with the attraction to blacks. “Sterling represents a small-minded past that, unfortunately, refuses to die in its entirety,” Freedman writes. (Also this: Oprah Winfrey may buy the Clippers.)
- The botched execution in Oklahoma has renewed the death-penalty debate. But Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says this is about something else.
“…what happened in Oklahoma last night reveals perhaps our deepest national self-deception–that, no matter what goes wrong, we will fix it because we are in control.”
- Are teachers at Catholic schools educators or ministers? The debate comes amid several high-profile cases of openly gay employees being fired from Catholic institutions. Michael O’Loughlin examines the issue in The Advocate.
- Can’t get enough of the Rev. James Martin? Here’s an interesting Q&A in which the author-priest talks about why he quit his corporate finance job at General Electric to join the Jesuits.
From the RNS stable:
- Glenn Beck, a Mormon, preached at Liberty University last week.
- Who knew? Cardinal John O’Connor’s mother was born Jewish.
- Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose standoff with the federal government over cattle grazing rights has become national news, is Mormon. Jana Riess says that may be good news in a perverse kind of way.
- A three-foot sapling grown from the tree Holocaust diarist Anne Frank wrote about now graces the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Stick with us. Our saplings come in the form of stories brought daily to your inbox.