Death in Yemen
“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs,” said Muhammad al-Marzuqi, a villager in Malus, Yemen. It was a cluster bomb—a particularly vicious weapon banned by a 117-nation agreement that neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia signed—which sends thousands of bomblets and metal fragments over a broad area. Thrown to the floor, unconscious, with burns and wounds all over the left side of his body, Muhammad woke up in the hospital. For over six months a coalition including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco, along with Egypt and Sudan, has been waging war against the Houthis, rebels who drove Yemen’s president into exile.
The bombings, which have become random and daily, have devastated a country that is among the poorest in the world, destroying cities, roads, neighborhoods, hospitals, a refugee camp and food and water supplies. A hospitalized 20-year-old man with bandages covering burns on 65 percent of his body told The New York Times (9/13), “They are targeting the whole population,” which included seven members of his family. The dead now total 4,500.
The civil war reflects the region’s Shiite-Sunni split and a rivalry between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have described the bombing as a war crime. The Obama administration has declined to publicly chide Saudi Arabia, an important ally in the Iran nuclear pact. But the United States has a clear moral obligation to cut off any arms sales to the Arab coalition until this slaughter stops and to use its power to stop this terrible little war.
Open Doors, Open Hearts
In more than two years as pontiff, Pope Francis has not yet found the time to take a break at the famed papal vacation home in the hills of Castel Gandolfo. But that does not mean others cannot enjoy it. Francis recently opened the doors of the papal summer residence to tourists, who can reach the botanical and architectural beauty of the gardens and buildings there by taking a chartered train that runs between Vatican City and Castel Gandolfo.
Reporters on the inaugural journey on Sept. 11 rode a 1915 coal-powered steam locomotive, but everyday travelers will ride a more eco-friendly electric train. Visiting the attractions will not only offer a chance for visitors to experience a part of Catholic history; it will also help the merchants in town, who in the past have relied upon an influx of tourists arriving to pray with popes in the summer months.
The decision to literally open the doors to church structures is one that Francis has emphasized throughout his papacy and encourages both transparency and community. “Empty convents are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ: refugees,” Francis said in 2013. He again emphasized this last month, when he called on “every” parish and religious community in Europe to take in a Syrian refugee family. This is a model that can be followed in more peaceful times, as well. We must ask: What church spaces can be made more welcoming to people in need? Are there empty rooms that could be filled with young volunteer groups or intentional communities? The church must make sure that we offer both open hearts and open doors to all who knock.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is used to drawing big crowds. But the 12,000 students who packed Liberty University’s auditorium on Sept. 14 were not his typical audience. The self-described democratic socialist candidate for president had accepted an invitation from the evangelical Christian college, well known for its conservative politics, to give its fall convocation.
Mr. Sanders did not hide the fact he and many in the crowd likely did not see eye to eye on abortion and same-sex marriage. But that did not keep the senator from seeking common ground. Mr. Sanders touched on many of his usual talking points but asked those listening to “put this in the context of the Bible.” He quoted the Book of Amos and the Gospel of Matthew when condemning income inequality. He said that none of “God’s children” should die because they lack health insurance. And Mr. Sanders appealed to his family values in making the case for paid family and medical leave. The response to his speech was respectful, though not enthusiastic.
This is the type of civil discourse our country desperately needs. Instead of denigrating those with different beliefs, Mr. Sanders asked them to take their faith seriously. For their part, the students and administration of Liberty University should be commended for welcoming a voice that was sure to challenge and even offend many listeners. There is an unfortunate trend on campuses today to retract invitations from “controversial” speakers of every ideological stripe, from Bill Maher to George Will, if enough students find their views disagreeable. Bernie Sanders and Liberty have demonstrated that respectful dialogue is possible. The presidential campaign will be much more fruitful if others follow their lead.