FaithWorld

Muslims rush to restore torched Egyptian church

(A Coptic Christian boy looks out of the Saint Mary Church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month. “It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7. Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise. The ground floor of the four-storey church was gutted in the fire, destroying 10 out of 27 old icons beyond repair.

On Wednesday, a team of mostly Muslim restorers — working for one of Egypt’s biggest construction firms known as The Arab Contractors — huddled in one corner, using special chemicals, paint and brushes to rescue the remaining paintings.

“My job is to restore historic art pieces, be they Muslim, Coptic or Jewish,” Fathi said.

China says respects religious freedom after pope laments pressure

(China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu in Beijing, December 7, 2010/David Gray)

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hoped the Vatican could acknowledge the reality of religious freedom in the country, after the pope said Beijing was putting pressure on the faithful who want to remain loyal to the Vatican.

“We hope the Vatican can squarely face the reality of religious freedom in China and the continuous development of Chinese Catholics, and take concrete actions to create conditions for developing Sino-Vatican ties,” ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.

Report says U.S. Catholic sex abuse “historical”, critics see coverup

(Victims of sexual abuse by priests outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, March 25, 2010/Hyungwon Kang)

A church-sponsored study on Wednesday blamed poorly trained priests and a deviant society for the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis, but victims dismissed it as a whitewash of an institutional coverup. The largest study ever done on youth sexual abuse by U.S. Catholic clergy concluded that priests were no more likely to abuse than anyone else, gay priests were not more likely than straight priests to abuse, and the priestly vow of celibacy was not directly to blame.

The study, conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York and covering the past 50 years, also found clergy abuse cases have dropped since the 1980s.

Filipinos flock to northern town for fertility dance for patron saint

(A boy is held up by his mother as hundreds of devotees dance and pray for children in an annual fertility procession in Obando, north of Manila May 17, 2011/Cheryl Ravelo)

Hundreds of couples flocked to a town in the northern Philippines to take part in a centuries-old ritual dance, honouring a patron saint believed to bring fertility. The ritual took place this year amid an increasingly acrimonious battle over a controversial bill promoting artificial contraception in this intensely Catholic nation.

Those seeking children packed into Obando by the thousands for the annual May ritual, inspired by miraculous stories of the babies it has brought. Couples dance in the two-hour long procession, swaying their hips to a traditional folk tune from bamboo and marching bands. The ritual is accompanied by a short chant and prayer to Saint Claire, the local patron saint of fertility, asking her to bless them with children.

Syria’s Christians fear for their religious freedom

(A Christian woman lights a candle during a mass to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas at Saint Serkis church in Damascus January 6, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria’s minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. Sunni Muslims form a majority in Syria, but under four decades of rule by Assad’s minority Alawites the country’s varied religious groups have enjoyed the right to practice their faith.

Calls for Muslim prayers ring out alongside church bells in Damascus, where the apostle Paul started his ministry and Christians have worshipped for two millennia. But for many Syrian Christians, the flight of their brethren from sectarian conflict in neighbouring Iraq and recent attacks on Christians in Egypt have highlighted the dangers they fear they will face if Assad succumbs to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

Sectarian strife tests Egypt’s post-Mubarak rulers

(A soldier stands guard near the Saint Mary church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt’s army rulers face a dilemma as a bolder stance adopted by Islamists in the post-Mubarak era is worsening sectarian tension and triggering demands for the kind of crackdown that made the former president so unpopular. Armed clashes between conservative Muslims and Coptic Christians left 12 dead in a Cairo suburb on Saturday, touching off angry protests by some of the capital’s residents who called for the army to use an “iron fist” against the instigators.

The violence has deepened fear among Christians, who complain of poor police protection and a new tolerance of Muslim extremists, raising the risk of new flashpoints in a country dogged by poverty, soaring prices and a faltering economy. Police deserted their posts during the January and February uprising against Mubarak. Many have returned but many Egyptians say that has failed to stop theft and violent crime spreading as Egypt looks ahead to its first free elections in September.

Egypt vows crackdown after 12 die in Christian-Muslim strife

(Soldiers stand guard near the Saint Mary church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt’s government announced measures to curb religious violence on Sunday after 12 people died in clashes in a Cairo suburb sparked by rumors that Christians had abducted a woman who converted to Islam. The fighting on Saturday was Egypt’s worst interfaith strife since 13 people died on March 9 after a church was burned, and it threw down a new challenge for generals ruling the country since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf canceled a tour of Gulf Arab states to chair a cabinet meeting where the government decided to deploy more security near religious sites and toughen laws criminalising attacks on places of worship.

Eyewitness: How John Paul made an Italian-American “part Polish”

Reuters Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella covered the late Pope John Paul for almost all of the pontiff’s 26-year papacy and followed him on most of his many voyages around the world.  In keeping with news agency tradition, his reports focused on the pope and rarely if ever mentioned his own feelings as he followed him year in and year out. On the day that John Paul was beatified, we want to break that tradition and give readers Phil’s personal view of his experience covering the Polish pope.*

By Philip Pullella

Phil Pullella with Pope John Paul on the papal plane returning from a trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia, 27 September 2001)

Although I was born in Italy of Italian parents and raised in New York, I consider myself “part Polish”. This is thanks to the man beatified on May 1. But perhaps even more than my proximity to the late Pope John Paul, it was my closeness to his countrymen and countrywomen that left an indelible mark on my soul. And I don’t mean soul in the religious sense, but in the poetic sense. I have no Polish blood, but I have a part-Polish soul. Of this I have no doubt.

Pope John Paul beatified before huge crowd at the Vatican

(A view of the crowd in Saint Peter's Square during the beatification mass for Pope John Paul II led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican May 1, 2011/Stefano Rellandini)

The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew about a million and half people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago. “From now on Pope John Paul shall be called ‘blessed,’” Pope Benedict, wearing white and gold robes, proclaimed in Latin, establishing that his predecessor’s feast day would be October 22, the day of the inauguration of John Paul’s pontificate in 1978.

To the cheers of the crowd, a tapestry showing a smiling John Paul was unveiled after Benedict read the proclamation. St Peter’s Square was packed and the crowd stretched as far back as the Tiber River, more than half a km away. The devotees, many carrying national flags and singing, moved toward the Vatican area from all directions from before dawn to get a good spot for the Mass.