Religious leaders seek calm in tense Central African Republic

(People are seen looting in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun)

Religious leaders sought reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic on Wednesday during a lull in violence that has killed hundreds of people and drawn in French troops seeking to stop the bloodshed.

Fighters, both Muslim and Christian, have gone door to door murdering civilians over the past week. Mobs have carried out lynchings, set fire to cars and buildings and looted shops.

In the capital Bangui, religious leaders met to distribute food to the more than 10,000 displaced people huddled at a gathering at a community centre for protection.

“We are here because we are brothers first and foremost,” Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the Islamic Central African community, told the crowd of Christians. “Today we are listening to the young to see what they propose because our house is burning down and we need to try to put out the fire,” he said.

In the land of the holy cow, Hindu fury over India’s beef exports

(A poster of Indian holy cow Kamdhenu is pictured outside a goushala or a cow shelter in the old quarters of Delhi June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee )

Symbols of India’s emergence as an economic powerhouse line the four-lane highway to Jaipur out of New Delhi: a factory owned by the world’s biggest motorbike maker, glass towers housing global call centres, shopping malls for India’s burgeoning middle class.

One night in August here, an angry mob ran amok, burning trucks and government property and forcing traffic to halt and factories to shut.

Guestview: What we will all lose if Christians flee the Middle East

(Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako is the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad and Patriarch of Babylon. This is adapted from his speech to a Rome conference on “Christianity and Freedom,” sponsored by Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project.

By Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako

 For almost two millennia Christian communities have lived in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. These groups have contributed economically, politically, and intellectually, and have helped shape their respective cultures. Unfortunately, in the 21st century Middle Eastern Christians are being severely persecuted. When they have the means, many are fleeing the region.

U.S. foundation buys Hopi religious masks at auction to return them to the tribe

(A man looks at an antique tribal mask, Tumas Crow Mother, circa 1860-1870, revered as a sacred ritual artifact by the Native American Hopi tribe in Arizona, displayed at the Drouot auction house ahead of its sale in Paris December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)

An American foundation bought nearly two dozen Native American artefacts and will return them to the Hopi tribe in Arizona, which had mounted legal challenges to their planned sale by a French auction house.

The Annenberg Foundation said on Wednesday it had paid $530,000 for the 24 artefacts sold by Eve Auctioneers in Paris on Monday. Twenty-one will be returned to the Hopi Nation and three to the San Carlos Apache, the Los Angeles-based charitable foundation said in a statement.

UK Supreme Court says Scientology is a religion and allows wedding

(Judges from the Supreme Court process to Westminster Abbey for a service to mark the beginning of the legal year, London October 1, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

A woman who wants to get married in a chapel of the Church of Scientology in London won her case on Wednesday at Britain’s Supreme Court, which ruled that Scientology was a religion and the chapel was a place where marriages could be solemnized.

Louisa Hodkin, 25, had launched legal action after officials refused to record the chapel as a place that could be used to celebrate marriages, citing a court ruling from 1970 that said Scientology did not involve religious worship.

Mormon church explains its defunct ban on blacks in the priesthood

(The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sings during the fourth session of the 181st Annual General Conference of the church in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 3, 2011. REUTERS/George Frey )

Thirty-five years after lifting a ban on blacks entering the priesthood, the Mormon church has offered an explanation for a practice that was in place for more than 100 years, saying it was rooted in the racism of the times.

A church-produced essay, “Race and the Priesthood,” ties the ban to an 1852 speech by Brigham Young, the faith’s second president, who led the church to Utah, and distances the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the policy.

Atheists face death in 13 countries and global discrimination: study

(A humanist wedding ceremony in Slane, County Meath, Ireland on July 17, 2013. Traditionally Catholic Ireland has allowed atheist wedding ceremonies this year for the first time. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday.

And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy, it said.

Pope Francis is named Time magazine’s Person of the Year

(Pope Francis waves as he arrives to conduct his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito)

Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year on Wednesday, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the imagination of millions of people who had become disillusioned with the Vatican.

This is the third time the magazine has chosen a pope as its Person of the Year. Time gave that honor to Pope John Paul II in 1994 and to Pope John XXIII in 1963.

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Hopi Indian sacred objects sold in Paris auction despite protests

(A man looks at an antique tribal mask, Tumas Crow Mother, circa 1860-1870, revered as a sacred ritual artifact by the Native American Hopi tribe in Arizona, displayed at the Drouot auction house ahead of its sale in Paris December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)

French auctioneers sold a trove of Hopi Native American artifacts on Monday over the objections of the Arizona tribe, which considers them sacred, and a last-minute appeal from the United States.

The sale of about three dozen masks dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries followed a judge’s dismissal of a legal challenge last week brought on behalf of the tribe to cancel the sale by the Eve auction house in Paris.