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‘Not a Flag to Wave’: Pope Criticizes Political Use of Christianity

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‘Not a Flag to Wave’: Pope Criticizes Political Use of Christianity


ROME — Pope Francis on Tuesday rejected in stark terms the use of the cross as a political tool, an apparent swipe at nationalist forces in Europe and beyond that have used the imagery of Christianity for personal gain.

“Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, much less to a political symbol, to a sign of religious and social status,” Francis said in eastern Slovakia during a four-day visit to that country and to Hungary, his first trip since undergoing intestinal surgery in July.

The remarks came two days after Francis stopped in Budapest, where he met Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has made Hungary’s Christian roots and identity a hallmark of his political messaging and policies, including anti-immigrant and nationalist measures.

“The cross is not a flag to wave, but the pure source of a new way of living,” Francis said, adding that a Christian “views no one as an enemy, but everyone as a brother or sister.”

Francis has a track record of speaking more freely, and critically, of a country after leaving it. In 2017, he spoke out in support of the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar after departing that country for neighboring Bangladesh.

On Sunday, he urged bishops in Hungary to embrace diversity. And after celebrating a Mass there, with Mr. Orban in the front row, he said that strong Christian roots allowed a nation to reach out “toward all.”

But the pope’s remarks in Slovakia on Tuesday were more blunt. He appeared to extend his criticism to politicians and activists who use Christian references and symbols to gain ground in so-called culture wars.

“How often do we long for a Christianity of winners,” he asked, “a triumphalist Christianity that is important and influential, that receives glory and honor?”

Francis was speaking to about 30,000 faithful in Presov, in eastern Slovakia, where he presided over a Byzantine rite known as a Divine Liturgy, which is used by Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

He then added to his message of inclusion by traveling to meet with the country’s Roma, who have long experienced discrimination and poverty, in the rundown and segregated settlements of Kosice.

In his homily on Tuesday, Francis spoke at length about Christian identity, lamenting that the cross and crucifix had too often become mere adornments, diluting their true meaning.

What is the value, he asked, of hanging a crucifix from a rearview mirror or one’s neck if a person has no meaningful relationship with Jesus? “What good is this,” he said, “unless we stop to look at the crucified Jesus and open our hearts to him?”

In recent years, some politicians in Europe have used religious symbols as part of campaign messages centered on identity politics.

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the populist League party, often campaigned with rosary beads in hand. At one rally with far-right leaders from France, Germany and the Netherlands, he also invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary over Italy.

Some conservative cardinals in the Vatican — many of whom are highly critical of Francis — spoke glowingly of Mr. Salvini and have also expressed sympathy toward Mr. Orban.

In interviews before the pope’s visit on Sunday, several Hungarian priests and other Catholics in Budapest echoed Mr. Orban’s emphasis on Hungary as a Christian country. They said the prime minister had been unfairly criticized for standing up against waves of mostly Muslim migration, which he has compared to an invasion.

On Sunday, Mr. Orban and Francis convened for a courtesy meeting that lasted 40 minutes, and the prime minister urged the pontiff “not to let Christian Hungary perish.”

Francis spent just seven hours in Hungary, despite appeals by its bishops for him to stay longer.

The Vatican said that the pope’s visit to Budapest was purely spiritual in nature, to celebrate the closing Mass of a weeklong Catholic congress. But others close to the pope allowed that there could be a tacit message to Mr. Orban in the discrepancy between the time spent in Hungary and that spent in Slovakia, which is led by a progressive president who, like Francis, is critical of nationalism.



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Remains believed to belong to missing woman in van mystery are found.

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Remains believed to belong to missing woman in van mystery are found.


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Credit…North Port Police Department, via Associated Press

Human remains believed to belong to a Florida woman reported missing after her fiancé returned home from a monthslong van trip without her were found in a national park in Wyoming on Sunday, the F.B.I. said at a news conference.

“Earlier today, human remains were discovered, consistent with a description of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito,” said Charles Jones, an F.BI. agent, adding that a full forensic identification had not been completed to confirm the remains were those of Ms. Petito, 22.

A cause of death has not been determined, Mr. Jones said.

“On behalf of the F.B.I. personnel and our partners, I would like to extend sincere, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family,” said Mr. Jones, who did not take questions at the news conference. “As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”

The remains were found in the area of the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Mr. Jones said, adding that the campsite would remain closed. Anyone who was in the camping area from Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 is urged to contact the F.B.I., Mr. Jones said.

The discovery of the remains believed to be that of Ms. Petito appeared to end one search for a missing person as another continued for her missing fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, after his parents told the police they had not seen him in days.

Through a lawyer, Mr. Laundrie, whom the police have called a “person of interest,” had declined to speak with investigators, the police said. When his parents told the police that he, too, was missing, a search for him began that included scouring a vast Florida wildlife refuge.

Lawyers for the Petito family and Mr. Laundrie did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday night. As the police, F.B.I. agents and National Park rangers searched for Ms. Petito in Wyoming — the woman’s last known whereabouts, according to her family — the authorities in Florida searched for Mr. Laundrie in the refuge, a 24,565-acre park in Sarasota County called the Carlton Reserve. On Sunday afternoon, the police in North Port, Fla., said their search at the Carlton Reserve had ended with nothing new to report.

The North Port Police Department said that it was “saddened and heartbroken to learn that Gabby has been found deceased.”

“We will continue to work with the F.B.I. in the search for more answers,” the department said.

Ms. Petito left with Mr. Laundrie in July in a white Ford van outfitted for a cross-country adventure. On Sept. 1, Mr. Laundrie returned to the home in North Port, Fla., where he lived with his parents and Ms. Petito, in the white van that the couple had used for the trip and that had been registered to Ms. Petito.

Ten days later, on Sept. 11, Ms. Petito was reported missing by her parents, according to the police.

In the days after Ms. Petito was reported missing, the authorities expressed “frustration” in their efforts to speak to Mr. Laundrie, who has not been declared a suspect in the case.

The case has drawn widespread attention, as reporters have gathered outside Mr. Laundrie’s house and some in the public have scoured the couple’s Instagram accounts, which depict a seemingly carefree, nomadic “van life” in the American West.

Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie left New York on July 2 for what was supposed to be a four-month, cross-country trip visiting national parks, said Ms. Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt. The couple posted photos and cheerful updates on Instagram and YouTube, and outfitted the van with a bed, tiny bookcases and plants and art.

But something apparently went wrong in Moab, Utah, Ms. Petito’s family said.

On Aug. 12, police officers there responded to a report of a “domestic problem” after Mr. Laundrie had “some sort of argument” with Ms. Petito and told her to take a walk and calm down, according to a police report.

Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito told the officers that they were in love and engaged to be married and “desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report said.

Mr. Laundrie told one officer that “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” it said.

During the encounter with the police, Ms. Petito cried and said she had anxiety, according to body camera footage of the episode. In the police report, Ms. Petito is recorded saying she moved to slap Mr. Laundrie because she feared that he “was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.”

Both told the police that the episode should be classified as a “mental/emotional health ‘break,’” rather than as a domestic assault.

In the report, the police described Mr. Laundrie as the victim of the incident. They arranged for him to stay in a hotel that night while Ms. Petito kept the van. No charges were filed, the report says.

In social media posts published before and after Aug. 12, the couple documented their trip, including with many photos of Ms. Petito posing against backdrops of nature. A video posted on YouTube shows the couple kissing, scaling rocks and laughing at how the Utah sun melted the chocolate in Mr. Laundrie’s granola.

“I love the van,” Ms. Petito said, smiling at Mr. Laundrie.

Ms. Petito, the oldest of six siblings, had worked as a pharmacy technician to save money for the trip. She met Mr. Laundrie at Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island, Mr. Schmidt said. They began dating after graduation and moved two years ago to Florida, he said.

In their posts from 2020, the couple expressed excitement about their future.

Alan Yuhas contributed reporting.



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A Young Actor Steps Out of School and Into the High Heels of ‘Jamie’

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A Young Actor Steps Out of School and Into the High Heels of ‘Jamie’


Two years ago, Max Harwood made a video in his bedroom.

A second-year student at a musical theater school in London, he introduced himself and said where he was from. He talked about how, as a child, he would don a bouffant wig and perform Rizzo’s songs from “Grease,” making his grandmother laugh so hard that she nearly wet herself.

That minute-long video was Harwood’s first audition for the movie “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” an adaptation of the sparkly West End musical about a teenager in the north of England with dreams of being a drag queen. Seeking new talent, the producers held an open call, which yielded thousands of tapes. Jonathan Butterell, the film’s director, watched nearly all of them, and Harwood’s stood out immediately.

“He had this kind of magic about him,” Butterell recalled. “He is fabulous without being arrogant.” He called Harwood back six more times, for dance calls, for recording sessions, for chemistry reads, for drag challenges. The magic didn’t fade.

So now Harwood — who had no professional credits, couldn’t get into a first-class drama school and had been told that he should aim for ensemble parts — is filling some very high-heeled shoes. His ice-blonde crop and princeling looks occupy nearly every frame of “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” which premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.

“I’ve had a process with this film where I’ve stepped into my queerness and my comfortability,” Harwood, 23, said on a recent evening while lolling on a sofa at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York. “This is who I am.”

Harwood had arrived in the city the previous day, driving in from the Hamptons on a whistle-stop press tour for the film. The tour had taken him across America — which, mid-pandemic, mostly meant airports and hotels.

He has louche, generous features, the outsize eyes of a startled deer and an unforced warmth. He wore a spotted T-shirt. And if his Converse sneakers lacked the pizazz of the glittery heels that Jamie covets, they did have platform soles. He carries himself like the dancer he trained to be, which makes him seem taller than 5 feet 10 inches.

He grew up in Basingstoke, a town in south central England without a professional theater company. He knew he wanted to act, even if the drama schools that he applied to didn’t see it the same way. But his local theater society gave him a scholarship for a one-year course at the Guildford School of Acting. The teachers there weren’t entirely encouraging.

“I was told that if I wanted to do musical theater, because of how I looked, I would be typically cast in the ensemble, and I needed to get my dancing up,” Harwood said. What exactly was wrong with his looks? “I’m not, like, the strapping leading man.”

He was directed to the Urdang Academy, a musical theater training program in London. Although he enjoyed the classes, he struggled there. He wanted to stand out, and the work of an ensemble member, who has to look and dance just like everybody else, never suited him. He wasn’t supposed to audition during the program, but he had seen “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” onstage, and had loved the sight of a story centered around a young gay man that didn’t depend on trauma.

“He didn’t die at the end,” Harwood said. “He wasn’t comic relief. He didn’t come in for two scenes to be the gay best friend. And that was really nice.”

So, when a friend told him about the open call for the movie, he put himself on tape. During the months of auditions that followed, he kept up with his schoolwork and his part-time job as a supervisor at a sneaker store. He never really thought that Butterell and the producers would cast him, but when he was called back for a day that involved a full drag makeup test, he let himself dream.

Butterell had conceived the musical after watching the BBC documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16,” which followed Jamie Campbell, an English teenager who wanted to wear a dress to prom. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” opened in Sheffield, in the north of England, and quickly transferred to the West End in London. In The New York Times, the critic Ben Brantley called that production a “determinedly inspirational show.”

In adapting the musical for the screen, Butterell and the other creators, the writer Tom MacRae and the composer Dan Gillespie Sells, didn’t want a strapping leading man to play Jamie. “Because what’s radical about Jamie is the fact that you’ve got an authentically effeminate male hero,” Gillespie Sells said in a phone interview. “That’s something you don’t see very often.”

The creators saw it in Harwood. When Butterell told him that he had the part, Harwood screamed, swore and asked if he could call his mother.

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” isn’t a coming out story; Jamie is out already. Instead it’s a tale of stepping confidently into your identity, in appropriately glamorous footwear. Jamie’s story isn’t really Harwood’s. Though Harwood liked playing dress-up, he never felt compelled to perform drag. But then again, maybe it’s everyone’s story: Doesn’t everyone want to be seen for who they really are?

The dancing came easily to Harwood, and so did the songs, which are mostly pop- and R&B-inflected. Gillespie Sells praised his voice: “It was exactly that thing, that very pure, young male, perfect pop voice that was so good for Jamie because Jamie is pop personified. Everything about him is bright and hopeful.”

Harwood didn’t always feel hopeful. Butterell, however, never doubted him. Neither did his colleagues, including Richard E. Grant, who gives a moving performance as Jamie’s drag mother. “He looks very young, sings and dances to the manner born, is emotionally open and giving, instantly likable, and of course, has talent by the bucket load,” Grant wrote of Harwood in an email.

But there were moments — such as a scene between Jamie and his best friend, Pritti (Lauren Patel) — when Harwood worried whether he could deliver the right performance. He felt frightened. He felt vulnerable. Butterell took him aside and told him to breathe. Maybe in these moments Jamie felt vulnerable, too, Butterell suggested.

The day they shot Jamie’s drag performance was even more anxiety-inducing, but Jamie Campbell, the musical’s inspiration, happened to be on set that day. “And I said to Jamie, ‘I’m so scared, I’m so scared,’” Harwood recalled. “And he was like: ‘You’re in exactly the right place. And if you weren’t in that place, you would not be human.’”

So Harwood’s anxiety became Jamie’s anxiety, which layers the musical’s sequins and chiffon with a febrile authenticity. If the film is about Jamie coming into his own, it’s also about Harwood doing the same. “Max went on a similar journey to what Jamie’s going through,” Butterell said. “Max went looking for who he was in this. Where Max and Jamie meet is in this duality of sheer joy and the fear that you have to step through to maintain that joy.”

Starring in a movie musical as your first professional gig is one more joy. But even a decade ago, young queer actors might have fretted about being birthed into the industry in a role like Jamie, because it could lead to a typecast future. That doesn’t bother Harwood. He believes in Jamie’s story, which he describes as “a little beacon of light and hope and joy.”

Sprawled on that couch in New York, he said that story, however universal, is only one story — and queer youth deserve more. “I’m really happy to be a voice for my community,” he said. “But there are so many more stories to be told.”



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Ted Cruz Claims Biden Vaccine Mandate Is A Conspiracy

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Ted Cruz Claims Biden Vaccine Mandate Is A Conspiracy


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that the Biden vaccine mandate is a conspiracy to distract from Afghanistan.

Video:

Cruz said on Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures, “You put your finger on what the white house is trying to do, they want to change the topic from Afghanistan. It’s why Biden issued this completely illegal and unconstitutional vaccine mandate because he wanted to change the topic from the disaster in Afghanistan, the vaccine mandate is going to be struck down in court, they know that, but the president is defying the law because he wanted the press to start defending him and stop talking about the disasters in Afghanistan and he’s counting on a bunch of big businesses, in particular, forcing their employees to comply before the matter is ever adjudicated and before the order is struck down.”

Ted Cruz Is Wrong On The Vaccine Mandate

The vaccine mandate is not unconstitutional. The President has hundreds of years of legal precedent supporting his order, so that part of Cruz’s conspiracy theory doesn’t work.

Sen. Cruz is ignoring that the coronavirus is killing people all across the country in order to be able to claim that the mandate is a conspiracy theory to distract from Afghanistan.

The media coverage has, as expected, faded on Afghanistan. The vast majority of Americans support the Biden position of ending the war, no matter how messy the US exit was. 

Ted Cruz has managed to combine two losing issues for Republicans into a conspiracy theory that will only appeal to their base.

Cruz is a political shapeshifter, so if you want to know which way the wind is blowing in the GOP, listen to Ted Cruz for five minutes.

What weather vane Ted is telling us is that the Republican Party is heading for a whole new level of crazy.

Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.

Awards and  Professional Memberships

Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association



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