FaithWorld

A year on, Pope Francis faces challenges meeting reform hopes

(Pope Francis leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

In the year since his surprise election, Pope Francis has raised so many hopes of imminent changes in Church teaching that managing all those expectations is going to be a challenge.

The Argentine-born pontiff has caught world attention by suggesting he might ease the Catholic Church’s strict rules on divorce, birth control, married or women priests and gay unions.

Off-the-cuff comments such as “who am I to judge?” about gays has contrasted with the more distant style of his predecessors John Paul and Benedict.

But while his words and public appearances have struck a chord with many Catholics, anyone hoping for a quick turnaround on those headline-grabbers is likely to be disappointed, said Boston College theologian Richard Gaillardetz.

Islamic scholars establish prizes for peace, recommend Muslim peace teams

(Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies session, March 9, 2014/Sohail Nakhooda)

Muslim scholars aiming to combat religious extremism in the Islamic world have established annual prizes for the best studies on peace and the best initiatives to promote peace in the region. At a meeting in Abu Dhabi on Sunday and Monday, they also recommended the creation of a team of young Muslims trained to visit conflict regions in Muslim countries to spread a message of peace instead of religious-based violence. The meeting, which was addressed by United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, further agreed to launch a “Muslim Wise Men Council” based in Abu Dhabi to bring together Islamic scholars at annual meetings aimed at promoting peace, according to their communique issued on Tuesday. No further details were immediately available. About 250 scholars from around the Islamic world attended the meeting, including the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam and Sheikh Abdallalh bin Bayyah, head of the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance.  “This rise of extremism and terrorism that is trying to legitimise itself through Muslim discourse is alarming,” said Aref Ali Nayed, a leading Libyan scholar and his country’s ambassador to the UAE.  “This conference brings together the top Muslim scholars living today. These are the most respected scholars coming together to say the essence of Islam is peace, compassion and blessings. They are here to say no to violence and terrorism.” “We hope to end up with permanent institutions of cooperation that can be umbrella organisations that can enhance the networking of scholars across the Muslim world, educational programs and outreach that can trickle down to the various communities through mosque preaching and in schools,” Nayed said.  “A lot of this is about ideas. A lot of the scholars need to have their ideas changed about where the problems lie, and that takes time because the intellectual community in the Muslim world has been battered down,” said Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. “It’s hard to get ideas out. People aren’t thinking creatively about the problems they’re confronting. We’re not doing it in America, we’re not doing it in Russia or Ukraine, we’re certainly not doing it in Egypt or Syria.” Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah said: “Now we want to start the journey of peace in the Muslim world. The starting point is to dialogue, by inviting al the scholars to meet. There is a culture of peace in the Islamic heritage.” – by Regan Doherty in Abu Dhabi

Orthodox patriarchs urge peace in Ukraine, plan first council in 1,200 years

(Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (R) leads a special Sunday mass after the Synaxis at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

Patriarchs of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul on Sunday calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East. Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold an  ecumenical council of bishops in 2016, the first in over 1,200 years.

The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox have been preparing on and off since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. As the prelates left a special service at Saint George’s Cathedral, a woman in the crowd called out in Russian “Pray for Ukraine!” Two archbishops responded: “You pray, too!”

Hollywood blockbuster film ‘Noah’ faces ban in the Arab world

(A stained glass painting of Noah’s Ark in Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church in Paris, June 2, 2010/GFreihalter)

Three Arab countries have banned the Hollywood film “Noah” on religious grounds even before its worldwide premiere and several others are expected to follow suit, a representative of Paramount Pictures told Reuters on Saturday.

Islam frowns upon representing holy figures in art and depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in European and North American media have repeatedly sparked deadly protests in Islamic countries over the last decade, fanning cultural tensions with the West.

Comic superhero Ultraman slain by Malaysian censors because of “Allah”

(Japanese children’s television heros Ultra Seven (L) and Ultraman (R) preview software created  from their television series in Tokyo February 15, 1999. REUTERS/Eriko Sugita)

Malaysia has banned a comic book starring the Japanese superhero Ultraman because it could disturb “public order”, sparking a torrent of online ridicule from those who saw it as the latest sign of excessive censorship in the Muslim-majority country.

The book, “Ultraman The Ultra Power”, was banned from Feb. 18 with a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment for anyone who imported or published the comic, state news agency Bernama reported the home ministry as saying.

U.S. personal trainer admits guilt in violent Jewish divorce scheme

(Orthodox Jewish wedding with chupah in Vienna’s first district, close to Judengasse, January 2007/Gryffindor)

A New York personal trainer pleaded guilty on Thursday to being part of a New Jersey ring that used violence to coerce Jewish husbands to agree to grant their wives religious divorces, federal prosecutors said.

David Hellman, 31, was one of 10 men, including two Orthodox Jewish rabbis, arrested last fall in the alleged scheme in which they hired themselves out to unhappy wives who wanted their husbands kidnapped and beaten until they agreed to divorce, the prosecutors in New Jersey said.

Russian Orthodox Church sings from Putin’s hymn sheet on Ukraine

(Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill arrive for the meeting with Russian Orthodox church bishops in Moscow February 1, 2013.REUTERS/Sergei Gunyeev/Ria Novosti)

As troops loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin were seizing control of Crimea, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow deduced that an “internal political crisis” in Ukraine was threatening its territorial integrity.

Patriarch Kirill’s words echoed Putin’s argument – ridiculed in the West – that armed units in Ukraine’s southern region were not Russian soldiers but self-defense forces fearing for their safety under the new order in Kiev.

Pope Francis confesses to pilfering a cross from a dead priest

(Pope Francis at the Vatican June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini )

Pope Francis revealed on Thursday he had succumbed to “that thief in all of us” and broke the seventh commandment by stealing a small cross from the coffin of a priest so he could remember the man.

In off-the-cuff comments to Roman priests (here in English and in Italian), Francis recalled when he was in his native Buenos Aires, he went to the funeral of an elderly priest he admired.

He noticed that there were no flowers in the coffin. He bought some and laid them out in the coffin where the dead priest was holding a rosary in his hand.

Singapore’s megachurches move to export lucrative religion

(Worshippers attend a church service at the City Harvest Church in Singapore March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su )

“God is here, God is here,” croons Singapore church official Sun Ho as she struts across a neon-lit stage and thousands of people in the congregation pump their hands and sing along.

Kong Hee, the church’s founding pastor and Sun Ho’s husband, then takes the stage. In keeping with the electrifying mood, he invites his followers to speak “in tongues” and a pulsing murmur echoes through the auditorium of 8,000 people.

Popeis “immensely popular” with U.S. Catholics, but no ‘Francis effect’ seen in Pew poll

(Pope Francis blesses the altar during Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Max Rossi )

One year after his election, Pope Francis is “immensely popular among American Catholics,” a survey said on Thursday, but there is no sign of a “Francis effect” inspiring more to attend Mass or do volunteer work.

The Washington-based Pew Research Center said 85 percent of Catholics in the United States viewed the Argentine-born pontiff favourably, with 51 percent reporting a “very favourable” view of him, while only 4 percent expressed a negative opinion.