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RELIGION

Disaster averted! Miracle blood melts (again)

A vial of dried blood supposedly belonging to the patron saint of Naples, Saint Januarius, has performed its yearly miracle: transforming itself into liquid in front of the gathered faithful.

Disaster averted! Miracle blood melts (again)
The blood of Saint Januarius has turned to liquid during an annual ceremony in Naples. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Archbishop of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe, announced that the blood had changed state on Wednesday at 5.50pm – a little later than in previous years. 

Each year thousands of Roman Catholic faithful flock to three special services at Naples Cathedral where the dried blood of the fourth-century martyr is said to turn to liquid.

The showing of the vial is eagerly awaited because, according to tradition, whenever the blood has failed to liquify a catastrophe has occurred. The vial is also shown on January 19th, the Saint's feast day, and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May.

The December ceremony, which has been going on for the past four centuries, remembers the end of a volcanic eruption which devastated much of the countryside around in Naples in 1631, but stopped short of the city: a slice of good fortune credited to the intervention of Januarius.

In 1527 and 1528 non-liquefaction was followed by the plague. In 1559 famine came and in 1833 cholera raged through the city. In 1944 during World War II non-liquefaction was proceeded by bombing raids by Allied aircraft.

While no statement has ever been issued by the Catholic church on the phenomenon, a number of scientific theories have been put forward to explain the blood miracle.

Many have argued that given the prominence of similar blood rites across the surrounding Campania region, the 16th century artisans and alchemists of Naples must have had a “recipe” for saints' blood that allowed them to produce so many of these relics.

The blood half-liquefied in March during a ceremony when Pope Francis held and kissed the relic while on a visit to Naples.

Saint Januarius was was decapitated during the persecution of Christians during the reign of the emperor Diocletian in 305 AD.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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