Malaysia’s God/Allah problem erupts, tarnishing its moderate image

(A priest and altar boys walk down the aisle after prayers were conducted during a mass service inside the church of Our Lady of Lourdes at Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur January 12, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said )

The Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church seems like a model for the multicultural, tolerant Malaysia that its government likes to present to the outside world.

An ethnic Chinese priest conducts the service in the Malay language to a congregation made up of migrants from the country’s eastern Borneo island states along with a handful of Vietnamese immigrants.

But it takes only a few minutes for the worshippers to utter the Malay and Arabic word for God that has become a festering source of contention in the Muslim-majority country, deepening ethnic divisions and tarnishing its moderate image.

“We believe in Allah, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” the 300 or so faithful chant.

Top papal ally urges Vatican doctrine chief Müller to loosen up

(Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller at the Vatican on March 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

An influential aide to Pope Francis criticised the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog on Monday and urged the conservative prelate to be more flexible about reforms being discussed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the head of a “kitchen cabinet” the pope created to draw up reform proposals, said that Archbishop Gerhard Müller – who has opposed any loosening of Church rules on divorce – was a classic German theology professor who thought too much in rigid black-and-white terms.

Islamist anti-vaccine drive makes Peshawar world’s biggest polio virus pool

(A street in Peshawar’s old city, 22 March 2010/Janki)

Pakistan’s volatile northwestern city of Peshawar is the largest reservoir of endemic polio viruses in the world, the World Health Organization said on Friday, amid concerns over continuing violence against polio vaccination teams.

Pakistan is also the only polio-endemic country in the world where polio cases rose from 2012 to 2013, the statement said. There were 91 cases last year but only 58 the year before.

Polio can permanently paralyze or kill victims within hours of infection. Intensive vaccination campaigns have almost eradicated the disease worldwide, but it remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

This little piggy went to the Vatican, to get a blessing

(A traditional Sicilian chariot with a horse is seen in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican January 17, 2014. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini )Broken

With an oink oink here and a cluck cluck there, animals arrived at the Vatican on Friday to get a blessing.

The animals, including pigs, chickens, horses, cats and dogs, were at St. Peter’s Square to mark the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, the third-century holy man who is the Catholic Church’s patron of animals.

Ex-regulator leads Church of England financial taskforce on payday lenders

(A woman passes by a money lending shop in northeast London October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett )

Hector Sants, Britain’s former top financial industry regulator who resigned from Barclays due to stress, will lead a new financial taskforce set up by the Church of England as part of its campaign against controversial payday lenders.

The church said on Thursday that Sants had accepted an invitation from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to chair the body, called the Task Group on Credit Unions and the Financial Sector.

Central Africa Republic religious hatred was underestimated: France

(An Anti-balaka militiaman poses for a photograph in the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

The level of hatred in Central African Republic between Muslims and Christians has been underestimated and is creating a “nearly impossible” situation for African Union and French forces to combat, France’s U.N. envoy has said.

Speaking at a U.N. event about early warning signs for mass atrocities, Gerard Araud suggested the United Nations consider turning to psychologists or ethnologists to help understand and combat the deadly resentment because religious leaders’ calls for calm were being ignored.

British asylum for Afghan atheist hailed as ground-breaking decision

(Britain’s Home Office in central London March 29, 2007. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Britain’s decision to grant asylum to an atheist Afghan citizen for religious reasons was hailed  as ground-breaking for giving the same rights to non-religious people as to the religious.

The unnamed man fled to Britain at the age of 16 in 2007 from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan. He was brought up a Muslim but during his time in Britain he abandoned his religion and became an atheist, according to his legal team at the University of Kent’s Law School.

How much is that halo? Vatican regulates costs of making saints

(St Andrew, by Lippo d’Andrea di Lippo (b. around 1370, d. before 1451) in a fresco in the Duomo in Florence)

Even “poor” saints will benefit from Pope Francis’ drive to control costs and introduce a sense of sobriety and accounting transparency in the Vatican.

The Vatican newspaper said on Tuesday that the Holy See department that oversees the making of saints had introduced a “price list”, or a rough guide to the costs of sanctity.

Religious groups face increased hostility and limits worldwide – Pew report

(A man walks out from a mosque burned down in recent anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine state in Myanmar, October 3, 2013.  REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun )

Violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new highs in all regions of the world except the Americas, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

Social hostility such as attacks on minority faiths or pressure to conform to certain norms was strong in one-third of the 198 countries and territories surveyed in 2012, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, it said on Tuesday.

Erdogan may prevail against Turkish preacher Gülen, but at high political cost

(An ad with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan inside a metro train in Istanbul January 13, 2014. The slogan reads as “strong willpower”. REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan looks to have the upper hand in a civil war rocking Turkey’s political establishment, but his bid to break the influence of a potent Islamic cleric could roll back reforms and undermine hard-won business confidence.

What erupted a month ago as a damaging inquiry into alleged government corruption has spiraled into a battle over the judiciary with potentially much further-reaching consequences for the country’s international image and Erdogan’s own future.