FaithWorld

U.S. Catholic bishops’ new leaders echo pope’s concern for the poor

(Volunteers serve needy people during a free dinner service at Chicago Catholic Charities in Chicago, November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young)

U.S. Catholic bishops elected two centrist conservatives as new leaders on Tuesday, an archbishop from Kentucky and a Texas cardinal, both of whom expressed “solidarity” with Pope Francis’ strong emphasis on the poor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, 67, of Louisville, Kentucky was elected to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, 64, of the Galveston-Houston diocese, was chosen as vice president.

Their election comes as Catholic bishops worldwide are being given new direction by Pope Francis, who has emphasized greater humility and more concern for poverty. The bishops oversee 69 million U.S. Catholics, or about a quarter of the country’s population.

“I believe we are very much in solidarity with Pope Francis, and that is, his way of articulating clearly that we need not only to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable, but to be an advocate,” Kurtz told reporters after his election.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s conglomerate thrived as sanctions squeezed Iran

(Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits next to a portrait of late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a television programme in Tehran on the occasion of the Iranian New Year March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Leader.ir/Handout)

(This is the second story in a three-part series, Assets of the Ayatollah. The first article was Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei controls vast financial empire built on property seizures)

Seven years ago, the United Nations and Western powers began subjecting Tehran to steadily harsher economic sanctions. Around the same time, an organisation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei started to study how some developing economies managed to grow fast.

China pressures Muslim Uighur lawyer families on burqas and beards

(An ethnic Uighur man checks a mirror after getting his beard shaved by a barber (R) on a street in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region July 21, 2013. REUTERS/William Hong )

China’s far-flung western region of Xinjiang is demanding that lawyers guarantee family members don’t wear burqas or grow long beards, the latest government move critics say unfairly targets the region’s Muslim Uighur ethnic community.

Lawyers in Turpan, an oasis city southeast of the regional capital, Urumqi, have to sign a pledge denouncing extremism and participation in “illegal religious activities”, the Xinjiang judicial affairs department website said on Tuesday.

Dutch self-image shaken by “Black Pete” debate

(A woman dressed as “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete), the helper of Saint Nicholas (C), takes part in a traditional parade in central Brussels, where the Dutch Christmas tradition is also observed. December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

The Dutch see themselves as tolerant pragmatists, especially adaptable if social harmony or commercial interests demand it.

But that self-image has taken a battering in recent weeks as a growing chorus of voices inside and outside the country protest against a Christmas tradition that many Dutch see as harmless fun but critics say is racist.

Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

(Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul November 5, 2013.  REUTERS/Omar Sobhani )

Zabulon Simintov always removes his kippah, the skullcap worn by Jewish men, before entering his cafe in a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan’s last synagogue.

“Let me take off my cap, otherwise people will think something bad about me,” Simintov said cheerfully as he descended grime-caked stairs to the ground-floor cafe.

Trouble foreseen as U.N. court says Hindu temple site belongs to Cambodia

(Buddhist monks visit the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Samrang Pring)

A U.N. court ruled in favour of Cambodia on Monday in a long-running dispute with Thailand over jurisdiction of land around an ancient temple, a decision that threatens to add fuel to a deepening political standoff in Bangkok.

The Preah Vihear Temple sits atop an escarpment that forms the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Under a map drawn up when Cambodia was a French colony, the temple is Cambodian but its ownership has dogged ties since Cambodia’s independence in the 1950s.

Minority report: Why Baha’is face persecution in Iran

(Multiple pictures of Baha’i religious leaders arrested in Iran are seen during a protest at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro June 19, 2011. Picture taken June 19, 2011. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

The Islamic Republic’s 34-year rule has hurt many religious and political groups in Iran, but one community has borne an especially heavy burden: the Baha’is, a religious minority viewed as heretics by some Muslims.

Dozens of Baha’is were killed or jailed in the years immediately following the Islamic revolution in 1979. Billions of dollars worth of land, houses, shops and other Baha’i belongings were seized in subsequent years by various Iranian organizations, including Setad, the organization overseen by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei controls vast financial empire built on property seizures

(Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran February 22, 2012. REUTERS/Khamenei.ir/Handout)

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

from The Great Debate:

Risky business: Talking to the Taliban

If one event crystallizes Pakistan’s helplessness in confronting its political future, it is the recent assassination-by-American-drone of Hakimullah Mehsud, erstwhile leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Islamabad had only just acknowledged its plan to hold “peace talks” when Mehsud was killed. Mehsud -- with a $5 million bounty on his head, and thousands of civilian deaths to his movement’s credit -- was immediately eulogized as the key to peace in Pakistan.

Or so it had seemed to the wishful among Pakistan’s politicians. But the country’s labyrinthine military and political makeup and its often opposing foreign and domestic interests make it difficult to imagine how any Pakistani government can negotiate a deal that brings peace to a time of many terrors. If it is unclear what it means for Pakistan to negotiate its political compact with the Taliban, it is also unclear what it would take to make any deal stick.

At U.S. Supreme Court hearing, passions flare over religion and its rules

(Stephanie Ragusky of Loudoun County, Virginia demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in the case of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, in Washington November 6, 2013.  REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan )

When the U.S. Supreme Court talks about religion, all hell breaks loose.

A dispute over an upstate New York town’s prayer before council meetings produced an unusually testy oral-argument session on Wednesday that recalled the decades of difficulty Supreme Court justices have had drawing the line between church and state.

Court decisions involving freedom of religion tend to be closely decided with many separate opinions rather than clear-cut majority statements. The case of Town of Greece v. Galloway appears to be headed that way.