FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Afghan refugees – Seeking sanctuary

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

It was a cold, wet morning when I passed through the doors of the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Beguinage, a grand 17th century building in the center of Brussels.

Inside, children were playing and shouting in the large, dark hall, which was lined with rows and rows of tents. I had not just entered a church – I was inside people’s homes. The building had become a very private space.

Saint John the Baptist’s is occupied by a group of Afghan migrants, who have been living there for more than three months. Their first asylum request was refused by the authorities and they were told to leave Belgium, but some ended up travelling around the county aimlessly and were left squatting in unoccupied buildings.

That was before Daniel Alliet, the priest at Saint John the Baptist’s, opened its doors to them. When I went to visit the church at the beginning of the year, more than 200 migrants were living there, although that number has since dropped as many have found shelter in asylum centers.

On my first visit, I felt a sense of dismay when I saw the chaotic and unsanitary conditions in which the asylum seekers lived. The church was not built to house this many people, day and night. Water supplies were under strain. There were only two toilets. The priest told me that the condensation from so many bodies had even begun to damage the organ.

from Photographers' Blog:

Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

from Photographers' Blog:

Brazil’s exclusively inclusive church

By Paulo Whitaker

In Brazil we have a saying, "Soccer and religion are sacred." Here, as with one’s choice of a favorite soccer team, one’s choice of religion is also not up for discussion. When I discovered here in Sao Paulo a church run by a missionary and a pastor who are lesbian partners, I thought it would be an interesting photo story.

In this megalopolis, there already are a few evangelical churches that are inclusive, accepting people regardless of race, color, economic situation and sexual preference, but the Cidade de Refugio (City Refuge) is the first in Brazil to cater almost exclusively to the gay community. This church, part of the network of the evangelical Assemblies of God, is led by Lanna Holder, a lesbian activist who uses the title of Missionary.

This story was particularly difficult because of the number of subjects involved, and the need to get their and the church’s trust. I confess it took me a while to reach a level of confidence with them so that my pictures were natural. There was also a lot of suspicion among the congregation due to recent financial scandals involving different churches.

from India Insight:

Fashion and the church: Trousers for men only?

When in church, wear what the preacher tells you. So says the Synod Executive Committee, a decision-making body of the largest church in the north-eastern Indian state of Mizoram.

All women attending places of worship should refrain from wearing see-through dresses, clothes that expose the breasts or are too tight-fitting -- and trousers -- according to a dress code prescribed for Presbyterian Church of India members. The guidelines also say men must wear clean shoes and respectable suits.

Church attire has been a subject of discussion for years in the Christian-majority state, whose youth are influenced heavily by western fashion and hip-hop culture, and more recently the ‘Korean Wave’ phenomenon.

Malaysia sets up Vatican ties in gesture to Christian minority

(Pope Benedict receives a gift by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) during a meeting at the Pope's summer residence in Castelgandolfo July 18, 2011/Osservatore Romano)

Malaysia and the Vatican agreed on Monday to establish diplomatic ties, a move seen by analysts as a bid by the Malaysian government to appease minority Christians in the mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country. Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to mend the government’s relations with Christians who make up about 9 percent of the country’s 28 million after a rise in religious tensions ahead of general elections widely expected next year.

Religious tensions have risen in Malaysia following general elections in 2008 when the government recorded its worst performance after mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim minorities abandoned Najib’s ruling coalition, complaining of marginalization.

Athens debt crisis taxes cosy ties between state and Greek Orthodox Church

(Greek orthodox priests hold a Greek flag in a protest in front of the parliament house during a rally in Athens, February 6, 2011/John Kolesidis )

The Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone except the state, employs thousands on the public payroll, has a stake in the nation’s biggest bank, but campaigners say its tax payments are derisory. The Church vehemently denies accusations it is one of Greece’s biggest tax dodgers and says it is playing a vital social, economic and spiritual role in this time of hardship.

With the third year of recession tormenting Greece’s 11 million people, the Church has provided solace, comfort and nourishment but activists say it’s now time to dig deep into its coffers to help with the bailout.

Ireland attacks confessional secrecy after Catholic sex abuse scandal

(A Roman Catholic Croat confesses to a priest during a pilgrimage in Krasno, some 150km (93 miles) south of Zagreb August 15, 2009/Nikola Solic )

Ireland’s prime minister has said Catholic clerics would be prosecuted if they failed to tell the authorities about crimes disclosed during confession, the latest blow to the prestige of the once-dominant Church. A report this week found that the Church concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, and that clerics appeared to follow Church law rather than Irish guidelines to protect minors.

“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny told journalists on Thursday, referring to the hooked staff held by Catholic bishops during religious services. Kenny said his government would submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they failed to report to authorities information about the abuse of children.

Catholic Church should pay Dutch sexual abuse victims – commission

(Pictures of sexual abuse victims placed outside the Vatican Embassy in London September 9, 2010/Stefan Wermuth)

TheDutch bishops’ conference had sought the recommendation of an independent commission after cases surfaced involving paedophile priests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Victims should be paid on a sliding scale starting at 5,000 euros, with 25,000 for victims of rape and the maximum of 100,000 euros ($142,300) for “exceptional cases of sexual abuse”, the commission concluded. Its report released on Monday said financial compensation alone was not enough, and victims should receive apologies, assistance and recognition for their suffering.

Vatican turns to Internet to stem sexual abuse scandals

(A computer mouse pad with an image of Pope John Paul II in Brazil, October 2, 1997/Gregg Newton)

The Roman Catholic Church, often accused of dragging its feet on sexual abuse scandals, will turn to the Internet with a new e-learning center to help safeguard children and the victims of molestation. The Vatican presented the move at a news conference on Saturday flagging an international conference on sexual abuse of children by clergy to be held next February at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University with church backing.

“The e-learning center will work with medical institutions and universities to develop a constant response to the problems of sexual abuse,” Monsignor Klaus Peter Franzl of the archdiocese of Munich. It will be posted in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian and help bishops and other church workers put into place Vatican guidelines to protect children.

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ does not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion,” said Robert Jones, head of the institute.