FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Afghan refugees – Seeking sanctuary

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

It was a cold, wet morning when I passed through the doors of the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Beguinage, a grand 17th century building in the center of Brussels.

Inside, children were playing and shouting in the large, dark hall, which was lined with rows and rows of tents. I had not just entered a church – I was inside people’s homes. The building had become a very private space.

Saint John the Baptist’s is occupied by a group of Afghan migrants, who have been living there for more than three months. Their first asylum request was refused by the authorities and they were told to leave Belgium, but some ended up travelling around the county aimlessly and were left squatting in unoccupied buildings.

That was before Daniel Alliet, the priest at Saint John the Baptist’s, opened its doors to them. When I went to visit the church at the beginning of the year, more than 200 migrants were living there, although that number has since dropped as many have found shelter in asylum centers.

On my first visit, I felt a sense of dismay when I saw the chaotic and unsanitary conditions in which the asylum seekers lived. The church was not built to house this many people, day and night. Water supplies were under strain. There were only two toilets. The priest told me that the condensation from so many bodies had even begun to damage the organ.

Australian Christian missionary arrested on second trip to North Korea

(North Koreans pay their respects in front of statues of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, on the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il,  December 17, 2013. REUTERS/KCNA)

An Australian man has been arrested while doing missionary work in North Korea, his wife told Reuters on Wednesday, making him the second foreign Christian missionary to be held by the North.

The wife of 75-year-old John Short told Reuters her husband was arrested in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Sunday and had been open about his religious work on his second trip to the isolated country.

Hungarian rabbi finds 103 Torah scrolls stolen during WW2 in Russian library

(Rabbi Baruch Oberlander shows the media how a Torah is used in a synagogue during a news conference in Budapest February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

A Hungarian rabbi said on Tuesday he had uncovered 103 Torah scrolls stolen from Hungarian Jews during World War Two and stashed in a Russian library, adding he planned to restore and return them to the Jewish community.

Slomo Koves, chief rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, said he had found the scrolls while following up a previous recovery of Hungarian war loot in the Lenin Scientific Library in Nizhny Novgorod, 400 km (240 miles) east of Moscow.

Rockers in the sacristy: new book recounts St. Francis’ famous fans

(A screen shows pictures of Pope Francis inside San Francesco Basilica in Assisi October 4, 2013. Pope Francis visits Assisi, the Italian town that was home to his namesake St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis took his name from the saint who is revered around the world as a symbol of austerity, simplicity, concern for the poor and a love of the environment. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini )

What do Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger’s daughter, Carlos Santana and Patti Smith have in common? It’s not only rock and roll: all of them are fans of a saint who lived 800 years ago.

St. Francis of Assisi, known worldwide for his simple spirituality, his closeness to the poor, his love of nature and his preaching of peace, has some unlikely admirers.

Church of England rules out blessings for gay marriages

(Members of the London Gay Men’s Choir perform in front of the Houses of Parliament in central London July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning)

Church of England priests will not be allowed to bless gay and lesbian weddings, or marry someone of the same sex themselves, according to new guidelines issued by the church, which is struggling to heal divides over homosexuality.

Same-sex marriage becomes legal in England next month, posing a dilemma for the Church of England, which is the mother church of the world’s 80 million Anglicans and maintains that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Pope Francis renews his passport as a regular Argentine citizen

(Pope Francis’ new national identification card and passport are seen in this undated handout photo taken by Argentina’s Interior Ministry and distributed on February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Interior Ministry/Handout)

Pope Francis wants to travel the world as a regular Argentine and not a privileged citizen of the Vatican City microstate, Argentina said on Monday.

The head of the Catholic Church and former bishop of Buenos Aires has asked his birth country to renew his passport and identification card, the country’s interior and transportation ministry said.

Snake-handling preacher dies in Kentucky after being bitten by snake

(Handling serpents at the Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky, 15 September 1946/ Department of the Interior)

A Kentucky snake-handling preacher who appeared in a television show about the religious practice died of a snakebite after refusing medical treatment, authorities said on Sunday.

Jamie Coots was found dead at about 10 p.m. EST on Saturday at his house in Middlesboro, Kentucky, according to Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe.

At Sochi Olympics, online kosher meal orders and extra rabbis for visiting Jews

(Sochi Rabbi Ari Edelkopf holds a Torah scroll at one of several prayer centres set up to cater to Jewish visitors to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia, in Krasnaya Polyana February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Sochi’s lone rabbi has drawn on reinforcements from the United States and shipped in 7,000 kosher meals to help cater for Jewish visitors to the Winter Olympics in Russia, a country where Judaism is reviving after decades of repression.

Speaking virtually no Russian at the time, Ari Edelkopf, a native of California, moved to Sochi 12 years ago with his wife Chani to establish a synagogue. In the run-up to the Olympics, he said he received emails from Jews from around the world, anxious to find out where they could eat kosher food and celebrate the Shabbat, or Sabbath.

World Jewish Congress urges Hungary to reconsider WW2 memorial

(A Holocaust memorial of metal shoes fixed to the Danube embankment in memory of Jews executed at the riverside during the wartime occupation. Photo taken on February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) urged Hungary on Friday to reconsider plans to erect a monument commemorating the German occupation in 1944 and to seek greater dialogue with the country’s Jewish community.

Hungarian Jewish groups say the monument is part of an official drive to obscure the role played by Hungarians in the deportation and murder of the country’s Jews during World War Two.

Bulgaria detains 120 after nationalists, soccer crowd attack mosque

(Bulgarian nationalist supporters and football fans shout slogans during a protest rally in the city of Plovdiv, some 120 km (75 miles) east of Sofia February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer )

Bulgarian police detained more than 120 people on Friday after hundreds of nationalists and soccer fans attacked a mosque in the country’s second city Plovdiv, smashing its windows with stones.

Over 2,000 people had gathered outside a Plovdiv court as it heard an appeal case dealing with the return of an ancient mosque in the central city of Karlovo, taken over by the state more than 100 years ago, to Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, the Muslim religious authority.