Learning from Latin America’s top religion journalists
The rise of Pentecostal Christians is one of the big stories in Latin America. It’s caused more Catholics to develop a more emotion-focussed charismatic faith, like the one suggested by this man I photographed in a Catholic parish.
It’s been fabulous to gather together with roughly 15 of Latin America’s leading religion journalists — from Pope Francis’s Argentinian biographer to South America’s high-profile correspondent for Al Jazeera broadcasting.
They are impressive professionals and surprisingly modest people, all of whom were responding to the invitation of the International Association of Religion Journalists, which is devoted to promoting high journalistic standards, increasing understanding and reducing global conflict based on religion.
We have been gathering in the large city of Belo Horizonte, just north of Rio de Janeiro. We worked in three languages – English, Portuguese and Spanish (via instant translation).
On the first day our group met at the lovely campus of Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Minas Gerais. The next
We heard from some impressive and brave journalists who cover religion in Latin America when we met in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Some of their stories are below. (This university is one of several venues at which we met.)
day we talked at Inhotim botanical gardens, which Vancouver Sun garden writer Steve Whysall, by amazing coincidence, also visited this October. Whysall called itBrazil’s “Shangri-La“)
There were so many quality journalists at this event, and so many highlights, that I can’t do them justice now . But here are some quick impressions off the top of my head (I will write more later on the dramatic events in Latin America related to religion):
– It was a pleasure to meet the pope’s biographer, Sergio Rubin, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He wrote the authoritative biography of Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio before he was elected pope in April. Now Rubin’s book has been updated and translated into more than 17 languages. He’s a very modest fellow, who admits with a laugh he didn’t pick Cardinal Bergoglio as a front-runner, despite his coming in second in the 2005 conclave.
– We enjoyed hearing from Gustavo Entrala, of Spain, who convinced Pope Benedict to begin a Twitter account, which now has millions upon millions of followers. Entrala, wearing a T-shirt for his presentation, is a dynamic speaker and secular public relations expert, who is also busy updating the Vatican’s website. After being questioned by ace Mexican journalist Luis Chaparro, Entrala still wouldn’t tell us how much money his company is receiving from the Vatican.
Brazilian investigative journalist Elvira Lobato, who uncovered the financial dealings of a top Pentecostal broadcaster.
– In Latin America powerful Pentecostal leaders are heavily involved in TV and newspapers. We heard from Elvira Lobato, a brave investigative journalist for Solha del Palho, Brazil’s largest newspaper. She did a tremendous job uncovering highly questionable financial deeds in the way a prominent Pentecostal pastor moved into Brazil’s broadcast business. As a result, Lobato and her newspaper are now fighting more than 120 different lawsuits. It’s harassment of the highest order. Go here for an early English-language story on the lawsuits, which are still causing grief. Lobato and her paper deserve international support.
– It was great to meet Al Jazeera journalist Dima Khatib, who is putting a human face on Latin America’s many issues for her worldwide audience. She speaks eight languages and is one of the Arabian world’s best-known journalists, with a specialty exploring religious diversity on several continents.
– This item is not related to religion journalism, at least directly. But at Inhotim botanical gardens, which is also an outdoor art gallery, I experienced one of the most powerful art exhibits I’ve ever seen — in this case, heard. It was by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff. It’s called 40 Part Motet. It consisted of 40 speakers, each representing a different voice performing a sacred choral piece by Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis. Go here for a short listen. It knocked our socks off.
In addition, it was fascinating as ever to talk to prominent Argentinian broadcast journalist Pedro Brieger, who is on the board of the IARJ. Here’s one item: Even 15 years ago, in the time of dictators, he said, Brazilians and Argentinians feared that each others’ country might go to war against each other. So much has changed so rapidly — as the countries, under centre-left leaders, develop into real democracies and religious freedom expands (with some mixed results).
The photo below is of one of the outdoor art exhibitions at Inhotim giant botanical gardens / museum, where the IARJ conference met on its second day.