FaithWorld

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.

In Pakistan, Taliban commanders have forbidden vaccination teams access in some areas. A handful of religious leaders have also denounced the campaign as a plot to sterilize Muslim children.

The rhetoric has fueled violence against the vaccination teams. Many teams travel only with police protection. Last year there were more than 30 attacks on polio teams.

Atheists face death in 13 countries and global discrimination: study

(A humanist wedding ceremony in Slane, County Meath, Ireland on July 17, 2013. Traditionally Catholic Ireland has allowed atheist wedding ceremonies this year for the first time. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday.

And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy, it said.

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Orthodox Christians mark 1,700th anniversary of edict of tolerance

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia (R) and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I hold a liturgy to mark 1,700 years since the Edict of Milan, when Roman emperor Constantine issued instructions to end the persecution of Christians, in the southern Serbian city of Nis October 6, 2013. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Eight Orthodox Christian leaders, dignitaries from other faiths, politicians and thousands of others on Sunday celebrated the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which established toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago.

Roman Catholic Pope Francis was not present at the liturgy in the Serbian city of Nis, his absence reflecting centuries-old divisions between the two main Christian denominations, despite moves by both towards reconciliation and dialogue.

French Catholic-Muslim conference concerned about future for dialogue

Fr Christophe Roucou, head of the French Catholic Church’s Service for Relations with Islam in Paris, Sept 28, 2013/Tom Heneghan

Catholic-Muslim dialogue has led to extensive ties of friendship and cooperation in recent decades in France, but enthusiasm for interreligious contacts seems to be waning and some younger religious leaders from both faiths question its usefulness and even show some hostility, according to Catholic and Muslim speakers at a conference in Paris.

Meeting to mark the 40th anniversary of the French Catholic Church’s Service for Relations with Islam (SRI), several speakers recounted how they went from strangers to friends through the interreligious dialogue that was launched by the reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council.

from John Lloyd:

The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans "homosexual propaganda" directed at under 18-year olds -- which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality -- they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters -- but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

Survey finds worldwide split over stands on gays, religiosity plays big role

(Same-sex couple plastic figurines are displayed during a gay wedding fair (salon du mariage gay) in Paris April 27, 2013. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

A survey on Tuesday shows a world divided over the acceptance of gays, with countries in Africa and the Middle East strongly opposed even as tolerance grows in Europe, the United States, Canada and parts of Latin America.

People in predominately Muslim countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan along with Nigeria, Senegal and other African nations overwhelming said gay men and lesbians should be rejected from society at large, the Pew Research Center survey of nearly 40 countries found.

Guestview – How faith leaders can be our greatest allies against polio

(A local health worker carries vaccination kits into a vehicle at a distribution centre ahead of the start of a nationwide polio immunization campaign  in Lagos February 21, 2011. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Mercy Ahun is Special Representative to Eligible Countries for GAVI, a public-private partnership that works with governments, vaccine producers, civil society organizations and others to expand access to vaccines and immunization in the developing world.

By Mercy Ahun

Attacks on polio immunization workers in Pakistan have drowned out the celebrations of so much recent success in immunization work. Pakistan remains one of only three countries in the world where polio still exists, but efforts to bring vaccines to all corners of the country have been politicized to a tragic extent.

Spoof campaign poster for Cardinal Turkson appears in pre-conclave Rome

(A woman strolls past a poster supporting Cardinal Peter Turkson in front of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome March 1, 2013.  REUTERS/ Max Rossi)

Spoof  “vote for Turkson” posters have popped up in Rome along walls still plastered with campaign posters from Italy’s general election on Sunday and Monday. Campaigning for the papacy is officially forbidden and even suggesting one is a candidate is usually enough to end any cardinal’s chances of ascending to the throne of Saint Peter.

Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson is the Irish bookmakers’ favorite to replace Pope Benedict, putting a non-European in pole position to lead the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church for the first time in more than a millennium.

Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson is Irish bookmakers’ favorite for new pope

(Cardinal Peter Turkson (2nd L) during the Ash Wednesday mass at the Vatican February 13, 2013. REUTERS/ Alessandro Bianchi )

Ghana’s Peter Turkson is the Irish bookmakers’ favorite to replace Pope Benedict, putting a non-European in pole position to lead the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church for the first time in more than a millennium.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power offered odds of 11/4 against for Turkson, meaning successful punters would win 11 pounds for every four staked, while Britain’s second largest bookmaker Ladbrokes offered odds of 5/2 against.