All posts by Zhloar

El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI Become Saints

Pope Francis has created seven new saints in a canonization ceremony at the Vatican.  The new saints included two important Church figures who were strong voices in the favor of the poor: Pope Paul VI and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. 

Before tens of thousands of faithful in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis elevated to sainthood seven people including Pope Paul VI and murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.  Both were controversial figures in the church.

Large tapestries with the images of the seven new saints hung from St. Peter’s Basilica as is customary during a canonization ceremony.  The other five lesser-known new saints were from Italy, Germany and Spain.  They included an Italian orphan who died from bone cancer when he was just 19 years old.  

Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera and Spain’s Queen Sofia attended the ceremony.

Pope Paul VI was the third pope to be declared saint by Francis since his election in 2013.  He was best known for having presided over the final sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the church meetings in the 1960s that reformed the Catholic Church and opened it to the world.

Francis said Paul VI, like the apostle, spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of an extroverted Church looking to those far away and taking care of the poor.

In a sign of the importance Pope Francis placed on Romero and Paul, Francis wore the blood-stained rope belt Romero wore when he was murdered in 1980 and also used Pope Paul’s staff, chalice and vestment.  Both men strongly influenced Francis and he praised them for their courage in turbulent times and their dedication to social justice and the poor.

Romero was killed in San Salvador by a right-wing death squad.  He had often denounced violence, repression and poverty in his homilies.  He became an icon for Latin America’s peasants.   

In his homily, Pope Francis praised Romero for “disregarding his own life to be close to the poor and to his people.”


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‘Getting the Scare:’ Behind the Scenes in Maryland Haunted Forest

Halloween is a popular holiday in the United States. estimates there are more than 4,000 Halloween “fee-based” attractions in the U.S., with the overall industry generating more than $1 billion. VOA’s Jill Craig takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of a popular haunted forest in Maryland, where people pay up for a night of fright.

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Vietnam Wants to Go Hollywood 

Call it Vollywood? Vietnam’s movie scene is growing quickly, with an explosion of theaters across the country, more filmmakers entering the market, and more global attention from the 2017 blockbuster “Kong,” which was set and filmed here.

Search for “Vietnam movies” online and most of the results are not films made by Vietnamese people, but Hollywood depictions of the Vietnam War, like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Born on the Fourth of July. Many of the films are shot in the United States, and all of them are stories about Americans, with Vietnamese characters sprinkled around the backdrop.

This has been a thorn in the side of locals who want Vietnam to have its own place in the world of cinema. That is starting to happen.

​Academy Awards submission

Ngo Thanh Van, who came to international prominence with her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has turned to directing. Her newest film, The Tailor, has been submitted as Vietnam’s official entry for next year’s Academy Awards, in the foreign language category.

“Making movies in the Vietnamese market is a risky business, not just for me,” Van, who also had a role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, told the news site Zing. “But it is because it is difficult that I want to put all my heart into doing it.”

Increasing demand

Increasing interest comes from both Vietnamese creators and Vietnamese customers. Domestic theater chain CGV reported a 30 percent jump in profits for 2017 compared to the year before. While it is just one company, it controls close to half the cinemas in the Southeast Asian country. Critics call it a monopoly, but that also means its growth is reflective of the industry’s growth at large. Besides CGV, owned by South Korea’s CJ Group, movies are screened by a crowded playing field that includes BHD, Galaxy, Skyline, Cinestar, Cinebox, Lotte and others.

The theaters are feeding consumer demand in an economy that expands nearly 7 percent every year. That has also brought the likes of Netflix and rival streaming service iflix to serve Vietnamese viewers.

“When a country develops, the next developmental need will be entertainment, so it is important to capture this demand,” investment advisory Investar wrote in an analysis of the film industry. “In Vietnam, many big cinemas have started to flourish, and the investment flow in this field is increasing.”

​Diaspora comes home

The growth of Vietnamese cinema coincides with more visibility of the Vietnamese diaspora in films abroad. The Netflix hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before stars a Vietnamese-American born in the Mekong Delta town of Can Tho. In Downsizing, Matt Damon plays opposite Hong Chau, who deploys a thick Vietnamese accent but earned a Golden Globe nomination.

And some of that diaspora is coming home. Vietnam has seen American actors, directors, producers and film editors return or resettle here in recent years, most famously the brothers Johnny Tri and Charlie Nguyen. Filmmakers from France, a former colonizer of Vietnam, have also relocated, such as a pair of French-Vietnamese who set up an animation studio in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Watching Vietnamese movies is one of the fun, relaxing and effective ways to express Vietnamese patriotism,” entertainer Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen said on her Facebook page. “If you support Vietnamese movies, the movies will be profitable, and investors will put in more money.”

She added that Vietnam has plenty of scenic locales that would be a cameraman’s dream.

​Dream locale

Kong: Skull Island is a good example. The latest installment of the brobdingnagian gorilla franchise was filmed around Vietnam, including shots of the limestone cliffs and malachite green waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The film is also a telling symbol of a Vietnamese shift. Although it is set in the Vietnam War, Kong was not received as a war drama, but celebrated for everything else: The gripping ape-fueled action, the performances of Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson, and the majestic scenery. Vietnam is happy to provide that, rather than just another battlefield backdrop.

Vietnamese-language films have gone global here and there, from Cyclo to The White Silk Dress. Locals hope those are just the start of a thriving industry.

“We know that Vietnamese movies are not yet equal with neighboring countries, because we are still in a period of opening up,” Ky Duyen said. “But that does not mean that we will not catch up or even surpass them.”

India has Bollywood. Nigeria has Nollywood. It might soon be time for Vollywood.

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‘Women of Troy: Voices From Afghanistan’ an Afghan, American Collaboration

Afghan women too many times have been seen by some as victims. Victims of domestic violence, cultural limitations, political restrictions and more. Their voices often go unheard, but not in a play produced in Washington called ‘Women of Troy: Voices From Afghanistan.’ It is a story of Afghan women’s bravery and resilience, told through music and poetry. VOA’s Zheela Noori has more in this report.

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Eating Roadkill in WV: A Controversial Tradition That Makes Locals Proud

Summer in the United States is a time for festivals, featuring music, games and food. And in one West Virginia town that can entail very unusual food. We’re talking about fare such as spicy bear and deer stew, rich turtle soup, alligator gumbo, possum and elk. The main ingredients are roadkill … animals killed along the local highways by passing cars. Evgeny Baranov went to this unusual event and tried some of the delicacies. Anna Rice narrates.

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‘First Man’ Shows Personal Sacrifice, High Risk of Apollo 11 Mission

The world was watching, July 20, 1969, as a grainy black and white TV image showed American astronaut Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface and plant a U.S. flag. A new biopic follows his life, chronicling his courage, spirit of adventure and razor-sharp focus under pressure that paved the way to the historical Apollo 11 space mission. “First Man,” also shows the years of comradeship, commitment and sacrifice that galvanized the American spirit and awed the world. Penelope Poulou reports.

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Bill Cosby Switches Up Legal Team with Appeal Looming

Bill Cosby is switching up his legal team as he looks to appeal his conviction and three- to 10-year sentence in his Pennsylvania sex assault case.

A court filing Friday says the 81-year-old Cosby is replacing the suburban Philadelphia lawyer who handled his sentencing with a pair of criminal defense attorneys.

Joseph Green is exiting after about four months on Cosby’s defense team. The new lawyers are Brian Perry and Kristen Weisenberger of Harrisburg.

Another lawyer, Peter Goldberger, worked with Green on a motion last week challenging the outcome of the case, a first step toward an appeal.

More than a dozen lawyers have come and gone from the case, including Tom Mesereau, who once represented Michael Jackson.

Another ex-Cosby lawyer is suing over what he says is more than $280,000 in unpaid bills.

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Life-Sized Plastic Whale to Raise Ocean Pollution Awareness

Artists are putting the finishing touches on an 82-foot-long (24-meter-long) blue whale made from discarded plastic that will be on display near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to raise awareness about ocean pollution.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium said Friday a blue whale can weigh 300,000 pounds (136,000 kilograms) — about the amount of plastic scientists say enters the ocean every nine minutes.

A 2015 study by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, found 9 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic waste enter the ocean annually.

The sculpture created from plastic water bottles, lids and bags by artists Joel Deal Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova will be publicly unveiled Saturday.

It is located in Crissy Field, the heart of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

It is sponsored by the aquarium in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

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Queen Elizabeth’s Granddaughter Marries at Grand Royal Wedding

Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank at Windsor Castle on Friday in front of celebrities and Britain’s senior royals including Prince Harry and wife Meghan who wed at the same venue in May.

Eugenie, 28, younger daughter of the queen’s third child, Prince Andrew, and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, tied the knot with Brooksbank, 32, in the castle’s 15th Century St George’s Chapel.

It was the same setting as the wedding of Harry and Meghan earlier in the year, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as the couple are now known, were among the star-studded congregation at Friday’s event.

The 92-year-old queen and her husband Philip, 97, who has retired from official engagements, were joined by other royals and celebrities including Hollywood stars Liv Tyler and Demi Moore, models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and singer Ellie Goulding.

Female guests had to cling on to their hats as a blustery wind threatened their wedding outfits and a page boy tripped on the stairs walking into the chapel.

Eugenie’s dress, by Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos who founded the British-based label Peter Pilotto, was designed deliberately with a low back to reveal scars from surgery she underwent as a child. She was led down the aisle by her father, Prince Andrew.

“This is meant to be a family wedding,” Andrew said earlier. “There will be a few more people than most people have, there are a few more than Harry had, but that’s just the nature of Eugenie and Jack – they’ve got so many friends that they need a church of that size to fit them all in,” he told ITV’s “This

Morning” which broadcast the event live.

Camilla absent

Singing and cheering well-wishers gathered outside in the streets of Windsor in the shadow of the castle, although there were far fewer people than crammed into the town for Harry’s wedding.

“I’m a true royalist,” David Weeks, 77, bedecked in a “Union Jack” suit and bowler hat, told Reuters. “I was here for the queen’s 90th birthday. I was here for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I wouldn’t miss it, I love the atmosphere.”

The ceremony was overseen by the Dean of Windsor David Conner and charity guests and 1,200 members of the public were invited into the grounds for the occasion.

One noticeable absentee was Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, the wife of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, as she was carrying out an engagement in Scotland.

Princess Charlotte, 3, daughter of Harry’s elder brother Prince William and his wife Kate, was a bridesmaid, and her brother, Prince George, 5, a page boy.

After the service, the couple made an open-top carriage tour of Windsor. The queen then hosted a reception at the castle.

Eugenie, a director at London’s Hauser & Wirth art gallery, and Brooksbank, who owns a wine wholesale business and is European brand manager for Casamigos Tequila, which was co-founded by U.S. actor George Clooney, met in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier in 2010.

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Climb for Albinism: 6 Women Challenge Stereotypes on Africa’s Highest Peak

Six African women with albinism, a condition that affects the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes, set out to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this month in a bid to raise the visibility of people living with the condition.

The climbers have all suffered abuse and discrimination, and in one case horrific violence because of their condition. They hope to challenge widely held stereotypes by scaling Africa’s highest peak and titled their summit attempt simply Climb for Albinism.

At 5,895 meters tall, Kilimanjaro is no easy feat for any climber. For those with albinism it is an exceptional challenge. Nodumo Ncomanzi, one of the six climbers, told VOA in an interview following the attempt that she had never faced such conditions.

“I’ve never had to deal with that much sun exposure, and to have my low vision challenged to that extent. So definitely a really difficult environment,” she said.

Daily discrimination

Ncomanzi grew up in Zimbabwe and says the discrimination she faced was not as bad as it is in many other countries, where myth and superstition can often lead to abuse and violence. But she says she was victimized on a daily basis.

“I was very much made fun of at school. I was harassed typically in public in just walking across the street,” she said.

Despite such adversity, Ncomanzi graduated from Yale University in the United States and is now an educational consultant. 

Her teammate, Mariamu Staford, overcame perhaps the greatest challenge. She was attacked in her home by a group of men, who hacked off her arms with a machete. She now runs her own textiles business in Tanzania. All of the women volunteered for the climb to try to raise the visibility of people with albinism.

“Especially when women with albinism are discussed in the media for example, the narrative is usually that of victimhood and pity. And we wanted to show that we are more capable of accomplishing and succeeding in challenges that go far beyond the stereotypes that we are usually attached to,” Ncomanzi said.

​One summits

Four team members reached camp at 4,700 meters before stopping on medical advice. Two continued the climb: Ncomanzi and Kenyan teammate Jane Waithera, who had to stop 20 meters from the summit because of a knee injury.

In the end, it was Ncomanzi who represented the team at the summit, reaching the peak Oct. 7.

They are remarkable personal achievements for all the climbers, and perhaps a step forward in the fight to end discrimination and abuse against people with albinism.

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