FaithWorld

Syrian battle edges closer to historic Crusader castle

(Crac des Chevaliers, 5 May 2008/James Gordon)

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have surrounded rebels near the already war-damaged Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers, a UNESCO World Heritage site in central Syria, residents said on Wednesday.

Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 12th-13th centuries and among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles,  suffered mortar hits last year when rebels from the town of al-Hosn below the hill-top castle hid behind its thick stone walls, built for battles hundreds of years ago. The violence had died down until this week.

Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict has devastated whole city neighborhoods and many ancient sites, including Aleppo’s medieval covered market and its Umayyad mosque. Looting has threatened tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and Roman temples have been damaged.

Crac des Chevaliers, perched on a mountain in central Homs province, was almost intact at the start of the Syrian war. It repelled waves of medieval offensives but has been  no match for modern mortar and artillery.

On Tuesday, rocket, artillery and tank fire battered the town of al-Zara, not far from al-Hosn, a resident of al-Zara said, asking not to be named. Warplanes later bombed the area between al-Zara and al-Hosn, targeting rebels there, he said.

Move over Superman. It’s time for … Superpope

(A priest and a nun walk by a large drawing of Pope Francis depicting him as a superhero on a wall near the Vatican January 29, 2014. The Argentinian Pope is shown taking off into air with his right fist clenched in a classic Superman style. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis may already be a hero to the world’s downtrodden but at least one pop artist thinks he’s more than that. Move over Superman, it’s time for Superpope.

A large painting has appeared on a building near the Vatican showing the Argentine pope taking off into the air, his right fist clenched ahead of him in classic Superman style.

India’s Rahul Gandhi under attack over remarks about 1984 Sikh riots

(Sikh minority representatives stand in front of the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva November 1, 2013 afater representatives of several NGOs have urged the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to recognize the 1984 killing of Sikhs as genocide. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

India’s opposition criticized ruling party leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday for avoiding any expression of regret for the killings of Sikhs in riots three decades ago, a sensitive issue that threatens to dog him in a tight election due by May.

Gandhi said the government led by his Congress party did everything it could to control the violence against minority Sikhs in retaliation for the assassination of his grandmother, then prime minister Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

Limits on foreign pilgrims on Haj contribute to drop in Saudi mobile subscriptions

(A Muslim pilgrim prays as another takes a photo with his mobile phone at the Grand Mosque during Tawaf al-Wadaa (Farewell Tawaf) on the last day of the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Saudi Arabia’s mobile subscriber base has fallen by a tenth in two years following  reduced quotas for religious pilgrims, a crackdown on illegal workers and stricter phone registration requirements, data from the industry regulator shows.

The drop to 51 million subscriptions as of Sept. 30, 2013, the most recently available data, from 56.1 million two years earlier marks the end of a remarkable growth phase that led the country to claim one of highest proliferations of mobile phones globally. The kingdom’s population was 27 million in July 2013, according to the CIA factbook.

Thieves steal Pope John Paul’s blood from Catholic church near Rome

(Pall bearers carry the body of the late Pope John Paul II through a packed Saint Peter’s Square enroute to the Basilica at the Vatican April 4, 2005. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Thieves broke into a small church in the mountains east of Rome over the weekend and stole a reliquary with the blood of the late Pope John Paul II, a custodian said on Monday.

Franca Corrieri said she had discovered a broken window early on Sunday morning and had called the police. When they entered the small stone church they found the gold reliquary and a crucifix missing.

Pakistani court condemns mentally ill Briton to death for blasphemy

(A  rally in Lahore protesting the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in Lahore because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Picture taken on January 8, 2011. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza)

Pakistan has handed a death sentence for blasphemy to a 69-year-old Briton with a history of mental illness, even though his lawyers were barred from the courtroom partway through the trial, the lawyers said on Friday.

Accusations of blasphemy are surging in Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies. Many analysts see the claims as score-settling or a front for property grabs.

After film, real Philomena calls for changes to Irish adoption laws

(Actor Steve Coogan from the film” Philomena”, an Oscar Best Picture nominee, arrives with Philomena Lee, whose life was featured in the film, at the 25th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Fred Prouser )

The 80-year-old Irish woman who inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Philomena” launched a campaign calling for access to adoption records on Friday, hoping her story will highlight the plight of tens of thousands.

Philomena Lee’s 50-year search for the son she was forced to give up as a teenager has struck a chord with movie fans across the world and received four Academy Award nominations last week, including one for actress Judi Dench, who plays Lee.

Pakistan suspends risky Shi’ite pilgrimage route to Iran

(Shi’ite Muslim men offer prayers for victims killed in Tuesday’s night bomb attack on a bus, during a funeral ceremony in Quetta January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)

Pakistan has suspended buses carrying Shi’ite pilgrims from travelling through its volatile Baluchistan province to neighbouring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 27 pilgrims this week, officials said on Friday.

A 700 km (430 mile) highway connecting the Pakistani city of Quetta and Iran, home to many Shi’ite pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks claimed by radical Sunni Islamist groups.

French President François Hollande makes delicate visit to Pope Francis

(Pope Francis (R) talks with French President Francois Hollande during a private audience at the Vatican, January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi )

French President François Hollande met Pope Francis on Friday, making a delicate visit against the backdrop of undenied allegations of infidelity, low popularity ratings and clashes with Catholics over gay marriage.

Hollande and Francis held 35 minutes of private talks in the Apostolic Palace, which he now uses only for official visits after he moved into a modest apartment.

from Photographers' Blog:

Family, soccer and God

by Rickey Rogers

It was around the time that Brazil was beginning construction projects to host the 2014 World Cup four years ago, that a massive earthquake devastated Haiti's capital. The quake killed over 200,000 people and left few Haitians unaffected in some way. That disaster, coupled with the attraction of a World Cup country and the fact that Brazilians were already familiar to Haitians as UN peacekeepers patrolling their streets, initiated a new route south for migrants trying to escape the difficult situation. That route starts in Haiti passing overland to the Dominican Republic, by plane to Ecuador or Peru, and overland to the Peru-Brazil border where even today there are hundreds of Haitians awaiting visas.

Photographer Bruno Kelly was on an assignment to photograph the dozen or so Haitians working at the Arena Amazonia stadium in Brazil's Amazonian capital, Manaus, when he met immigrant Milice Norassaint. Milice's story touched Bruno, and they became friends as Bruno photographed him at work and in his daily life. Bruno asked Milice for his wife's phone back in Haiti, and Bruno gave it to colleague Marie Arago in Port-au-Prince.

What resulted is a story about a family divided by need, but united through their faith.