FaithWorld

Inter-faith outreach in the Hindu heartland

Nashik religious leaders join Archbishop Machado at ordination, 8 March 2008/Tom Heneghan

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Posting vacation photos is not what this blog is about, but this one has a religion angle. I just spent a week in India and attended the ordination of the new Roman Catholic bishop of Nashik, a city near Mumbai in an area where Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) is a potent political force.

Archbishop Felix Machado (standing at top of stairs) was under-secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Rome before his appointment. So he invited leaders of all the religions in the city to join him and give a novel touch to his episcopal ordination. In the picture, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist leaders stand behind him as Acharya Swami Sanvindanand Saraswati, who heads a Hindu monastery in the city known across India as a Hindu pilgrimage centre, welcomes him to Nashik.

Michael Gonsalves, Special Correspondent for UCA News (Union of Catholic Asian News Agencies), wasn’t on vacation and he wrote this report on the event.

Faith-based body piercing in Southeast Asia

A Hindu devotee adjusts her cheek skewer before a procession, 22 Jan 2008/Matthew LeeIn the “one picture worth 1,000 words” category, check out Sulastri Osman’s feature on a Singapore festival of body-piercing in honour of the Hindu god Shiva’s youngest son, Lord Murugan. “They believe the piercings will leave no scars and they will feel no pain, .protected from bodily harm by the strict regime of abstinence, piety and vegetarianism they follow for a month before the festival,” she writes.

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Melvin Ho has his cheeks pierced with a skewer, 22 Jan 2008/Matthew LeeMelvin Ho (right), a first-time participant in the Thaipusam festival, said the motivation for the piercing is simple. “I believe in gods,” the 49-year-old man of Chinese origin said, minutes before a friend inserted a meter-long metal skewer through his cheeks.

The man who pierced Ho appeared to feel more pain than he did, grimacing as he pushed the skewer through his friend’s flesh.

Back to the blog — first impressions after a break

Returning to news reporting after two weeks off feels like you’ve been away for two weeks. Returning to blogging after a holiday break feels like you’ve been away for an eternity. So much going on! My colleague Ed Stoddard in Dallas was minding the shop, but he was unexpectedly sent off to report the news from the campaign trail. That gave FaithWorld a very American accent, which was a timely twist given the role of religion in the Iowa vote. It’s back to the view from Paris now — here are some inital comments on recent events concerning religion around the world:

Bhutto’s upcoming bookBenazir Bhutto — The assassinated Pakistani leader will speak from beyond the grave next month when her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West is published. HarperCollins has announced it has brought forward to Feb. 12 the release of the book that Bhutto worked on before returning to Pakistan in October. In a statement, it called the book “a bold, uncompromising vision of hope for the future of not only Pakistan but the Islamic world. Bhutto presents a powerful argument for a reconciliation of Islam with democratic principles, in the face of opposition from Islamic extremists and Western skeptics.”

It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the role of Islam in Pakistani politics, especially after all the praise for her as a modern, secularist Muslim leader in comments after her assassination. Bhutto’s party is politically secularist and she pledged to fight against Islamist militants now challenging the Islamabad government. But let’s not forget that the Taliban emerged during her second stint as prime minister in 1993-1996 and were a key element in Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan at the time. She worked with an Islamist politician close to the Taliban then and now. It was also on her watch that, as historian William Dalrymple put it, Kashmir was turned into “a jihadist playground.” Whether she supported all this, couldn’t oppose the military people behind it or both (that’s my hunch) is something historians will debate long into the future. But it is clear that her record is more complex than some of the eulogies would have it.

Thai Buddhists seek blasphemy law to punish offences against their faith

A Thai Buddhist monk rides an elephant to a protest in Bangkok, April 25, 2007The leading role monks played in the September protests against Myanmar’s military rulers has put the spotlight on the politically active side of Buddhism.

Next door in Thailand, this activism takes a quite different form. Buddhist groups there tried in vain earlier this year to have Buddhism declared the country’s official religion in its new post-coup constitution.

In April, they converged on parliament in Bangkok — some riding into the city on elephants — to highlight their demand.