FaithWorld

U.S. sees “mixed picture” on world religious freedom

seoul-prayer-protest (Photo: CHristians pray during an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, 3 Oct 2007/Han Jae-Ho)

The United States sees a mixed picture on world religious freedom, with progress in interfaith dialogue weighed against government repression and sectarian strife in many countries.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which particularly criticized Iran and North Korea among other countries for harsh limits on religious expression.

“It is our hope that the … report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world,” Clinton said, adding that all people should have the right to believe or not as they see fit.

The report tagged North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan among the worst offenders, placing them on a watch list put out earlier this year.

Michael Posner, the State Department’s top official for democracy and human rights, said President Barack Obama’s call this year for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims did not mean sidelining religious liberty. “Religious freedom is a fundamental right, a social good, a source of stability, and a key to international security,” Posner said in the introduction to the report.

Posner praised interfaith dialogue efforts promoted by Jordan, Spain and other countries. But religious repression and discrimination remained huge problems worldwide.

from Changing China:

Dalai Lama’s laugh lines

Before the Dalai Lama spoke on the sober subjects of religion and the environment in Taiwan during a speech this week, he opened with a quip about his English.

"First thing, no grammar, no proper grammar," the 73-year-old said with a low-pitched staccato laugh while addressing a full auditorium of residents in the southern city of Kaohsiung. "There is a danger to get misunderstandings, so I always tell you, be careful Dalai Lama's broken English."

His mischievous chuckle and self-depricating humour sent waves of laughter through the audience.

Tibetans welcome mountain spirits

Every summer the green hills of Rebkong are home to unique celebrations during which local Tibetans believe the mountain gods visit villagers — and each other — through human mediums.

TIBET-SPIRITS/

See a report on these colorful celebrations by my colleagues Christina Hu and Lucy Hornby here and a picture slideshow here.

Catholic regular at Shinto shrines to visit pope at the Vatican

yasukuniPope Benedict has been criticised for his handling of relationships with the world’s other religions. On Monday Tuesday, he is due to receive at the Vatican Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has little difficulty with mixing and matching various faiths.

Though an avowed member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, Aso regularly pays respects and offers gifts at Shinto shrines. Japan’s indigenous religion of Shinto is polytheistic — its doctrine says the world is crowded with divinities, mostly in natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, wind and mountains. Combining this with Christianity’s monotheism may sound like a contradiction, but it is something many Japanese Catholics take in their stride. (Photo: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, 31 May 2007/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Aso’s visits have in the past included trips to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which is dedicated to war dead and to 14 people judged by an Allied tribunal to be Class A war criminals. Many in Asia see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. But Aso has stayed away since becoming prime minister last year, probably more to avoid offending China than for religious reasons. For more on Aso and his faith, see our post about him when he took office.

from Africa News blog:

Did Dalai Lama ban make sense?

Organisers have postponed a conference of Nobel peace laureates in South Africa after the government denied a visa to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989 - five years after South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won his and four years before Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk won theirs for their roles in ending the racist apartheid regime.

Although local media said the visa ban followed pressure from China, an increasingly important investor and trade partner, the government said it had not been influenced by Beijing and that the Dalai Lama's presence was just not in South Africa's best interest at the moment.

The conference, ahead of the 2010 World Cup, had been due to discuss how to use soccer to fight xenophobia and racism.

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here’s a sample of some of the stories we’ve published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama’s envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over “hate, hostility” against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

“Big Love” network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God’s pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet “suffering” 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope’s visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

Tibet exiles embrace new “living Buddha”

He is a “living Buddha” with an iPod, the 23-year-old possible successor to the Dalai Lama who may bridge the gap between Tibet’s elder leaders and both an alienated Tibetan youth and a suspicious China.

For the Karmapa Lama, who fled Tibet nine years ago to India and is now the third highest ranking Lama, it is time for Tibetans to modernize to survive.

My colleagues Alistair Scrutton and Abhishek Madhukar got a rare interview with the young man many Tibetan exiles regard as a “living Buddha”, which you can read here.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan Islamists in a deal with China communists : a sign of the times?

A reader has pointed to an agreement that Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami, the main Islamist political group, signed with the Chinese communist party during its trip to Beijing a few days ago.

The two sides, according to reports in the domestic and foreign media, agreed to collaborate in the fields of justice, development, security and solidarity.

They also promised not to get involved in each other's internal affairs which according to the report on CBS News was effectively an undertaking that Pakistan's Islamists will stay away from activities of separatist Muslims in China's northern Xinjiang region.

Now they say incense could cause cancer

A man prays at the Yong He Gong (Tibetan Lama) Temple in Beijing, 7 July 2008/David GrayThere was a report last May saying researchers had found incense was a mind-altering substance. Now comes news of another scientific report saying it could cause cancer. Given its ceremonial role in several religions, this attention to incense is made for a blog like this one.

These reports leave an interesting question unanswered, however — why are scientists studying this now? Is there an upswing in incense burning around the world? Could this be linked to the Catholic Church’s plans to revive limited use of traditional liturgies? It’s hard to imagine that scientists would be watching religious trends. Is this just a coincidence?

Dalai Lama gets almost top treatment in France

Dalai Lama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at Lerab Ling temple in Roqueredonde, southern France, 22 August 2008/Philippe LaurensonSensitive about possibly upsetting Beijing, President Nicolas Sarkozy decided not to meet the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan spiritual leader’s current visit to France. But he sent an envoy who got just as much media coverage (if not more) than he would have — his wife. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (left), the pop singer and former supermodel Sarkozy married in February, attended the consecration of a Tibetan Buddhist temple in southern France on Friday. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Human Rights Minister Rama Yade and former prime minister Alain Juppé were also at the Lerab Ling temple, but French media made only fleeting references to their presence.

Read our report by correspondent Estelle Shirbon here.

Segolene Royal and Dalai Lama, 16 August 2008/poolEven before any comment came from China, France’s opposition Socialist Party criticised the meeting as “a serious slide into celebrity- mania (“peopolisation”) in political life” and rapped the two ministers for taking a secondary role at the ceremony. “They should have received the Dalai Lama in a secular and official setting,” a party spokesman said.

Not that the Socialists are opposed to meeting the Dalai Lama. In fact, former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal (above) held talks with him last week and said afterwards that she wanted to visit Tibet soon.