Category Archives: Religion

Pope in UAE: Reject wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya

UAE photoThe pope and the grand imam of Al-Azhar laid the cornerstones for a new church and a mosque to be built side by side [Andrew Medichini/AP]

In the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, Pope Francis has said that faith leaders have a duty to reject war as he called for religious freedom in the majority Muslim region.

“War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death,” the pope said on Monday, addressing an inter-religious meeting attended by hundreds of representatives from different faiths.

“I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya,” he added.

He said: “Every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation… No violence can be justified in the name of religion.”

The gathering included imams, muftis, ministers, rabbis, swamis, Zoroastrians and Sikhs.

Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, is on an historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is involved in the wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya.

‘Before our eyes’

The United Nations calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It was triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Houthi rebels.

More than 10 million Yemenis now risk imminent starvation.

The pope said the consequences of the war in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East “are before our eyes”.

Francis warned the future of humanity was at stake unless religions come together to resist the “logic of armed power … the arming of borders, the raising of walls”.

“There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future,” said Francis.

He also called for religious equality in the region.

“I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed,” he said.

At the end of the interfaith meeting, Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb – the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam – signed a joint statement on “human fraternity” and their hopes for world peace.

They then laid the cornerstones for a new church and mosque to be built side-by-side in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

Red carpet welcome

The document describes itself as being in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction”. It also decried modern “signs of a ‘third world war being fought piecemeal'”.

“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

It added countries have a duty to establish a concept of “full citizenship”. The UAE relies heavily on foreign labourers who have no path to naturalisation.

Even for a nation known for excess, the Emiratis’ red-carpet welcome was remarkable, especially for a pope who prides himself on simplicity. It featured horse-mounted guards escorting the pontiff’s motorcade through the palace gardens, while a flyover trailed the yellow-and-white smoke of the Vatican flag.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged the pope to use his visit to the UAE to highlight abuses it said are currently being carried out in the Gulf state.

It sent a letter to Francis before his visit calling on him to lead international pressure to hold the UAE’s leadership accountable.

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” the HRW said.

The New York-based watchdog said the UAE authorities have targeted critics, political dissidents and human rights activists with arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.

The pope is scheduled to hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s estimated one million Catholic residents, set to be the largest ever public gathering in the Gulf state.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/pope-uae-reject-wars-yemen-syria-iraq-libya-190204155801553.html

 

Pope Francis: Young people are the ‘now’ of God

youth photoPope Francis says Mass at Campo San Juan Pablo II for World Youth Day Panama Jan. 27, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Panama City, Panama, (CNA/EWTN News) – Serving God and his mission is not a passing thing, but can and should be pursued in the present, with one’s entire life, Pope Francis said Sunday at the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Panama City.

“Brothers and sisters, the Lord and his mission are not a ‘meantime’ in our life, something temporary; they are our life!” the pope said Jan. 27. “Not tomorrow but now, for wherever your treasure is, there will your heart also be.”

Jesus “wants to be our treasure, because he is not a ‘meantime,’ an interval in life or a passing fad; he is generous love that invites us to entrust ourselves,” he continued. “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God.”
At the end of the Mass, which officially closed World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, announced that the next international youth gathering will be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.

“At the conclusion of this celebration,” Pope Francis said, “I thank God for having given us the opportunity to share these days together and to experience once more this World Youth Day,” adding that the “faith and joy” of the young people present “made Panama, America and the entire world shake!”

“I ask you not to let the fervor of these days grow cold. Go back to your parishes and communities, to your families and your friends, and share this experience, so that others can resonate with the strength and enthusiasm that is yours.”

In his homily at Mass in Campo San Juan Pablo II, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, which speaks of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when he returned to Nazareth where he had grown up and preached in the synagogue.

Not everyone in the synagogue was ready to listen to Jesus, Francis said, and the same can happen to Catholics today, when people do not believe that God can be “that close and real.”
He said, “You too, dear young people, can experience this whenever you think that your mission, your vocation, even your life itself, is a promise far off in the future, having nothing to do with the present.”

“We do not always believe that the Lord can invite us to work and soil our hands with him in his Kingdom in that simple and blunt a way,” he continued. So instead, people prefer “a distant God: nice, good, generous, but far-off, a God who does not inconvenience us.”

But that is not who God is, he said, “He is concrete, close, real love. Indeed, this ‘concrete manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians,” he said, quoting a 2006 homily of Benedict XVI.

Jesus “invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you,” he said.

“Do you want to live out your love in a practical way? May your ‘yes’ continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the Church and for the world,” he concluded.

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-young-people-are-the-now-of-god-72051

Senate passes ‘religious test’ resolution on Knights of Columbus

senate photoSenator Ben Sasse, who introduced the resolution in the Senate, pictured at the National Press Club, Oct. 2018. Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock

By Ed Condon

Washington D.C.- The Senate yesterday passed a resolution saying it would be “unconstitutional” to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus a disqualifying criteria for public office. The resolution passed by unanimous consent, meaning it went unopposed by senators of either party.

The Jan. 16 resolution was drafted and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in response to recent questions put to a judicial nominee, which suggested membership in the Knights could prevent someone serving impartially as a judge.

Citing the protection of religious liberty in the Constitution, the resolution noted that past candidates, including President John F. Kennedy, had suffered from “significant anti Catholic bigotry.”

“It is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates clause 3 of article VI of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution states.

Article VI includes the provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

On Dec. 5, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about membership in the Knights of Columbus while the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

In her questions to Buescher, Hirono said that the Knights have “taken a number of extreme positions.” Harris used her questions to label the organization as “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality,” and suggested that Buescher could be unable to give a fair hearing to cases on these issues.

In his speech introducing the resolution, Sasse said that the anti-Catholic lines of questioning were “the same kind of garbage” which faced President Kennedy in 1960.

At least six other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny from Democratic senators over their Christian faith or membership in the Knights of Columbus since the 2016 election.

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization with approximately 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes. As a Catholic organization, it holds views that are in line with Church teaching.

A recent Marist Poll survey, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, found high levels of support for religiously committed candidates for the federal bench.

The poll found that 59 percent of Democrats supported people for whom “religion is important” serving as federal judges. The same poll found 60 percent of independents and more than 7 in 10 Republicans (73 percent) also supported religiously committed judges.

“Americans rightly support religious freedom and reject religious tests for public office,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson in a statement.

Anderson said that the Constitutional bar against religious tests “continues to strongly resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans” and that the Marist Poll results showed a clear majority for those who “believe that faith should not be a barrier to someone’s appointment to public service.”

The resolution was passed by the Senate the day after William Barr went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on his nomination for the post of Attorney General.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, if he thought his religion disqualified him from serving in office, observing that “some of my colleagues think it might.”

Spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus Kathleen Blomquist welcomed the passage of the Senate resolution.

“The Knights of Columbus is grateful that the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed that membership in a religious organization does not make a person unfit for public office,” she told CNA.

“We have also been gratified by the reaction of people of different faiths—including Senator Sasse — who never want to see a litmus test imposed on individuals based of their faith, a position that the vast majority of Americans support.”
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/senate-passes-religious-test-resolution-on-knights-of-columbus-97937

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

 

“No One Listened to Us!” The Ixiles of Guatemala

Ixiles photo

By Jan Lundius

Stockholm/Rome,(IPS) – According to the Mexican Interior Ministry more than 7,000 Central American migrants have during the last month arrived at the US-Mexico border. Despite warnings by officials that they will face arrests, prosecution and deportation if they enter US territory, migrants state they intend to do so anyway, since they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence. This is not new, in 1995 I visited Ixil and Ixcan, two Guatemalan areas mainly inhabited by Ixiles. My task was to analyse the impact of a regional development programme aimed at supporting post-conflict indigenous communities. United Nations has estimated that between 1960 and 1996 more than 245,000 people (mostly civilians) had been killed, or “disappeared” during Guatemalan internal conflicts, the vast majority of the killings were attributed to the army, or paramilitary groups.

A rainy day I visited a camp for returnees. After living in Mexico, Ixiles were awaiting land distribution. Behind wire and monitored by soldiers, they huddled among their meagre belongings, sheltered by plastic sheets stretched across wooden poles. They expressed their hopes for the future. They wanted to be listened to, allowed to build up their villages, gain respect and become accepted as coequal citizens in their own country. While asked what they wanted most of all, several returnees answered: “We need a priest and a church.” I wondered if they were so religious. “No, no,” they answered. “We need to rebuild our lives, finding our place in the world, be with our ancestors. The priest will make us believe in ourselves and trust in God. That will give us strength. We need a church so we can build our village around it. We all need a centre and every village needs one as well.”

Ixil tradition emphasizes the importance of land and ancestry. A few days before my visit to the camp I had interviewed an aj’kin, a Maya priest. Aj means “master of” and kin “day”. Aj´kines perform rituals and keep track of the time – the past, the present and the future. Like many old Ixiles the aj´kin did not speak any Spanish and the Ixil engineer who accompanied me translated his words. The engineer suggested that I would ask the aj´kin to “sing his family”. The old man then delivered a long, monotonous chant, listing his ancestors all the way back to pre-colonial days. When I asked him what the singing was about the aj´kin explained: “The world belongs to those who were here before us. We only take care of it, until we become one of them. All the ancestors want from us is that we don´t abandon them, making them know that we remember them. Memory and speech is the thread that keeps the Universe together.”

In the camp, Ixiles told me they had been ignored for hundreds of years and that this was the main reason for the violent conflict. Uniformed men had arrived in their villages and first, people had assumed they were government soldiers, becoming enthused when the strangers declared that it was time for Ixiles to have their voices heard, their wishes fulfilled. However, the “liberators” could not keep their promises.

They did not represent the Government, they were guerilleros, proclaiming they had “freed” the peasants, when all they had done was to “speak a lot” and create “revolutionary committees”, only to retreat as soon as the Government troops arrived. These were much stronger and more ruthless than the guerilleros and stated that Ixiles had become “communists”. They murdered and tortured them, burned their fields. What could they do? They asked their Catholic priests for help, but the Government accused the Church of manipulating them through its ”liberation theology”; by preaching that Jesus had been on the side of the poor.

The soldiers even killed priests. One woman told me that she and her neighbours one morning had found the parish priest’s severed head laying on the church steps. Some peasants joined the guerrilla, others organized militias to keep it at a safe distance:

“Some of the guerilleros were our own sons and daughters, but what could we do? As soon as guerrilleros appeared and preached their socialism, the army arrived, killing us. The guerrilleros were not strong enough to fight the soldiers. We were left to be slaughtered. The only solution we could find was to arm ourselves and with weapons in hand ask the guerrilleros to stay away from our villages. However, all over the world they declared that we were supporting a corrupt and oppressive regime. We found ourselves between two fires, solutions were almost non-existent. No one listened to us”

A Catholic priest living in the camp explained: “They tend to be very religious, but their faith is mostly about human dignity. Ixiles want to be masters of their lives. They need to be listened to. Every day I sit for hours listening to confessions. They talk and talk. It makes them content when someone is listening to them. This is one of the problems we Catholics face. Ixiles are abandoning our faith for the one of the evangelicals.”

For centuries the Church had told Ixiles what to do, but finally both Catholics and peasants had been persecuted. In 1982, under the presidency of Ríos Montt, violence reached its peak. A scorch earth campaign lasting for five months resulted in the deaths of approximately 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans, while 100,000 rural villagers were forced to flee their homes, most of them over the border, into Mexico. Ríos Montt was a “born-again Christian” and in the aftermath of the violence evangelical sectarians appeared in the Ixil areas. Many of the remaining Ixiles became evangelicals, stating this was their only way to avoid persecution and come in contact with the “High Command” of the unconstrained army forces.

The loudspeakers of evangelical churches amplified their voices, allowing Ixiles to confess their sins and praise the Lord. However, were their voices finally heard? Their well-being improved? Do they have a say in the governing of their country? Many Ixiles are once again leaving their homes, hoping to reach the US. Research indicates a difference between migration patterns of El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala. In the former two countries migration decision is more often the result of immediate threats to safety, while in Guatemala it stems from chronic stressors; a mix of general violence, poverty, and rights violations, especially among indigenous people.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

 

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/no-one-listened-us-ixiles-guatemala/

Vatican Christmas concert will support refugees in Iraq, Uganda

Refugees photoPope Francis addresses the performer and organizers of the Christmas Concert in
the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Dec. 14, 2018. Credit: Vatican Media.

By Courtney Grogan

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News).- This Christmas it is particularly important to
support refugees and migrants, Pope Francis said Friday, ahead of the Vatican
Christmas Concert fundraiser in support of young refugee education.

“Christmas is always new because it invites us to be reborn in faith, to open
ourselves to hope, to rekindle charity,” Pope Francis said in the Clementine Hall of
the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

“This year, in particular, calls us to reflect on the situation of many men, women and
children of our time – migrants, displaced persons, and refugees – marching to
escape wars, miseries caused by social injustice and climate change,” the pope
continued.

Pope Francis stressed his particular concern for the “little ones” among migrants,
who face dangerous situations and “long marches on foot” when they should be
“sitting among the school desks, like their peers.”

“They too need training to be able to work tomorrow and participate as citizens,
aware of the common good,” he commented.

The Holy Father expressed gratitude for the work of two papal charities that support
young refugees in Iraq and Uganda. “Missioni Don Bosco” in Uganda and “Scholas
Occurrentes” in Iraq will both receive proceeds from the Vatican Christmas Concert
taking place in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall.

“Missioni Don Bosco” is an Italian Catholic charity supporting the education of
disadvantaged youth in developing countries. Their Salesian missionaries in Uganda
aid refugee families from South Sudan. One of their educational projects in the
Palabek refugee camp provides vocational training to 1,500 students, who also
receive one meal a day.

The Pontifical Foundation’s “Scholas Occurrentes” was founded by Bergoglio while
he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires as an initiative to encourage social integration
and the culture of encounter through technology, arts and sports.

On Friday, Pope Francis met with young Iraqi refugees supported by “Scholas
Occurrentes,” and the artists performing in the Christmas concert, and shared his
message on the importance of education and solidarity.

The pope drew a direct link between the Christmas story and the needs of child
refugees today. “When the violent anger of Herod struck the territory of Bethlehem,
the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced the anguish of persecution, and guided by
God, took refuge in Egypt,” he said.

“The little Jesus reminds us that half of the refugees of today, in the world, are
children, innocent victims of human injustices,” he continued.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-christmas-concert-will-support-
refugees-in-iraq-uganda-41097

Scottish mall refuses to allow nativity scene amid Christmas display

Nativity photoGerard van Honthorst’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

Edinburgh, Scotland, Both Catholics and Protestants in Scotland are lamenting a shopping center’s decision not to include a nativity scene in its Christmas display.

Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling, fewer than 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh, said it will it not include a nativity scene in its Christmas display this year, noting the mall “prides itself on being religious and politically neutral,” according to The Scotsman, an Edinburgh daily.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said Dec. 5 that “At this time of year Christmas cribs grace many public squares all across the British Isles, bringing joy to nearly all who encounter them, regardless of their religion. And so it seems just a wee bit, well, Grinch-like for the Thistles Shopping Centre to ban the Christmas crib, and in the true spirit of Christmas, we would certainly ask them to reconsider their decision.”

The Church of Scotland also lamented the decision of the shopping center, with a spokeswoman saying, “We find it very disappointing that the true meaning of Christmas has been completely lost here. When a shopping centre can focus purely on commercialism to the exclusion of the reason for the celebration of Christmas it is a sad day for all of us.”

Stephen Kerr, member of parliament for Stirling, and the Legion of Mary have both requested that Thistles install a nativity scene.

“While we understand that no one wants religious or political evangelists in a shopping centre, the request was simply to have a nativity, which would be manned and anyone approaching could ask about it,” said the Legion on Facebook.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/scottish-mall-refuses-to-allow-nativity-scene-amid-christmas-display-38481