FaithWorld

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.

Saudi’s religious authorities cut the number of foreign pilgrims permitted at Islam’s annual haj by a fifth last year to allow expansion work at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. In 2012, more than 3 million people visited Mecca for the pilgrimage in what is a huge money-spinner for the mobile phone companies.

Foreign visitors often buy mobile subscriptions from Saudi’s telecom operators for the duration of their stay, usually to text or call home or local Saudi numbers.

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.

U.S. military giving troops more leeway for religious clothing and beards

(Indian Sikh soldiers listens to their commander in Nowgam sector, 100 kms (62 miles)
north of Srinagar, September 1, 2003. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli)

The Pentagon took steps on Wednesday to give individual troops greater latitude to wear turbans, head scarfs, yarmulkes and other religious clothing with their uniforms, but advocacy groups said the new policy fell short of what they were seeking.

“The military departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of service members” unless it might affect military readiness or unit cohesion, the updated policy on religious accommodation said.

U.S. anti-abortion marchers brave freezing cold in Washington

(Anti-abortion demonstrators sing as they parade past the U.S. Capitol during the annual March for Life in Washington, January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst )

Thousands of U.S. anti-abortion activists braved frigid temperatures to rally at the annual March for Life on Wednesday, and a top Republican lawmaker vowed that the House of Representatives would vote soon to end taxpayer-funded abortions.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told the rally, one of the key yearly events for the anti-abortion movement, that the Republican-controlled chamber would approve the measure halting taxpayer funding for the procedure next week.

from Breakingviews:

Pope’s “authentic” economics make sense

By Edward Hadas

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, a Catholic order which has traditionally, among other things, served the rich and powerful as teachers and confessors. At its best, a Jesuit education inspires the mighty to serve the lowly. The Pope’s address to the business and political leaders assembled at the World Economic Forum at Davos fits right into that tradition.

He flatters the “innovative” for “improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise.” Then he hits. Davosians, he says, “can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”