FaithWorld

After an African-American president, an African pope?

turksonIf you start seeing pictures of the man at the right or hearing his name now and then, here’s why.

On the international Godbeat, it’s never too early to start speculating about who will become the next pope. The current head of the world’s largest church, Pope Benedict, is admirably fit at 82, but facts like that never discourage avid Vatican watchers. “Vaticanistas” look beyond the present pope to find who else stands out in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Who’s on his way up? Who’s taking on important jobs? Who’s out there publishing books or giving lectures or visiting other cardinals or doing anything else that looks like — perish the thought! – a subtle campaign in an unofficial race whose candidates never throw their birettas into the ring. (Photo: Cardinal Turkson, 13 April 2005/Max Rossi)

It looks like Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is now firmly in this group known as the papabili, or possible popes, thanks to an important job he’s doing this month. He’s the relator, or secretary general, of the Synod for Africa, a major meeting of African bishops in Rome to discuss the Church’s future on that continent.  Previous cardinals who served in such posts include the future popes John Paul II and Benedict. Like another African cardinal once tipped for the job, Nigeria’s Francis Arinze (now 77 and retired), he counts among his plus points an on-the-job familiarity with Islam. John Allen, the veteran vaticanista for the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter, headlined his story on Turkson “Say hello to Africa’s next great hope to be pope.”

Coming after the first non-Italian pope in centuries, it was unlikely that the 2005 conclave would take another daring leap and choose a non-European. The next papal election, whenever it comes, could be different. The received wisdom after the last one was that the Latin Americans had the best chance.

Cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel for conclave, 18 April 2005/poolBut you never know what the coming years will bring. Catholicism is growing in Africa, in contrast to Latin America.  One of Latin America’s best candidates, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, is a player in the current political crisis in his native Honduras and his prospects could depend on how that develops. And you have to wonder if the example of a precedent concerning a world figure outside the Church — the first African-American president, Barack Obama — could exert an indirect influence.  Some Catholics may read that and fire off a comment saying politics has absolutely nothing to do with papal elections. Not directly as in the past, but cardinals don’t all live in Sistine Chapel-like isolation from the rest of the world either. Turkson has strong credentials, as do other papabili, and the advantage of personifying some additional quality — hope? equality? change in continuity? –  could well work in his favour.

Support for abortion rights declines in America

Public support for abortion rights is ebbing in America while the issue’s importance has fallen on the public agenda, especially for liberal Democrats, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

In 2007 and 2008, Pew found that supporters of abortion rights outnumbered those saying it should be illegal in most or all cases by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.

By contrast, in two major surveys conducted in 2009 among a total sample of more than 5,500 adults, views of abortion are about evenly divided, with 47 percent expressing support for legal abortion and 44 percent expressing opposition,” Pew said.

U.S. conservative Christians rally against Obama agenda

U.S. conservative Christians, a key base for the out-of-power Republican Party, gathered in Washington on Friday to rally the faithful against President Barack Obama’s agenda, including his top domestic priority of healthcare reform.

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Obama’s falling poll numbers and what they depict as his ultra-liberal views on abortion rights, healthcare and climate change are galvanizing a group that could prove vital to Republican prospects of taking back control of Congress in the 2010 congressional elections or the White House in 2012.

Conservative activists see exploitable opportunities in Obama’s policies and performance that also can stir more centrist voters, such as suspicions of “big government” and the almost uniquely American skepticism of global warming that prevails in much of the heartland.

POLL – Is reforming U.S. health care a moral issue?

obama-healthThe heated debate over United States health care reform revolves around practical issues like its expected costs or the government-run “public option.” But when President Barack Obama addressed Congress on the issue, he quoted a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy saying: “What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” (Photo: President Obama addressing Congress, 9 Sept 2009/Jason Reed)

Religious leaders and politicians supporting health care reform sometimes frame the issue in moral terms. But the term “moral” rarely pops up in the Washington debate and — apart from the Kennedy quote — it didn’t figure in Obama’s speech either. The president did discuss the issue of character, which is a moral term, and used the word often enough for it to appear in the Wordle web cloud below. But he avoided repeating what might be considered a religiously loaded word in a crucial political speech.

What do you think?

poll by twiigs.com

Here’s the word cloud of Obama’s speech. Even “character” is pretty hard to find (click to enlarge the image).

Fewer Americans see Islam as violent-Pew poll

The percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence has declined and very basic knowledge about the faith has shown modest increases, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Thirty-eight percent of those polled believed Islam was more likely than other faiths to encourage violence, down from the 45 percent who held this view two years earlier.OBAMA/

Most Americans — 58 percent – also believe Muslims are discriminated against. In fact, they see them as a group second only to gays and lesbians in terms of the discrimination they face. These findings suggest unexpected empathy for a community whose leaders often claim they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.

The survey also reports that Americans are generally learning more about Islam and that increasing familiarity with the religion correlates with a decline in belief that Islam promotes violence.

from Tales from the Trail:

The Pope blessed Ted Kennedy

KENNEDY/As a divorcee who was pro-choice on abortion, the United States's most prominent Catholic politician was not exactly in the Vatican's good books.

Yet Pope Benedict XVI blessed the terminally ill Senator Edward Kennedy, according to correspondence made public at his burial in Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday.

Kennedy, whose political career was marred by scandal, asked for the Pope's prayers in a letter that was handed to the pontiff by President Barack Obama in Rome on July 10.

Obama accuses some healthcare critics of “bearing false witness”

U.S. President Barack Obama enlisted the “Religious Left” on Wednesday to help galvanise public support for his faltering drive for healthcare reform, using the language of faith as he accused some of the critics of his biggest domestic project of “bearing false witness.”

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Obama made a brief pitch to a “call in” organised by various liberal and progressive faith groups called “40 minutes for Health Reform.” It is part of  a campaign launched last week to counteract a movement to stop “Obamacare” that has been driven in part by conservative Christian activists.

“There has been a lot misinformation in this debate and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Obama said.

Religious Right TV ad links “Obamacare,” abortion

The Family Research Council, a leading activist group among America’s “Religious Right,” has launched a new TV ad in five key states that claims President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan will lead to publicly funded abortions — a charge disputed by the president’s allies and abortion rights groups.

You can see the new video, Life and Death, below.

FRC President Tony Perkins told reporters in a telephone conference that the ads will run on cable news programs in Arkansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, Alaska and Pennsylvania — five states that have significant numbers of social conservatives but are represented by more moderate lawmakers who can be swayed.

The announcement came just ahead of a “phone in” featuring liberal and left-leaning faith leaders — or the Religious Left – and Obama seeking to galvanize support for the president’s bid to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.

Liberal U.S. religious groups launch “40 Days of Health Reform”

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Liberal U.S. religious groups launched “40 Days of Health Reform” on Monday.

You can see our coverage here and a video of their nationwide TV spot below.

The campaign aims to energize efforts by President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party to overhaul America’s healthcare system.

(PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting about healthcare at the Kroger Supermarket in Bristol, Virginia July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing)

Religious Left pushes for healthcare reform

America’s “Religious Left” is jumping into the healthcare debate with a plan to launch a “40 Days for Health Reform” initiative starting Monday.

The move comes as conservative resistance hardens to President Barack Obama’s attempts to overhaul America’s healthcare system. This has taken the form of angry scenes at townhall meetings and has been driven in part by the ”Religious Right,” which claims on Christian radio stations and on the blogosphere that, among other things, “Obamacare” will result in taxpayer-funded abortion. That’s a point disputed by most Democrats and their allies. 

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The pro-faith-based healthcare reform campaign is organized by liberal leaning religious groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Faith in Public Life. Borrowing a page from the Religious Right, the conservative Christian movement that rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s as a key base for the Republican Party, the campaign will feature prayer rallies and a national TV ad.