The Right Thing: Opposing sexual violence as a weapon of war
**Contains graphic details of sexual violence against women and children**
As a young boy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege witnessed his father, a Pentecostal pastor, praying for a sick child. It made him want to help people who suffer – not as a pastor, despite his own Christian faith, but as a doctor.
Fast forward to 1999, and Denis Mukwege founded Panzi hospital in Bukavu, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Rwandan border. There, over the last 20 years, he has treated tens of thousands of women with gynaecological trauma, caused by the extreme sexual violence which has become a weapon of war in this volatile part of the world. Rich in coveted mineral resources, the area is the scene of a large-scale conflict involving countless armed rebel groups.
But Dr Mukwege was not just helping women; he was also speaking out against the cruelty of this conflict. This led to several attempts on his life. Fearing for his family, Denis Mukwege went into exile, but the women who saw him as their only hope launched a big campaign to persuade him to return.
Mike Wooldridge talks to Denis Mukwege about his life’s work and how his Christian faith has motivated him to disregard his own safety and bring new hope to women who, without his help, would be looking ahead to a life of ostracism and pain.
If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, details of help and support in the UK is available at bbc.co.uk/actionline.
Producer: Lore Wolfson Windemuth
A CTVC production for the BBC World Service
(Photo: Dr Mukwege. Credit: Alexis Huguet/Panzi Foundation)
The Viking priest
The Ásatrú faith is Iceland's fastest growing religion. Drawing on Norse mythology, it is a pagan faith open to all. But in recent years it has been hijacked by white supremacists in other countries. We follow High Priest, Hilmar Hilmarsson, as he attempts to tackle this critical challenge and protect his faith’s true origins.
When white supremacists marched through Charlottesville in 2017, Hilmar looked on from Reykjavik. It was not just their racist message that worried him. It was the fact their banners bore the symbols of his faith such as Thor's hammer. Ásatrú, according to Hilmar, emphasises respect and tolerance, reviving polytheistic traditions and the worship of gods and goddesses from Iceland’s pre-Christian past.
Thanks to his position and the fact he has become so well respected both inside and beyond Iceland, Hilmar has an authority recognised by the Icelandic state to conduct weddings and funerals and lead the rituals or "blots" that the group practise to mark the passing year - a 21st Century reimagining of how pre-Christian Norse people celebrated their seasons. We join him as the community gather around him and prepare for the welcoming of the winter blot.
But Hilmar has also received disturbing messages and even death threats from far- right pagans in the US, Germany and Canada who do not agree with his inclusive belief system and his support for gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. We follow him as he looks forward to the opening of the group’s first temple while under pressure to distance the religion from white supremacy.
Producer: Sarah Cuddon
A Falling Tree production for BBC World Service
(Photo: High Priest Hilmar Hilmarsson. Credit: Gavin Haines)
The battle for souls in Nepal
Nepal has one of fastest growing Christian communities in the world. Helping to drive the growth are South Korean missionaries like Pang Chang-in and his wife Lee Jeong-hee. The couple’s work spreading the word of Jesus is risky. Those found guilty of converting people face up to five years in jail in Nepal.
The BBC’s Asia editor Rebecca Henschke and Korean journalist Kevin Kim follow the couple as they open new churches and teach the next generation of Nepali Christian leaders. This is a rare insight into an organised and increasingly controversial Korean mission, spreading the Christian faith high in the Himalayans.
Presented by: Rebecca Henschke
Produced with: Kevin Kim, Rajan Parajuli, Rama Parajuli and Rajeev Gupta
(Photo: Pang and his wife)
Pope Benedict XVI: A life and legacy
In this special programme to mark the death of Pope Benedict XVI, Colm Flynn explores the life story of the gentle German academic who became the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics all over the world.
The 95-year old Pope Emeritus died at the Vatican on New Year’s Eve 2022. He will perhaps be best remembered as the first Pope to retire in 600 years. But his life and legacy is much more complicated and varied, with a papacy filled with both majestic spiritual moments and embarrassing and hurtful blunders.
Benedict led the Catholic Church for fewer than eight years but is considered by many to be one of the most influential religious leaders of modern times. Born Joseph Ratzinger in rural Bavaria, he has a deeply religious upbringing and trained for the priesthood along with his brother. Before becoming a bishop, he was a professor of theology, teaching in several universities. He embraced the spirit of change that blew through the Catholic Church in the 1960s, gaining a reputation as a progressive at the Second Vatican Council. But in later life, as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, he defended Catholic teaching fearlessly, even earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”.
As Pope, Benedict spoke out against what he called "the dictatorship of relativism", and produced deeply moving spiritual writings, drawing many young people to the Catholic faith. His papal visits always draw huge crowds and those who met him describe a gentle, kind and self-effacing man. His Papacy was overshadowed by the breaking scandals of decades of sexual abuse in the Church. And while Pope Benedict introduced ground-breaking reforms to tackle abuse, campaigners for survivors say he failed to deal with hundreds of cases.
Presenter/producer: Colm Flynn
Editor: Helen Grady
Image: Pope Benedict XVI, pictured in 2020 (Credit: Leon Neal/PA)
Thich Nhat Hanh’s censored legacy
Thich Nhat Hanh is known as the father of mindfulness. The Vietnamese monk shared Buddhist teaching with the world, and launched a global spiritual movement. But a year on from his death, Thich Nhat Hanh remains a controversial figure in his home country of Vietnam.
During his lifetime, he built Plum Village monasteries and meditation centres across the globe – but he couldn’t do it in his home country. His anti-war activism angered the authorities in south Vietnam, and he spent most of his life in exile. Even today, Plum Village is still not allowed to establish a formal presence in Vietnam.
To find out about his life and the enduring appeal of his writings, Grace Tsoi goes to Thailand, where many of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Vietnamese followers have gathered to keep his teachings alive. As social media introduces a new generation to the Zen master, will the Vietnamese government finally embrace his full legacy?
Presenter: Grace Tsoi
Producers: Grace Tsoi and Tran Vo
Editors: Helen Grady and Giang Nguyen