FaithWorld

Philippines and Muslim rebels sign final peace deal to end 45-year conflict

(Muslim women display a banner during a gathering in support of the signing of a final peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in Manila March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Al Falcon )

The Philippines and its largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on Thursday signed a final peace pact, ending about 45 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people in the country’s south.

The fight against Muslim separatists and Maoist guerrillas for almost five decades has stunted growth in resource-rich rural areas, besides scaring off potential investment in mines, plantations, energy and infrastructure.

Under the pact, Muslim rebels agreed to disband guerrilla forces, surrender weapons, and rebuild their communities while the government gives them self-rule with wider powers to control their economy and culture.

But potential threats to lasting peace remain, ranging from a small breakaway MILF faction to criminal gangs, Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and feuding clans, all a reminder to potential investors that the region is volatile.

Moonshine is just a phone call away in Islamic Iran

(A couple looks from the top of Milad Tower in Tehran October 18, 2010. REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

“Have a shot of tequila first, cheer up!” Shahriyar tells guests gathered at his luxury apartment in Tehran.

His girlfriend, Shima, said they party every weekend.

“Shahriyar has one rule: bring your booze! We drink until morning,” she told Reuters on a FaceTime call, as lights flashed to rap music in the background.

Pakistani judge sentences Christian to death for blasphemy

(A demonstrator burns a cross during a protest against alleged blasphemy by Christians in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore March 9, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Hassain )

A Pakistani judge has sentenced a Christian to death for blasphemy, lawyers said on Thursday, in the latest of a rising tide of such legal cases.

Judge Lahore Ghulam Murtaza Chaudhry sentenced Sawan Masih to hang after a Muslim said he had insulted the prophet Mohammed in the eastern city of Lahore a year ago.

Biblical epic film ‘Noah’ tests director Aronofsky’s blockbuster chops

(Stained glass window of Noah’s Ark in St Étienne du Mont church in Paris, 2 June 2010/GFreihalter)

Rain lashes down from the heavens while hungry followers of Cain trample over each other for a spot on Noah’s massive wooden ark. The end is inevitable and, of course, not pretty.

Director Darren Aronofsky, best known for dark and unrelenting dramas such as the Oscar-nominated “Black Swan,” would have it no other way in the biblical epic “Noah,” which stars Russell Crowe and is set to be released in U.S. and Canadian theaters, as well as several other countries, on Friday.

Vatican removes German ‘bishop of bling’ over luxury home

(A car drives past the residence of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst next to Limburg Cathedral (L) in Limburg October 14, 2013.REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

The Vatican has removed a German bishop because he spent 31 million euros ($43 million) of Church funds on an extravagant residence when Pope Francis was preaching austerity.

It said the atmosphere in the diocese of Limburg had become such that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst could no longer carry out a “fruitful exercise” of his ministry there.

Pope Francis tells President Obama of his concern for religious freedom in U.S.

(Pope Francis (R) talks with U.S. President Barack Obama as they exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican City March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Gabriel Bouys/Pool)

Pope Francis and Vatican officials on Thursday told U.S. President Barack Obama they were concerned about “religious freedom” in the United States, an apparent reference to the contraception mandate in Obama’s health care plan.

Obama held nearly an hour of private talks with the pope and then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry held separate talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and other diplomats.

from The Great Debate:

Tackling inequality: Where a president meets a pope

There has been much speculation about President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. One Catholic church authority asserted, “it is not the task of the pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality.” The pope got that message -- he wrote it himself in his first official “Papal Exhortation” last year.

Yet Francis has also asserted that his papacy has a “grave responsibility” to  “exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” -- particularly to know the face of the poor and outcast.

For the pope, this scrutiny must take in the fierce public debate about government cuts that now overshadows U.S. politics. The left and the right are battling over sharp reductions in foods stamps and unemployment benefits, denial of healthcare to those least able to afford it and cuts in many programs designed to help the poor and needy.

from The Great Debate:

Why corporations don’t deserve religious freedom

On March 25 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, whose outcomes will decide whether corporations can exempt themselves from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), based on religious beliefs. The cases challenge a provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided insurance plans to include contraception coverage.

The rulings’ importance extends beyond the ACA, however. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its companion case, are also about Citizens United -- which established that corporate personhood includes freedom of speech, exercised, in part, by giving money to political causes. Now the court will decide whether corporations have freedom of religion as well, and whether on the basis of those rights, corporations can deprive services to others.

The court should reject this dangerous assertion. Corporations exist as separate legal entities precisely to distinguish their activities from those of their owners. It is that separation that Hobby Lobby threatens to erase.

Crown of Thorns relic paraded from Notre Dame to Sainte Chapelle in Paris

(French Archbishop Patrick Chauvet holds the Crown of Thorns relic during a procession outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

A relic venerated by Christians as the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus was paraded on Friday in Paris from Notre Dame Cathedral to the dazzling Gothic chapel built to house it in the 13th century.  The relic rarely leaves the cathedral and its return to the Sainte Chapelle, a medieval gem known for its soaring stained glass windows, and the Mass said to celebrate it were the first such events there since the 1789 French Revolution.

(The Crown of Thorns relic displayed during a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer )

Israeli diplomats’ strike looms over Pope Francis’s May visit to Holy Land

(A view of  Jerusalem, December 8, 2009.  REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A strike by Israeli Foreign Ministry staff has caused diplomats to cancel trips to the Jewish state and could endanger a visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis in May, union officials said.

Foreign Ministry staff called the strike on March 5 in a pay dispute and said they will not handle visits by foreign dignitaries, prompting Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende and other delegations to cancel trips to Israel this month.

Pope Francis is due to travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories at the end of May. “We aren’t handling that visit at all,” said trade union chief Yair Frommer.