FaithWorld

Vatican invites all to John Paul beatification, cites “ethical” Rome hotel prices

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(Catholic pilgrims hold up photos of the late Pope John Paul in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican January 16, 2011/Giampiero Sposito)

The Vatican has urged the faithful not to let reports of huge crowds or unscrupulous hoteliers deter them from coming to Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul on May 1. “I invite everyone to come. Rome is ready. Don’t be afraid of coming or of inviting people,” said Father Caesar Atuire on Tuesday.

The Vatican has begun the countdown to what will be the biggest event in the Italian capital since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions of people came to view his body or attend his funeral. Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people — including tens of thousands from his native Poland — to come to Rome for the three days of events during which he will be declared a “blessed,” the last step before sainthood.

The Vatican has already warned the faithful to beware of fraudsters, particularly on the Internet, who are selling tickets to the beatification ceremony. No tickets will be necessary for any of the ceremonies.

Vatican officials told a news conference that they had stipulated an “ethical pact” with the Rome hoteliers association in which members promised not to jack up prices for the period of the events, when rooms are expected to be scarce. There have been numerous media reports of skyrocketing prices, particularly in hotels in Rome’s historic center or in the Vatican area on the other side of the Tiber River.

Rising Christian anger in Malaysia over Bible seizures

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(A Bible in the Malay language at a church in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

Rising Christian anger in mainly Muslim Malaysia over the government’s handling of a case involving seized Bibles could complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bid to win back the support of minorities ahead of an early general election. The row over 35,100 imported Malay language Bibles and Christian texts impounded by Customs authorities comes amid a legal battle on the right of non-Muslims to use the Arabic word “Allah” and could raise ethno-religious tensions in the country. The Bibles were seized in 2009 but the case was only made public in January.

“There has been a systematic and progressive pushing back of the public space to practise, to profess and to express our faith,” Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), said in a statement on Wednesday.

Imperfections mar hopes for “ethical” reprogrammed stem cells

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(Institute of Cellular Medicine, in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 18, 2010/Juan Carlos Ulate )

When scientists announced five years ago they could reprogram ordinary skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, religious conservatives and others who opposed the use of stem cells cheered the advance. But while they have proven to be a powerful new way to study human disease, the reprogrammed cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — are no substitute for embryonic stem cells.

“This has strong policy implications,” Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard Medical School said in a telephone interview. “It has not ever been a scientifically driven argument that iPS cells are a worthy and complete substitute for embryonic stem cells. Those arguments were always made based on political and religious opposition to embryonic stem cells.”

Woody Allen jazzes it up for Rome Catholic hospital

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(Woody Allen plays the clarinet at a concert in Aviles, Spain, March 25, 2011/Eloy Alonso)

What’s a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn doing helping to raise money for a Catholic hospital owned by the Vatican in a city where until 1870 the papacy required Jews to live in a ghetto? If that nice Jewish boy is Woody Allen, the conundrum is resolved by a four-letter word: Jazz.

“Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band” charmed a packed house in Rome’s Conciliazione Auditorium three blocks from the Vatican and just across the Tiber River from Rome’s synagogue. The band, made up of Allen on clarinet and six other top-notch jazz musicians steeped in the New Orleans tradition, belted out more than a dozen tunes over nearly two hours at the benefit for the Bambino Gesu, Italy’s top children’s hospital.

Lourdes calls a healing “remarkable,” avoiding the term “miracle”

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(Pilgrims pray at the Lourdes grotto, where the Roman Catholic tradition says St. Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858, photographed on November 5, 2006/Regis Duvignau)

The Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes has announced the “remarkable healing” of a French invalid, avoiding the traditional term “miracle” because its doctors increasingly shy away from calling an illness or condition incurable. The case of Serge François, 56, whose left leg was mostly paralysed for years, was the first healing announced since the Church eased some rules in 2006 for declaring that a person was healed thanks to visiting the site.

The Catholic Church teaches that God sometimes performs miracles, including cures that doctors can’t explain. Sceptics reject this as unscientific and explain sudden recoveries as psychological phenomena or the delayed result of treatment.

Catholic-atheist meetings end with Pope Benedict appeal to youth

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Pope Benedict urged French youths on Friday to help put God back into public debate, either as Christians sharing their faith or as non-believers seeking more justice and solidarity in a cold utilitarian world. In a video address from the Vatican to an evening rally outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, the pope also urged them to “tear down the barriers of fear of the other, the foreigner, of those who are not like you” that mutual ignorance can create.

Benedict’s address, projected on a large screen in the square, came at the end of two days of a Vatican-sponsored dialogue between Roman Catholics and atheists, part of a drive to revive the faith in Europe that is a hallmark of his papacy.

Huge Manila human cross for Lent, against abortion

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(People form a black and white Dominican cross in Manila March 9, 2011/Cheryl Ravelo)

Thousands of Filipinos lined up across a football field in Manila to mark the start of Lent by forming a human cross they hoped would go down as the world’s biggest. Officials at the University of Santo Tomas, a Catholic university that at 400 years old is the nation’s oldest, said the Ash Wednesday event was also a proclamation of the school’s stand against abortion and a controversial bill on reproductive health currently being debated.

More than 20,000 people, including students, faculty members and university personnel, the students wearing black t-shirts or white school uniforms, stood side by side to form a two-colored Dominican cross while prayers were recited and songs sung.

Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain cabinet minister

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(People gather near the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti after a funeral ceremony inside a church in Islamabad March 4, 2011/Faisal Mahmood)

Shouting “death for killers”, thousands of Pakistanis on Friday buried Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s only Christian government minister who was killed by Pakistani Taliban for challenging a law that stipulates death for insulting Islam. His assassination on Wednesday was the latest sign violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in Pakistan, a trend which could further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was the second senior official to be assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards.

Pakistan media warn of growing chaos after Christian minister slain

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(Christians protest in Hyderabad against the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, March 3, 2011/Akram Shahid )

Pakistan is being swept towards violent chaos by a growing wave of Islamist extremism, the country’s newspapers said a day after Taliban militants killed the country’s only Christian government minister. The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where secular-minded politicians are imperiled by a rising strain of violent religious conservatism in the society.

“Mr. Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society,” the liberal Daily Times said in its editorial. “This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of extremists.”

New American Bible changes some words such as ‘holocaust’

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(A pocket Bible, June 29, 2008/Mike Segar )

A new edition of one the most popular English-language Bibles will offer substitutes for words such as “booty” and “holocaust” to better reflect modern understanding. Nearly 50 scholars from all faiths and a committee of Roman Catholic bishops have labored since 1994 over the first fresh edition of the New American Bible since 1970, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said on Wednesday.

The changes go beyond a few words being altered, and include freshly-written notes that should help readers better understand the Catholic Cchurch’s interpretation of biblical concepts, Sperry said.  The revisions more accurately reflect translations of ancient Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament and the constant evolution of modern-day language.

For example, the word “holocaust,” which for most people refers to the World War Two genocide of Jews, was changed to “burnt offerings,” which clarifies the original, positive idea of making offerings to God. “Booty,” which has come to have a sexual connotation, was changed to “spoils of war;” and “cereal,” which many think of as breakfast food, became “grain” to reference loads of wheat.