Charlie Hedbo, Current affairs, Education, Freedom of Speech, politics

Charlie Hebdo: Freedom of Speech in a Culture of Fear

“They must have seen this coming.” Hearing this statement from a friend of mine in response to the fatal attack on the editorial staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, I was eager to hear the logic behind it. “They’ve had death threats continuously sent to their door, along with a firebomb attack in 2011. They were aware of the danger they were in, yet they continued to persevere with their offensive publications to prove a point. Was it really worth it?” While easy to explain that no form of journalism should ever have to fear a murderous attack, I have to admit, it was difficult to offer a coherent argument about the reasoning behind it all in response to my friend’s curious assertions.

The tragic loss of life that occurred in Paris on 7/1/15 has raised a number of questions. Many are having trouble understanding the motives of the cartoonists behind Charlie Hebdo, and their reasons for persisting to shock the world with their offensive portrayals of the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic State in the face of clear and persistent danger. Moments before the fatal attack, the fearless magazine editor, Stephane Charbonnier, posted his final cartoon, ironically predicting his own demise. The image shows an Islamic terrorist equipped with a rifle posing the question: “Still no attacks in France? Wait – we’ve still got until the end of January to present our best wishes.”

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The efforts by Charlie Hebdo to reject censorship, to challenge taboos, and to defy religious doctrine were relentless. Even as French state officials attempted to silence the outspoken magazine, with the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, pleading: “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour fuel on the fire?”, the journalists retaliated with further satire and more offensive material. Gérard Biard, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, rejected the criticism of Fabius, stating “We’re a newspaper that respects French law. Now, if there’s a law that is different in Kabul or Riyadh, we’re not going to bother ourselves with respecting it.”

In a bid to reinforce the refusal of the people to bow down to violent oppressors, mourners around the world have taken to social media in a silent protest and a show of solidarity depicting the words: “Je Suis Charlie”. The website of Charlie Hebdo is black, denoting the three powerful words in white in a defiant challenge, and as a mark of respect. A simple, colourless PDF attached translating the words into seven world languages.

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Since the fatal shootings on January 7th, the cartoonists have been branded martyrs for liberty, and freedom of speech. The attack has brought to light an intriguing difference of opinion on what constitutes freedom of speech, and when it goes a step too far. Questions like: Who gets to indulge in free speech and who doesn’t? When does free speech cross the line into bullying, defamation, harassment? How do we protect ourselves against extremists in an age where free speech knows no bounds? Can we really claim freedom of speech in a society that is steeped in fear?

As I look forward to finding the answers to these questions, the nostalgic, yet bold message of Charlie Hebdo rings in my ears: “Never give in to intimidation.” While many would call it stupidity to answer intimidation with controversy, the alternative often means bowing down to your oppressors, cowering in the face of fear, and questioning your integrity. Whether or not there is a happy medium remains to be seen. One thing that most will agree on? The editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo displayed bravery in its rarest form.

Je suis Charlie.

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Behind every man… Women behind the scenes in Irish media

Jumbo Shrimp

pat kenny 

“Behind every man is a great woman.” Is there any truth to the old saying? Certainly in the case of the Irish media. While most of us could name a handful of men whose faces and voices dominate our daily media consumption, when it comes to women, we can generally name but a few. For a long time, debate has suggested that there is a desperate need for more female voices and faces in Irish media. Yet, women are still playing a vital role in the media industry… from behind the scenes.

During a recent conference celebrating women in the media held in Kerry, it was revealed that Ireland ranks ninety-second in the world for female participation in politics, on par with countries such as Azerbaijan. In the wake of the conference, it was suggested that gender quotas were needed as a means of involving women equally in public…

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1984-Orwells classic becoming more relevant by the day?

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Upon reading 1984 recently I could not help myself from thinking what harsh environment or upbringing Orwell must have experienced to construct such masterpieces as AnimalFarm and 1984. In reality I couldn’t care less what made him write these books but his mind must have been a maze of intricate theory and ideological debate. One thing is for sure, I’m very much glad he put his idea’s down on paper to be enjoyed by all. I can’t think of a book more relevant than 1984 when it comes to today’s society.

Winston Smith is the free prisoner of Oceania, living his life of toil and misery in post-atomic London. His life is one long toil under the rule of the most barbaric government possible. There is no privacy, there is no free speech, there is no free thought as ‘Big Brother’ is constantly watching you. I found…

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ASTI, Current affairs, Education, Ireland, Junior Cycle, News, politics, Teachers, youths

Have teachers reached breaking point?

 

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“The job satisfaction and goodwill of teachers has been decimated and there’s a feeling that your best will never be good enough- something that never existed before.”

Short days, long holidays; the teaching profession in Ireland was once considered the ideal, offering a perfect balance between work and home life. Drastic cutbacks have since led to a surge in dissatisfaction among teachers who are over-worked and under-paid. Is the profession headed for a crisis? As teachers reach breaking point, we investigate how recent changes have affected teaching attitudes, priorities, morale, and in turn, student’s learning.

“The short days and length of holidays has perpetuated the myth that teaching is an easy job”, says Ciara Mahony, a permanent primary school teacher based in Dublin. “A teacher’s job is far from finished when the school bell goes at the end of the day. During those ‘short days’ a teacher’s brain needs to be working at 100%, there’s no such thing as switching off, daydreaming or taking a coffee break when things get tough. You find yourself counselling, mediating, nursing, parenting and entertaining. All of which requires tireless energy”. Ciara, who has been working as a primary teacher in Dublin for the past five years, explains how there is “very unfair criticism of teachers in Irish society.”

Máire Ní Mhuire, a mainstream secondary teacher of Gaeilge and Geography, agrees. “I think respect for teachers has disappeared.” Máire, who has been teaching in Ireland for the past ten years, describes how the media has negatively zoned in on teachers, which has led to the general public directing their frustrations at the profession. “When the government treats teachers unfairly and with a lack of respect, you can’t expect society in general not to follow suit.” Shane Campion, a primary school teacher working in Dublin for the past four years, further states “teachers are portrayed as despots or people who opted to teaching simply because they failed at another venture in life.”

Yet, the public’s perception of the profession is far from the minds of these teachers who have been pushed to their limits. The profession has seen drastic wage cuts, large increases in administrative duties, an increase in hours, resource cuts, an increase in student numbers, and an increase in unpaid duties. In the meantime, standards have been raised in relation to classroom interaction and the use of technology, with a stronger emphasis being placed on literacy and numeracy, all of which means more hours of planning and preparation.

Máire outlines the key changes that she has witnessed over the past few years, pointing out the “huge increase in administrative duties, not just regarding self-evaluation and best practice for teaching and learning but regarding student behaviour and incidents.” Máire further points out the resource cuts, regardless of the “huge increase of special needs students now in mainstream schools”. With staff being forced to take on more unpaid work, along with the withdrawal of supervision and substitution funds, this means teachers are supervising more classes, but not getting paid for it. “Teachers are burnt out and feel unable to keep up with the demands of the classroom and school. The new Junior Cycle will only increase the amount of paperwork and class preparation for teachers.”

The new Junior Cycle is to be introduced in September of this year with English to be the first subject to take on the change. Over 27,000 union members have since taken to industrial action in an effort to curtail changes that they feel unprepared and under-trained to implement. The Millward Brown poll, commissioned by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), has this month revealed that 89 per cent of teachers believe their school has limited or no capacity to implement the Junior Cycle changes proposed.

Sarah Keegan, a mainstream secondary teacher of Art, also based in Dublin, describes further changes to the industry since her introduction to the field three years ago. “It is progressively becoming more project based. Teachers are being asked to do more work in the same amount of time. We are also being asked to up-skill in technology but not being given the proper training. Teachers are expected to work as firefighters in mental health issues such as suicide and depression without being given sufficient training or adequate support.” Ciara further explains that within primary education, “the litany of standardised testing and the huge emphasis on maths and literacy results have made it particularly challenging.”

Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) have been hit hard by recent changes, most being forced to carry out the same duties for a lower wage, without the added bonus of job security to motivate them. Recent figures have indicated that 27 per cent of Irish second-level teachers are in non-permanent positions. “Generally NQTs find themselves working longer hours preparing, organising and correcting as it is. I think cutting their wages could change attitudes towards putting in that extra work, leading to less organised, less enthusiastic teachers”, Ciara points out. “I pity anybody starting out,” says Máire. “Not only is their pay and conditions quite poor, they will be expected to carry out previously paid tasks [without pay]. This will become the norm and seriously impact on the time spent preparing for classes which will have a knock-on effect on teaching and learning for the students.” For NQTs like Sarah, job security is always an issue, making them an easy target. While aware that she is being treated unfairly, her priorities lie elsewhere. “If I do become permanent in 3 years job security is still not guaranteed due to enrolment numbers.”

Such key changes and unfair treatment among colleagues is sure to impact morale in the workplace. As tensions mount and stress ensues, “teachers are being pushed to their limits”, says Sarah. “Morale is at an all-time low”, says Máire. “People are burnt-out, stressed and have had enough. The life and soul has been drained out of each and every teacher over the past few years and you can actually see the effects physically.” Ciara adds “There is no drive for teachers to further their training and professional development when the workload appears to be getting bigger and pay is being cut. I think it has caused a lack of motivation and enthusiasm among teachers.” Describing how staffroom conversations have moved swiftly from “sharing ideas and resources and discussing lessons, to finding time for tests, copies and projects that need correction, meetings with parents, and organising after school activities”, Ciara expresses her concern that the visible lack of motivation among teachers will impact on their willingness to dedicate their free time to after school activities, clubs, societies and resource.

The Millward Brown survey has revealed that teacher morale and job satisfaction is at an all-time low, with just 44 per cent of teachers satisfied with their work, compared to 77 per cent in 2009. So with drastic changes continually being implemented and teachers’ welfare and morale suffering, what does the future hold? Most teachers seem to agree that the profession is in crisis, with many of them looking towards other career options.

“The younger age profile are being exploited”, says Sarah. “There is security in your job but only after a long time and having a Masters or PhD is no longer recognised in wage structure, therefore discouraging unskilled and a higher calibre of teacher.” “I genuinely believe that it won’t be long before people start seeing it for what it is”, says Máire. “I would certainly think twice about recommending it as a career to family members of friends unless things improve. The job satisfaction and goodwill of teachers has been decimated and there’s a feeling that your best will never be good enough- something that never existed before.”

With an overwhelming concurrence of opinion, it is evident that while most teachers are being pushed to breaking point, others are being forced out as the cuts and further pressure mounts. The future of the profession hangs frighteningly in the balance as teacher morale and motivation take a plunge. Perhaps the most poignant question that lingers is what does the future hold for our education system if motivated teachers become a thing of the past? Tragically, it appears that the passion for teaching so often felt by educators is being exploited to the point of no return. Although we may argue that most of us have had to endure similar cuts and changes in the current climate, the future of our education system is a priority that none of us can afford to ignore.

 

Photo Credit: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Millward Brown poll: http://www.asti.ie/news/latest-news/news-article/article/schools-do-not-have-capacity-for-ministers-junior-cycle-changes-say-89-of-teachers-millward-bro-1//back_to/press-releases-2/

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Current affairs, Ireland, media, News, politics, radio, television, women, Women in the media

Behind every man… Women behind the scenes in Irish media

 

pat kenny 

“Behind every man is a great woman.” Is there any truth to the old saying? Certainly in the case of the Irish media. While most of us could name a handful of men whose faces and voices dominate our daily media consumption, when it comes to women, we can generally name but a few. For a long time, debate has suggested that there is a desperate need for more female voices and faces in Irish media. Yet, women are still playing a vital role in the media industry… from behind the scenes.

During a recent conference celebrating women in the media held in Kerry, it was revealed that Ireland ranks ninety-second in the world for female participation in politics, on par with countries such as Azerbaijan. In the wake of the conference, it was suggested that gender quotas were needed as a means of involving women equally in public life. However, there were mixed reviews as to whether such quotas were a step in the right direction, or in fact, the reverse. Mary O’Rourke, former government minister, has branded it “an insult to women” with Geraldine Kennedy, former editor of the Irish Times, holding a similar position.

Maura Fay, journalist with the Farmers Journal says “I don’t believe in token female representation”. Maura, who previously worked as a researcher with Newstalk and as a newsreader and presenter with Northern Sound FM, is no stranger to the spotlight. “I have never experienced any difficulty in doing my job because of my gender”. When asked if there was a need for more young female voices on Irish radio, she replied, “The most important voices to hear are those people with life experience and a story to tell. A young female voice I would love to hear more of on radio is Joanne O’Riordan. Her attitude to dealing with her Amelia syndrome is a breath of fresh air. Another person who I would like to hear more of is Kildare comedian [Aisling Bea] because she is ridiculously funny. What voices we don’t need to hear more of is probably women like me. Brought up in a middle class background, never had to deal with any major social adversity of injustice, [who] availed of free third level education and who isn’t in massive negative equity.”

When asked if there was a need for more female presenters on Newstalk, Maura responded “I think the question should be: Why is there a need for more female presenters on Newstalk? The station would have a much larger male listenership than female listenership. In order to grow its female listenership and maintain its current male listenership, it could be suggested that employing more female presenters (who are of high calibre) would help this.”

From Maura’s interview, it became clear that in her opinion the problem was not the lack of female representation but rather the lack of variety in the media as a direct result of so many media personalities coming from similar socio-economic backgrounds “i.e. upper middle-class”, many of whom without sufficient life experience. The emphasis, as Maura points out, should be placed on the talent and calibre of our media representatives, and not on gender.

Michelle Lynch, a programme producer for TV3 in the Independent Productions Unit, points out the improvement in the numbers of female faces and voices on Irish TV and radio over the past few years, particularly in the case of television, with specific reference to TV3’s ‘Xposé, ‘Ireland AM’, ‘Midday’, and RTÉ’s ‘Prime Time’, ‘The Voice’, ‘Operation Transformation’, and ‘Against the Head’. While indicating a similar shift in radio, Michelle adds “I think TV is ahead of radio in terms of this shift as the majority of voices we continue to hear remain predominantly male. There are definitely still improvements to be made in the numbers of women working on screen and on air in Irish media, but personally I think this is a good time for women in media and I think we are really starting to stand up and be noticed, now more so than ever.”

The recent call for gender quotas has come in light of certain figures which suggest little or no movement in female representation on Irish radio and TV. While improvements are being made, women still make up a small percentage of the media, especially in the case of radio. A recent survey carried out by Women on Air has shown that two-thirds of radio voices on current affairs programmes are male. However, the debate has up to now, it seems, honed in on female representation within the media in terms of who is at the forefront. Have we taken a look behind the scenes?

It would appear that the majority of production teams, both on radio and TV, are in most cases either equally split between men and women, or else dominated by women. Michelle, who started out as a researcher for TV3 over three years ago, describes how within TV3 there is mostly a 50:50 ratio between men and women in general, yet a predominant trend is emerging. “I definitely think more young women are interested in working behind the scenes in media.”

This influx of women behind the scenes was reflected and further acknowledged by the recent IFTA awards that saw the likes of producer Anna Rodgers winning Best Director for her production of ‘Somebody to Love’, Judy Kelly, director of ‘John Lonergan’s Circus’ which won an award for Best Documentary, Maggie Breathnach, director of ‘Seamus Heaney- Postscript- Iarscribínn’ which won Best Factual Series, and Alison Milar, producer of ‘The Disappeared’ which won Best TV Documentary.

When describing the roles within Newstalk specifically dominated by one gender, Maura states “I think the presenting roles were male-dominated, newsroom female-dominated, sports department male-dominated, feature programming female-dominated, and producer and researcher roles were probably evenly split along gender lines.” Similarly, Michelle describes the working environment within TV3 saying “the TV3 newsroom is full of females doing a variety of jobs from researching, reporting, producing and news reading. In the department I work in, we have a total of 14 people, 12 of which are full time producer/directors and six of which are female.”

A lack of female voices and faces on air and on screen is visibly evident, as has been the case in Irish media for many years. Yet, we have seen a surge in female involvement behind the scenes. Do women simply feel more comfortable behind the screen/mic? My research suggests no. It has become clear to me that it is a question of interest rather than gender. While most would agree that positions within senior management and as presenters, specifically in relation to current affairs, are particularly lacking female representation, others are thriving. As Maura Fay points out, perhaps what is lacking here is not female representation as a whole, but rather female interest. The Irish political arena is in desperate need of fresh female perspectives, but the interest is still minute, perhaps a direct result of the unwelcoming environment that drives us further away. It is talented minds we need, not gender quotas. If gender equality in Irish media is to be accomplished, then interest needs to be awakened. As for behind the scenes, women are already taking the lead.

 

Photo credit: http://www.newstalk.ie/PHOTOS:-Pat-Kennys-first-day-at-Newstalk

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binge-drinking, bullying, Current affairs, neknomination, News, youths

Nek-Nation: Playing with Fire

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“Thanks for the nomination”: the opening line of the videos that have swarmed our news feeds, plastered our front pages, and filled our conversations of late. A ‘deadly’ game in which nominated contestants are given 24 hours to ‘nek’ a pint – seems harmless enough, until watching numerous videos of ‘pint-downing’ becomes mundane, and the urge to feed the inner dare-devil proves too much for us mere mortals. From idiotic to downright disgusting, we’ve seen it all. The game has since led to deaths, rapes, and henceforth, pleas from families, friends and state officials to stop playing with fire. Pat Rabbitte has branded it a “stupid and silly phenomenon”, with Enda Kenny insisting “this is not a game”. The social media craze has evidently led to tragic consequences, yet the debate that lies at the heart of this phenomenon is a lot more complex. Sadly, putting an end to this ‘game’ will not quash the issues embedded within.

Neknomination, while posing a threat to society, has merely pointed out our flaws. Flaws that have been damaging and tormenting our youths for decades, only to rear their ugly faces in a detrimental climax, for which we have social media to thank. Not that Facebook is entirely to blame, rather it provided a platform for us to see for ourselves what’s really going on behind our screens. For we are a nation of contradictions. One that denounces youths ‘downing’ pints, yet openly encourages international figures to do so as a salute to the Irish people. One that quotes the damaging statistics surrounding binge-drinking, yet votes for boozy politicians. One that sees the damage of excess drinking splashed across its newspapers week after week, yet still maintains its reputation as the ultimate binge destination, currently topping the charts of the European league, last month devouring double the European average. It’s official: we have a problem.

Yet, again, we are not entirely to blame. In an ever-changing culture of paranoia, dominated by social media platforms, frankly, we’re out of our depth. A constantly inward-looking society where selfies and Snapchats top our to-do-lists, our lives are more virtual than ever before. Where once there was a divide between Irish teens and adults, there now lies a giant gorge. The idea of ‘one-upmanship’ that has been discussed in the wake of the Neknomination is nothing new. Rather, it is something that has been encouraged and fed through the media for our youths to embrace and develop in their own ways. The design of social media is such that it provides the ultimate spawning ground for paranoia, fear, self-hate, peer-pressure, cruelty and so-called ‘one-upmanship’. At their most basic, these platforms are portrayals of ourselves, however cut off from reality, to be judged and ridiculed by just about anyone. Is it any wonder we can’t compete?

But all hope is not lost. Our only challenge is to build a bridge over this so-called gorge, in an attempt to mend the gap that has widened over time, and to salvage the communication lost somewhere in between. Let the first brick be a much needed debate on our binge-drinking culture. For us to really speak to our youths, we first need to address ourselves. As teachers have long been preaching, we lead by example. Let’s be honest, teens are not the only ones playing with fire.

 

Photo credit: Ben Kotz http://ruralleaderonline.com/2014/01/16/in-defence-of-neknominate-skulling-a-beer-is-not-stupid-doing-that-regularly-would-be/

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Current affairs, News, Pope, Religion

The Pope’s Interview: Hope or Hoax?

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Describing the Catholic church as “a field hospital after battle”, Pope Francis, in his 12,000 word interview has called for the reform of attitudes, and the healing of wounds as he insists “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.” The Pope’s words have led to an air of excitement among the public as the media zones in on terms such as “reform” and “change” in an effort to portray a shift in Catholic thinking. Yet, the translated article may need further deconstructing before we start branding contraception with the church’s logo or hosting gay pride parades in the name of Pope Francis.

The obvious topics of homosexuality, abortion and contraception were given some importance as the Pope tried to place an emphasis on the individual. Forming a link between him and the people by describing himself as a sinner, he goes on to say “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person”…. “In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”
Many have looked upon these passages as a declaration of the Pope’s (and hence the Church’s) new stance on homosexuality as he preaches a more open and accepting attitude towards the subject. However, we need to be weary of counting our chickens so to speak. Although the Pope here does shed a new light on the topic of homosexuality by ‘condemning the condemning’ and by accepting the reality of the ‘scoial wounds’ inflicted by the church, he is still careful to maintain the church’s stance as he does not offer anything that veers away from the traditional option of ‘turning towards the light’, to receive redemption through confession of such sins, as we will see later in the interview.

The Pope talks about the role of women in the church and even touches on the topic of abortion as he claims “I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?”. Again it would appear that the Pope is giving divorce and abortion a new-found acceptance, yet the idea is still enforced that the abortion in this scenario should “weigh heavily on her conscience” and she should “sincerely regret it”, confessing to these “sins” if she should want to live a Christian life. In this case, the Pope is not offering much hope in way of a reform.

He finally declares that we need to put an end to this “obsession” with matters such as contraception and gay marriage, as he reaffirms the stance of the Catholic church on such matters, firmly putting a halt to any hope for change that we may have been indulging in during the course of the interview. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

But lets not dwell only on the negative aspects of the Pope’s interview as in some ways, and for some, it has instilled a new sense of hope. Simply hearing the Pope mention change, reform and discuss new attitudes towards issues that have played such a pivotal role in the church’s demise is surely something to celebrate. It is necessary to note that the church has not changed its perception of sin which is further portrayed in Pope Francis’s declaration “The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return”. Nonetheless, I leave you with the most positive aspect of the Pope’s interview, the prospect of possibility.
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards”.

Full English translation of Pope’s interview available here: http://americamagazine.org/pope-interview

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