FaithWorld

EU assures religious leaders it backs freedom of belief in Middle East

(European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (L), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (C) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (R) hold a news conference after a meeting with religious leaders in Brussels May 30, 2011/Yves Herman)

European Union leaders assured senior religious figures on Monday they would defend the freedom of belief in the Middle East as part of their support for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. European Commission President Jose Barroso told about 20 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at an annual consultation in Brussels that the EU aimed to promote democracy and human rights both in Europe and in its neighbouring countries.

Several of the Christian representatives present expressed concern about religious freedom in the mostly Muslim Arab world, which has seen more freedom of speech in recent months but also more violent attacks on Christian minorities in some countries.

Barroso said the changes in the Arab world were “of historic proportions” and compared the challenge of anchoring democracy there to the task the EU found in post-communist Europe. “I strongly believe these challenges cannot be met without the active contribution of the religious communities,” Barroso told the meeting. Democratic rights included freedom of religion and belief, he stressed.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said “there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy. This period of openness must be maintained after the revolutions and religious and other minorities must be respected.”

Dead Sea scrolls going digital on Internet

dead sea scrolls 1 (Photo: Sections of the Dead Sea scrolls at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 14, 2008/Baz Ratner)

Scholars and anyone with an Internet connection will be able to take a new look into the Biblical past through an online archive of high-resolution images of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the custodian of the scrolls that shed light on the life of Jews and early Christians at the time of Jesus, said on Tuesday it was collaborating with Google’s research and development center in Israel to upload digitized images of the entire collection.

Advanced imaging technology will be installed in the IAA’s laboratories early next year and high-resolution images of each of the scrolls’ 30,000 fragments will be freely accessible on the Internet. The IAA conducted a pilot imaging project in 2008.

Egypt Christians say intolerance grows, close ranks

coptsMinarets and church towers mingle on Cairo’s skyline, but tensions mar Egypt’s record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.

Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children. “Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school,” recalls Helmy with a smile. (Photo: Leader of Egypt’s Copts, Pope Shenouda (C), with fellow clergymen,June 8, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Now a housewife in her 40s, she sends her daughter Christine and son Kirollos to a private Christian school and forbids them from mingling with Muslim children to protect them from insults. Around a tenth of Egypt’s 78 million people are Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts — descendents of Christian communities that founded monasticism in the early centuries after Jesus.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.

For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel's hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.

But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.

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 Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack on Pakistani Christians revives Punjab worries

The mob violence against Christians in central Pakistan at the weekend appears to have hit a particularly raw nerve in a country already jittery about the spreading influence of Islamist militants. The deaths of eight Christians in the town of Gojra following unsubstantiated allegations that a Christian had desecrated the Koran has both revived debate about Pakistan's blasphemy laws and renewed worries about the potential for instability in its heartland Punjab province.

According to Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, the violence may have been orchestrated by the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outlawed pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim sectarian group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). He said that masked men had come from the nearby district of Jhang, birthplace of both SSP and LeJ, to incite the anti-Christian rioting, and that the government had received an intelligence report two months ago suggesting that militants were switching from suicide bombings to inciting sectarian strife.

Dawn newspaper called in an editorial for the repeal of blasphemy laws imposing severe punishment on those accused of insulting Islam.

Pakistani Christians burnt alive, sparking protests

Christian minorities in Pakistan protest against sectarian violence that saw seven burnt alive in their homes at the weekend. See our video report here.

UPDATE: Here is our report on Monday about Christian schools closing down for three days to mourn the deaths. Here is the original report on the attack.

PAPA DIXIT: preaching family values and interfaith in Nazareth

Pope Benedict spent Thursday in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up in what is now the northern part of Israel. With no pressing political issues there, his sermon and speeches had a more religious focus than some recent ones.

nazareth-nunAT MASS ON THE MOUNT OF PRECIPICE:

MARRIAGE: “All of us need… to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!” (Photo: Nun waves picture of Benedict at Nazareth Mass, 14 May 2009/Baz Ratner)

FAMILY: “In God’s plan for the family, the love of husband and wife bears fruit in new life, and finds daily expression in the loving efforts of parents to ensure an integral human and spiritual formation for their chIldren. In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first buildingblock of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity.”

Palestinians & Israelis like Jesus, int’l community like Apostles?

It’s not often you hear the Palestinians and Israelis compared to Jesus or the international community likened to Christ’s closest disciples. But the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, did just that in his address at Pope Benedict’s Mass in the Valley of Josephat today. This is the valley just east of the old city of Jerusalem, close to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony before he was arrested by the Romans led by Judas. The Apostles Peter, James and John had accompanied him but they stayed a short distance away and fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Twal used this image to make a link between that Gospel episode and current day Middle East politics:

pope-gethsemane-2Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples “Remain here, and watch with me” (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus’ agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane.” (Photo: Pope arrives for Mass with the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s old city is visible in the background, 12 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

Holy Father, today, in many ways, the situation has not changed: around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Holy Video

popeshadow...and for those who prefer their pictures moving - here's a couple of videos of the Pope's visit to Jerusalem's holy sites. In the first video we see the Pope on his way to the Dome of the Rock, the first Pope ever to make such a visit, before visiting the Western Wall.

(For an explanation of the significance of Jerusalem's holy sites to Christians, Jews and Muslims - click here for an informative factbox)

 

 
...the video below is the Pope actually inside the Dome of the Rock where he met Jerusalem's Grand Mufti. It also includes excerpts from a press conference by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi in which he responds to criticism of the Pope's speech at Yad Vashem.