TIME faith

Pope Francis’ Family Synod Forgoes Flash for Spiritual Depth

Pope Attends Holy Mass For The Opening Of The Extraordinary Synod On The Family
Pope Francis attends the Opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 5, 2014 in Vatican City. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

It can be easy to fixate on the idea that the Extraordinary Synod on the Family beginning in Rome this week is purely about Catholic Church politics. The world clamors for the latest Catholic hubbub about divorce and remarriage policies, annulment reform, and which Cardinal holds which position on what agenda or controversial marital issue. But something more is happening as bishops gather for the first major doctrinal and pastoral summit of the Francis papacy; something quieter, deeper, and less immediately obvious: a spiritual renewal that Pope Francis hopes to foster between church leaders and their people.

This spiritual undercurrent, although quiet, has been powerfully present in the Holy Father’s actions this weekend. On Saturday evening, before the synod officially began and as a pink sun set behind St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called the people to gather in the piazza to pray for the upcoming two-weeks of Synod conversations. A choir chanted a hymn as tens of thousands of people arrived, each silently, most with their families. When dusk fell and the moon had risen, each person lit a candle, and thousands of drops of light filled the square. Vieni Santo Spirito, vieni, or Come Holy Spirit, come, the people sang with the choir, over and over. “May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all of humanity,” Francis told to the crowd. “Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.”

This prayer service was more testimony to the conviction that any real change in the Church must start with prayer—and a reminder of the people themselves. They, these people, these families, are the reason Francis called this Extraordinary Synod in the first place. It is only the third such special meeting a Pope has called since the Synod of the Bishops was created in 1965. The crowd was so vast that Francis himself most surely could not see the details—the children playing with their candles and dripping wax in patterns on the pavers, mothers comforting crying babies, a son helping a grandmother to a chair, the teenage couple taking selfies—but these are the people who experience the issues of family and marriage in ways clergy, who are celibate, rarely do. He was telling the people that they were foremost on his mind as the Synod began.

Francis was also reminding the bishops that the people were foremost on his mind. Most of the church leaders present Saturday evening had just arrived in Rome after having prepared for the Synod for a year, surveying their own congregations about modern family life for their peers’ review these coming weeks. Now, Francis stood before them and the first thing he did was to gather them to encounter the people and their sparks of light. Only when the service ended did he turn to greet the cardinals, one by one. The liturgical message about his priorities, and their priorities in turn, was hard to miss.

If the Holy Father’s Saturday prayer service was about the people, his Sunday mass turned to the bishops. Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, standing beneath Michelangelo’s dome and above St. Peter’s tomb, the Holy Father gave a pointed homily about the bishops’ role. The job of leaders, he preached, is to nurture the vineyard—a Biblical image for the people of God. “Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent,” he preached. “We are all sinners and can also be tempted to ‘take over’ the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can ‘thwart’ God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.”

His meaning was clear. This meeting is not a time for the bishops to each shine with their own debates, Francis was saying, but rather a time to focus on the people and what the people need. It is, as he put it, about developing “plans [that] will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God.”

The next two weeks will be telling. Francis is presiding over the world’s last truly medieval court, which can at times appear to revert to high school drama and power plays. But the spiritual moments that have shaped the Synod’s start are a concrete reminder that Francis the pastor is the one calling the shots. He’s the one walking the incense around the papal altar at mass, he’s the one celebrating Eucharist, and he’s the one determining where the ultimate emphasis is placed. He is the one in St. Peter’s seat. The bishops are there at his request. It’s the tone he sets that matters.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Keeps Silent on Syria Strikes

Pope Francis arrives with his popemobile at the Catholic University in Tirana, on September 21, 2014.
Pope Francis arrives with his popemobile at the Catholic University in Tirana, on September 21, 2014. Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The pontiff's decision not to comment on latest airstrikes may be as close as he comes to an endorsement — but it has its risks

One voice has so far remained quiet since the United States and five allied Arab nations launched airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) late Monday: That of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father’s silence is a complete contrast to his all-out effort a year ago this month—almost to the week—to prevent U.S. military strikes against the Syrian regime. Then, Pope Francis dominated the news cycle with his message opposing U.S. intervention. He wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the G-20 summit that President Barack Obama was attending, urging leaders to oppose military intervention in Syria: “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” he argued.

The Pope singled out a Syrian refugee family during a private visit to the Astalli refugee center in Rome so he could hear their story. He flooded his Twitter feed with messages like, “War never again! Never again war!” and “How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake” and “With all my strength, I ask each party in the conflict not to close themselves in solely on their own interests. #prayforpeace.”

He declared a day of prayer and fasting for Syria and held a five-hour prayer service in St. Peter’s Square as the U.S. and France contemplated military strikes. “How many conflicts, how many wars have mocked our history?” he asked the tens of thousands of faithful gathered. “Even today we raise our hand against our brother. … We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent letters to all members of Congress urging them to vote against military intervention in Syria. The USCCB also wrote to President Obama to make clear that for the Pope and Middle Eastern Bishops “a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.”

The Pope’s messaging this past week could not be more different. As the U.S. has considered its next steps in combating the ISIS threat, @Pontifex’s tweets have been about spiritual poverty and God’s love that does not cease. In his visit to Albania, he briefly rebuked (unnamed) religious militants who act in the name of God—“May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity,” he told diplomats at the presidential palace on Sunday—but that’s about it.

Why the change? Certainly the political landscape has shifted over the past year. The ISIS threat has risen to the global scene, and these latest airstrikes are targeting militant groups rather than Assad’s regime. Russia may now seem like less of an obvious partner for peace after its actions in Ukraine. Pope Francis himself has a panoply of issues on his agenda, from migration crises to Vatican financial reform to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the family. Plus, there is the risk that the appearance of Vatican support for military intervention against ISIS could flame a “Christian v. Muslim” narrative that could further endanger religious minorities in the region.

The Pope is not usually a figure world leaders look to for foreign policy advice when considering military action—his role is more one of a moral symbol, and so his voice is relevant chiefly for its perceived influence in shaping public opinion. The Catholic Church traditionally holds to the theory of just war, historically accepting military intervention as a sometimes necessary step toward peace. But no one expects a symbol of peace to ever be an advocate for war — and so the Pope’s silence may be as close as the Holy See gets to giving an endorsement.

Francis did hint at his approval of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq last month, when it began targeting ISIS positions there. So long as the international community was involved, and not just a sole actor, he told a reporter on his return flight from South Korea, “I can say only it’s licit to stop an unjust aggressor.”

He also sent special envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni to Iraq to visit displaced and threatened minorities—Christian, Yezidi, and other—in August. “The Church as Church is and will always be against war,” Filoni, who was the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq under Sadaam Hussein, said upon returning. “But these poor people have the right to be defended. They have no weapons, they have been driven out from their homes in a cowardly way, they have not engaged the enemy.”

But silence about human rights more broadly however has its risks, especially in pivotal political moments like we are seeing this week. Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen Jr. put what’s at stake in the Pope’s diplomatic career best. “To date, the only concrete diplomatic success to which Francis can point is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cling to power by opposing Western strikes [last year],” Allen wrote for the Boston Globe’s new Catholic site Crux. “Yet assuming that Assad reasserts control, the question is whether Francis will use the Church’s resources to promote greater respect for human rights and democracy. If not, his major political accomplishment could go down as propping up a thug.”

TIME faith

Pope’s Marriage Celebrations Hint at Coming Changes for Church

Pope Francis Vatican Weddings
Pope Francis celebrates the wedding of 20 couples in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on Sept. 14, 2014. Alamy Live News

Pope Francis dropped a big hint this weekend.

The Holy Father presided over the wedding of 20 couples Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica. From a distance, the group seemed fairly typical: the couples ranged from ages 25 to 56 and were all from the Diocese of Rome. But the underlying storyline is far more telling: one bride was already a mother, some of the couples had already been living together, and others had previously been married.

Popes rarely preside over public marriage ceremonies, but when they do, they tend to be linked to moments when the Church is trying to make a bigger point about the place of the family in society. Pope John Paul II performed the last public marriage ceremony in 2000 as part of the Jubilee for Families, an event that focused thematically on the gift of children and the harm of abortion. Before that, in 1994, he presided over a public wedding ceremony for the International Year of the Family, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly.

For Francis, now is a similar moment of historical importance. In a matter of weeks, he will convene the October Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the first big-ticket item Francis put on the papal agenda when he became Pope last year. The Holy See reserves such Extraordinary Synods for moments of urgency in the Church’s life—October’s event is only the third Extraordinary Synod ever to be called since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965—and this gathering’s topic will be “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” In other words, the event will explore how churches can show compassion in the context of modern views and practices on sexuality.

Francis has continually emphasized the importance of pastoral care in the conversation about what the Church condones and condemns. In the Francis papacy, tone, and not just content, matters. The Vatican’s official position is that remarriage can only happen if a previous marriage is annulled, meaning declared to never have truly existed. Cohabitation is frowned upon. But the document that the Vatican has circulated about the Synod indicates that Francis’ priority will be on mercy when it comes to the Church’s characteristically controversial teachings on divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation.

Sunday’s wedding ceremony is another sign that Rome is signaling a new openness to including married people who have been divorced or who have cohabitated in the church’s sacraments. Marriage itself, like communion, is a sacrament in Catholic theology, and both are a way that the faithful can experience life in community with fellow believers. Since local churches currently tend to make their own decisions about serving communion to divorced and remarried, or cohabitating Catholics, any overarching guidance from the Holy Father this October could mean significant change. Cohabiting couples cannot be denied marriage by policy in the Catholic Church, but a priest is not obliged to marry a couple, and so Pope Francis’ example of presiding over a wedding for couples who had lived together will likely encourage other priests to follow suit.

Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is groundbreaking enough for the Synod without putting the issue of gay marriage on the table. Major change on that topic, however, is highly unlikely at the moment. Pope Francis did not preside over the weddings of any gay couples last weekend. Moreover, his homily at the wedding affirmed that marriage in the Catholic Church remains between a man and one woman. “This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man,” he preached. “Here we see the reciprocity of differences.”

But, by celebrating the marriages that he did, Pope Francis offered a sacramental blessing that will not go unremembered when the bishops gather in Rome next month.

TIME faith

Yale Chaplain Explains Resignation After Oped About Israel and Anti-Semitism

Rev. Bruce Shipman
Courtesy of Rev. Bruce Shipman

Letter sparks a debate over what opinions should be permitted in the clergy and on university campuses

Yale University Episcopal chaplain Bruce Shipman says three sentences cost him his job.

In a short letter to the New York Times late August, Shipman responded to an op-ed by Deborah E. Lipstadt titled “Why Jews are Worried,” about rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

Here’s what he wrote:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond. The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank. As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

Within hours of the letter’s publication, Shipman says, people on and off campus began calling for his ouster. Two weeks later, he resigned. Why this happened—and what’s at stake—depends on who you ask.

Shipman has a long history of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. As a teenager, he lived in Egypt while his father worked for World Health Organization and was there when Israel invaded during the 1956 Suez War. “Among my friends were Palestinian refugees and their children who were my age, so I heard their stories of dispossession and loss, people who had lost their homes and their farms and cut off from their land living in Jaffa and in the area which is now known as Israel,” he says.

He has visited Israel and the Palestinian territories more than a dozen times. This spring, he took a group of Yale students on a spring trip to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. “There is an apartheid situation there,” he says. “It is unpopular to say so, but it is the truth.” His letter, he explains, “suggested that in looking at the uptick in anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world, there is a correlation between the unresolved issues in Israel/Palestine, the recent war in Gaza and the terrible damage incurred by that war, the awful civilian casualties, and all of this I believe has contributed to an uptick in anti-Semitic violence,” he says. “That is what I said, and that is what I meant.”

Many people swiftly pounced. Yale pointed out that Shipman was not on staff but was rather employed by the Episcopal Church. Chabad at Yale, a Jewish student group, issued this statement: “Reverend Bruce Shipman’s justification of anti-semitism by blaming it on Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is frankly quite disturbing. His argument attempts to justify racism and hate of innocent people, in Israel and around the world.”

Religion columnist and Yale lecturer Mark Oppenheimer wrote that Shipman’s approach “gives license to all sorts of stereotyping, racism, and prejudice. . . . why wouldn’t one write, ‘The best antidote to stop-and-frisk policing would be for black men everywhere to press other black men to stop shooting each other’? Why wouldn’t one write—perhaps after a Muslim was beaten up by white-supremacist thugs—’The best antidote to Islamophobia would be for radical Islam’s patrons abroad to press ISIS and Al Qaeda to just cut it out’?”

David Bernstein wrote for the Washington Post, “Next on Rev. Shipman’s bucket list: blaming women who dress provocatively for rape, blaming blacks for racism because of high crime rates, and blaming gays for homophobia for being ‘flamboyant.'”

The official reason for Shipman’s resignation, according to the Episcopal Church at Yale, was not the letter but “dynamics between the Board of Governors and the Priest-in-Charge.” Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut and president of the board of governors for the Episcopal Church at Yale, emphasized this distinction to the Yale Daily News. “It’s not as glamorous a story to hear that Priest-in-Charge Bruce Shipman resigned because of institutional dynamics within the Episcopal Church at Yale and not the debates related to Israel and Palestine — but it’s the truth,” he said.

Shipman disagrees. “This story cannot be simply dismissed as the inner problems of the Episcopal Church at Yale. It was not,” he says. “It was this letter that set off the firestorm.”

For Shipman, the controversy raises a number of “troubling questions” about free speech on campus. In addition to the hate mail, Shipman says he has also received letters of support from people thanking him for taking a courageous stand for Palestinian rights. University chaplains, he adds, have a long history advocating unpopular cultural positions. William Sloane Coffin Jr., a chaplain at Yale during the 1960s, gained fame for practicing civil disobedience in prostest of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Clergy today, he continues, need to know what protections they do and don’t have when it comes to taking unpopular positions. “I think of abolitionism and the role the church played in that, I think of the civil rights movement, I think of the anti-war movement and the role the chaplains played in that, often incurring the wrath of big givers and donors of the university, but they were protected and they were respected,” he says. “That seems not to be the case now.”

As to what’s next for him, Shipman isn’t yet sure, but he doesn’t plan on remaining silent. “I think the truth must be brought out and it must be discussed on campus by people of goodwill without labeling anti-Semitic anyone who raises these questions,” he says. “Surely this debate should take place on the campuses of the leading universities across the country. If not there, where?”

TIME 2016 Election

Why Ted Cruz Was Booed Off Stage at a Christian Event

The Senator's remarks about Israel set off the confrontation

While the nation watched President Obama primetime address the threat of ISIS Wednesday night, something else was happening in Washington: Senator Ted Cruz was getting booed off the stage of a Christian event.

Cruz is often considered a rising darling of the American Christian right. He speaks at evangelical gatherings in the country, talks to groups of conservative pastors and headlines events with the Family Research Council. But Wednesday night, his Christian audience was largely Eastern and Arab. The brand of conservative, American evangelicalism that Cruz often champions—one that often aligns itself with the state of Israel’s interests—did not sit well with everyone in attendance.

Cruz was keynoting a gala for In Defense of Christians (IDC), an advocacy and awareness group that aims to bring the U.S.’s attention to the plight of ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, and to protect the rights of other religious minority groups in the region. This week, IDC is hosting a three-day Summit, a conference bringing together a range of Middle Eastern Christians—Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, Syriac, Lebanese, Assyrian, to name a few—to foster a new sense of unity in the midst of a politically fraught season. Most of the panels at the summit are of a religious nature, but a handful of political leaders are slated gave remarks as well, including Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was Wednesday’s gala’s master of ceremonies, but Cruz was tapped to give a keynote.

Cruz initially received applause for his opening remarks that the group was united in defense of Christians, Jews, and “people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings.”

Things turned sour within minutes. “ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East,” Cruz said. “Sometimes we are told not to lump these groups together, but we have to understand their so-called nuances and differences. . . . In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.”

His audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel began to boo.

At first, Cruz continued undeterred. “Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.”

The booing got louder.

Cruz pressed on, adding that his heart “weeps that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals who seek to murder them.”

IDC’s president Toufic Baaklini tried to calm the crowd, which appeared to have a divided reaction to Cruz’s words, but by that point Cruz had had enough. “I am saddened to see some here, not everyone, but some here are so consumed with hate,” he said (to which someone in the audience shouted, “We are not consumed with hate, no, you are consumed with hate”).“If you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz said. “Thank you and God bless you.”

With that, Cruz walked off stage.

Later Cruz reacted to the event on his Facebook page. “Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself ‘In Defense of Christians,’” he wrote. “Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred. . . . Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”

Baaklini attempted to smooth over the situation. “As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems,’” he said in a statement following the incident. “In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.”

At its core, Cruz’s problem was one of context. First, he pinned his remarks to the conflict between Israel and Hamas when one of the group’s primary agenda points was actually the plight of Iraqi Christians. Second, Christians are far from a monolithic group, especially when it comes to views on policy on Israel and the Middle East. The American evangelicals Cruz typically addresses tend to be worlds apart historically, culturally, theologically, and politically from the Christian leaders in attendance.

Most American evangelicals are likely not even familiar with the Christian leaders gathered at this event, even though the headliners are the Rick Warrens, Cardinal Dolans, and even Pope Francises of their own Eastern Christendom communities, who also met with Obama at the White House on Thursday: Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Raï, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Gregorios III Laham, Melkite Greek Catholic Patirarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria, and Jerusalem; Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlawi, Archbishop of New York and All North America for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; Ibrahim Ibrahim, Bishop Emeritus of Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not Cruz meant to rile up the crowd to rally his own base or whether it was all a giant mistake is hard to parse. Whatever the case, it caused quite a stir. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and another speaker at IDC’s conference, calls Cruz’s performance “bizarre” yet “expected.” “Like most other blind ideologues on the far right, he cared not a bit for the reality and the sensitivities of Middle East Christians,” he says. “If policy makers want to help Christians, they will first listen to them, before they try to lecture them. Having an ‘I love Israel, and I don’t care about the rest of the Arab World’ mindset may work in US politics, but it’s why we are in the mess we are in across the region.”

Baaklini, the IDC president, says the incident only serves as a reminder that unity, especially among diverse Christian groups, is still needed. “Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that In Defense of Christians is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside,” he said. “We remain undaunted and focused on achieving our goals.”

TIME faith

Faith of Slain Journalists Remembered at Home

Freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010.
Freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010. Mazen Mahdi—EPA

Both James Foley and Steven Sotloff were men of prayer

Words often escape when grief strikes deep. In the last two weeks, the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) beheaded two American journalists and posted the gruesome videos of their deaths online. The first victim, James Foley, was Catholic. The second, Steven Joel Sotloff, was Jewish. Both were truth-tellers, and both were men of prayer. Their communities of faith now face new challenges as their families and their nation mourns: comforting the living and remembering the dead.

Sotloff’s Jewish identity and dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship were kept under wraps in efforts to protect him during his time in ISIS captivity. Since saving his life is no longer possible, details of his Judaism are beginning to come to light on the national scene.

“[Sotloff] was 31 years old, raised in Miami and a proud member of our Jewish community,” the Greater Miami Jewish Federation said in a statement offering prayers and condolences to the Sotloff family. “He was a son, a brother and a grandson who will be dearly missed.”

Sotloff’s grandparents survived the Holocaust, and his mother taught preschool at Temple Beth Am, a reform synagogue outside Miami. He moved to Israel in 2008 for undergraduate studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzilya near Tel Aviv. In Hebrew, his middle names means “Yahweh is God.” Sotloff reportedly prayed in the direction of Jerusalem and even fasted for Yom Kippur during his captivity by telling his captors that he was sick and couldn’t eat.

Prayer similarly helped to sustain Foley during his captivity. The first time Foley was captured — in Libya several years ago — he would pray the rosary on his knuckles. “It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed,” he later wrote in an article for Marquette University, his Jesuit alma mater. “I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.”

When Foley was later captured in Syria, his captors confiscated his letters to his family, but he had fellow hostage Daniel Rye Ottosen memorize and dictate a final letter, which Ottosen delivered upon his own release last June. “I feel you all especially when I pray,” Foley told his family through Ottosen. “I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”

Now the nation’s eyes are turning from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic church, where a special mass for Foley was held last week, to Temple Beth Am, where a memorial service for Sotloff is planned for Friday. The rabbis, like the bishops before them, have the difficult task of trying to help the Sotloff family and the community cope with their grief. In times of death, grieving together in silence is a common Jewish ritual. It is also customary, Rabbi Terry Bookman of Temple Beth Am says, for the community to say, “May God comfort and console you along with all who mourn the loss of a loved one, in Zion, and throughout the world,” to comfort the mourners. “Steven grew up here and I have known him most of his life,” Bookman says. “The world is diminished by his loss.”

The words of the Biblical psalmist also offer comfort, explains Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Temple Beth Am’s Jewish Life Coordinator. Psalm 23 reminds mourners that even as they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with them. “It moves us from a place of pain, vulnerability, and loneliness, to a place of comfort and hope,” she says.

Greengrass adds that mourners also say, “Baruch dayan ha-emet, Blessed is the true judge.” “In that moment of loss we accept that we are not in control, and we turn the pain of our loss into praise for God,” she explains. “In this way, the memory of our loved one becomes a benediction.”

TIME 2014 Election

The 6 Feistiest Ads From the Battle To Be Arizona’s Next Governor

Senate Judiciary Cmte Holds Hearing On Americans' Access To Voting Booths
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about voter rights at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

One Republican ad for governor in Arizona includes screaming sheep

The Arizona gubernatorial primary election is just four days away, and for months now, Arizonans have been hearing the six Republican candidates on the ballot fight over who can do one thing best: stop illegal immigration.

Arizona has long been at the center of the national immigration policy debate, especially this year as record numbers of unaccompanied minors crossed the Mexico-United States border. Current Republican governor Jan Brewer—who championed the state’s controversial SB1070, or “show-me-your-papers,” law—is term-limited, and the race to take up her mantle has been feisty. Candidates’ soundbites at a gubernatorial debate in late July included Ken Bennett, Arizona’s current secretary of state, saying, “a good neighbor doesn’t hop your fence, break into your garage, and live out of your freezer;” former California Congressman Frank Riggs adding that he would have credibility with Congress because he knows where the men’s room is at the Capitol; and Scott Smith, former mayor of Mesa, Arizona, comparing his competitors’ promises to carnival games.

The Republican nominee will face Democratic challenger Fred DuVal, former president of the Arizona Board of Regents, who has been endorsed by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. Republican campaign advertisements, predictably, have centered on who would best protect the border. Here’s a roundup of the topline:

Scott Smith, former mayor of Mesa, Arizona, has Brewer’s endorsement. His spot features screaming sheep:

Ken Bennett, the Arizona secretary of state who asked Hawaii officials to verify President Barack Obama’s birthplace in 2012 before putting him on the state’s presidential ballot, says he’s a nice guy, and a tough one:

Doug Ducey, Arizona state treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO, snagged endorsements from Senator Ted Cruz and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

Christine Jones, attorney and former GoDaddy executive, got a boost this week from GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, who contributed $1 million to a PAC backing her campaign:

Frank Riggs, former U.S. Representative, does pullups while discussing border security:

Andrew Thomas, former Maricopa county attorney, adds that he has “stood up to the gay lobby:”

TIME Religion

Preachers Focus on Faith in the Shadow of Ferguson

Lesley McSpadden the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown joins a capacity crowd of guests at Greater St. Marks Family Church to discuss the killing of her son and the civil unrest resulting from his death on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri.
Lesley McSpadden the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown joins a capacity crowd of guests at Greater St. Marks Family Church to discuss the killing of her son and the civil unrest resulting from his death on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

From the St. Louis suburb at the epicenter of the protests to mega-churches in cities nationwide, religious leaders aim to figure out how faith can help communities come to terms with the crisis in Missouri

To say it has been a tough week in Ferguson hardly begins to address the scope of all that has gone down in the country’s heartland these past seven days. The week has brought a teenager’s death, protests, looting, clashes with police, the national spotlight and a nationwide uprising, not to mention deep questions about race and justice in America.

On the first Sunday since the unrest exploded and the morning after Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew, many in the Missouri town will attend worship services at one of the dozens of churches that line its streets, giving religious leaders the challenging task of somehow trying to help their communities make sense of their new reality.

Karen Knodt, the pastor of Immanuel United Church of Christ in central Ferguson, plans to preach about the week’s events when her community gathers this Sunday. She is one of the many pastors worldwide who base their weekly sermons off the lectionary, a schedule for reading Scripture aloud in church. One of the main texts scheduled for this weekend comes from the prophet Isaiah, and is timely given the week’s context: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand, 
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’”

Many congregants in her 700-person-strong church have been lifelong residents of Ferguson, Knodt explains, and have watched the town’s demographics change from a predominantly German to African-American community. This week she has been checking on members to gauge their safety and stress, and meeting with other clergy to work together to plan their response. Some church members have been working to help clean up looted businesses, she says, and others have launched a special food drive to address empty food pantries in town.

This Sunday, one of her main challenges is to encourage members not to give in to fear. “The reactions in the congregation range from lock the doors to let’s be on the front lines and offer what we can,” she says. “Spiritual needs are mostly how not to live in fear, but to be present to the tragedy and the frustrations, to have compassion for all our neighbors and courage to face our divisions and find ways to live and unify the community across racial, geographic, and class lines.”

Down the street is St. Stephen’s Episcopal, where Reverend Steve Lawler has been reaching out this week to members of both the white and black communities. No one he has talked with so far knew Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed last Saturday, but some have known the police officer involved in his death. “The Ferguson people I have talked to are hopeful, saddened, outraged, defensive, engaged, scared, prayerful and deeply committed to getting through this difficult time together,” he wrote in an update letter to friends and family in the Episcopal community.

The Ferguson Ministerial Alliance, the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, and the NAACP have been working to bring people together, Lawler says. He is also noticing ways his community is taking pains to support the town—from a group of women making its way through town eating at local restaurants to thank them for staying open, to a young mom and her kids dropping off sandwiches and water to protestors gathered at the QuikTrip on West Florissant, to a man whose son was murdered two years ago dropping food to the food pantry and talking about the sorrow of the family, police, and community.

“I have been living with this quote, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are,’” Lawler says, citing the words of Desmund Tutu. “‘It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’”

The preachers of Ferguson are not alone in their challenge of guiding congregants through what has happened and what lies ahead. Ferguson has sparked a national moment, and pastors across the country face the challenge of speaking to congregations who have watched the crisis unfold all week.

The Rev. Otis Moss III, a black liberation theologian who preaches at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, said he would quote from Psalm 142 — “a psalm of lament and cry for help when the writer felt like an outcast [or] criminal, and not a citizen in his own nation” — and also from the song “Makes me Wanna Holla” by Marvin Gaye. “There is a line in the song that states it makes me wanna holler and throw up both of my hands,” he says.

Reverend Leslie D. Callahan, who leads the historically black St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, has been preaching a series called “Freedom Summer,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi. “From the beginning I have noted that discussions of “freedom” and “citizenship” in our nation are too often narrowly constructed, leaving out the poor, black folks, immigrants,” she says. “Events in Ferguson over the last week express this fact more poignantly than I can bear.”

She believes that the lectionary message from Isaiah is particularly instructive. “I believe that clergy of all colors need to speak a word condemning the bloodshed on the ground and the suppression of truth-telling,” she says.

Even still, she is fully aware of just how difficult preaching in the face of such communal upheaval can be. “What’s happening flies in the face of everything I believe about human beings and justice,” she says. “I don’t even know where to start.”

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