Crisis and conflict around the globe

People fleeing Boko Haram violence in the northeast region of Nigeria cook food at a camp for internally displaced people in Yola Jan. 13. (CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters)

Not much news is worse to hear than that Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is growing and spreading from its base in Nigeria, but the Archbishop in Niger says that’s exactly what’s happening.

Catholic schools, orphanages and shops were burned in Niamey, Maradi and Zinder, and Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey, Niger, told Catholic News Service that members of Boko Haram had “certainly helped direct” the anti-Christian violence, which involved children as young as 10.

At least 10 people were killed, more than 200 injured and 45 Catholic and Protestant churches set ablaze during the riots Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, the report said. Local media said police had fought for four hours to save Niamey’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral, but reported that six of the city's eight Catholic parishes had been wrecked.

The riots were tied to protests over Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, for its depictions of Muhammad, but Cartateguy said that was just a pretext for attacking Christians.

“We’re still trying to understand the savagery which erupted here – but it’s certain it was well thought-out, prepared and organized,” he told CNS.

But there was also something beautiful that happened, even amid the evil.

“We know some local Muslims, young included, showed courage and solidarity by sheltering Christians in their family homes,” Cartateguy said. “Some also stood in our church doorways saying the rioters would have to kill them as well."

There are only about 25,000 Catholics to Niger’s 18 million Muslims, but the nation’s president condemned the violence and praised those who protected Christians, saying the rioters understand nothing about Islam.

Cartateguy said he had met and prayed with local Muslim imams, who had all condemned the violence, and vowed the churches would reopen soon. Some of the churches held Mass the weekend after the riots; on Jan. 23 the government announced a program to rebuild the churches.

#ReadThisInstead

As the nation grapples with how police forces treat minorities, an incident in Florida could have become yet another awful reminder of how far we have to go.

Instead, many clergy made a dramatic – if controversial – statement that sparked a new conversation.

Think Progress reports that a national guard member arrived at a shooting range in Medley, Florida, for training, only to find that the North Miami Beach snipers who had just finished using the range had been shooting at targets made from the mug shots of young black men.

Outrage spread with word of the incident, sparking a discussion on a private Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group, the Huffington Post reports.

The Rev. Angela Shannon, pastor of King Of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas, suggested clergy send in photos of themselves dressed in their religious clothing, the report says. Soon, a Facebook event was launched, and clergy began tweeting their photos with the hashtag #usemeinstead. One even helpfully pasted a bull’s-eye to her forehead.

The statement was dramatic: Photos of clergy asking police officers to shoot at their images was intended to remind officers that all life is sacred and lethal force should never be taken lightly. But the fact that most of the clergy taking part were white also sparked a discussion over whether whites are too quick to try to be the saviors for blacks and whether it was silencing black voices in the discussion.

Some who initially supported the campaign later had second thoughts, Huffington Post said.

“We don’t want white people to be used instead of black people as a target, we don’t want anyone to be used as target practice,” Broderick Greer, a 24-year-old student at Virginia Theological Seminary said in the report. “We want everyone to live in a society where they’re not targeted for anything.”

WE’RE ALL GOING TO– Oh, never mind. . .

Those of us in the media often mock a bad habit of our New York-based brethren who think that blizzards are only news if they hit New York City. I must confess that I have even been known to suggest that there seems to be a NYC Blizzard Factor of about 1 foot to 1 inch; meaning that when it comes to news value, at least in their eyes, 3 inches of snow in Manhattan is as big a story as 3 feet of snow anywhere else.

That was certainly the case with last week’s snowstorm, where the news was more about how much snow did not fall in New York as it was about how much did fall further up the coast, despite massive amounts burying places like Boston.

The Assumption Sisters in Worcester, Mass., however took it in stride: They had to – they were under a record-breaking 34 inches of snow.

What did they do? They did what women religious always do when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable problem – they got to work. They grabbed their shovels and started digging out, but not before taking photos of the beauty all the snow created, which you can see on their Facebook page.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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